'The Path' PC Review — Featured User Review 27th-29th March on GiantBomb.com

March 24, 2009 § 2 Comments

I’m going to save the reader a lot of time here by getting to the point: The Path is not a good game; in fact, it’s not a game at all. It’s not fun. It’s not exciting. It’s not even that enjoyable. What The Path is, is interesting, mysterious, clever, atmospheric and – forgive me for saying so – poetic. The Path is a puzzling ‘interactive experience’ which has no real aim or end goal. The Path is aimless; and yet, if you keep an open mind, and if you bury your preconceptions, you will find that ‘playing’ it yields a unique experience – one which you won’t forget any time soon.

The Path is a game which places you in its own twisted version of the Little Red Riding Hood tale. Initially, you have a choice of six girls, each of whom you can play as, and each of whom have a different story to tell. The game has three acts. The first just consists solely of you choosing your avatar. The second act places your character in a forest, where you must reach grandma’s house to deliver to er some supplies. The third act occurs when you’ve reached the house and follows the avatar from the front-door to grandma’s room from a first-person point of view. Only the second of the acts could really be defined as being interactive – the first and last being barely so.

The first time you play the game and are sat down in the forest with your character. You are instructed, specifically, to go to grandma’s house, to stay on the path and to not deviate in any way (do not pass Go; do not collect the £200). So, the first thing you’ll do – naturally – is follow the path to the end, without detouring, enter grandma’s house, and give her the food you’ve brought. The game will then reward you with a small cutscene and report-card detailing the success of your efforts…It will tell you that you failed.

Such is the nature of The Path.

It is only through deviating from the path in act two, from interacting with objects in the forest and from encountering the wolf, that the game will reward you with ’success’. And by then, you’re character will be dead.

Such is the nature of The Path.

This is the kind of ‘game’ that we are dealing with here. Most games are high-concept set-ups, which give the player goals, challenges, targets – to drive towards. Games are often designed around giving the player opportunities to achieve those goals. The traditional measure of a game’s design is in how enjoyable it is for the player to work through its challenges.  And in general, a review of a game focuses primarily on that aspect: on how fun the game is to play?

This is why I feel The Path barely qualifies as a game. The Path has no real victory conditions. On the contrary, The Path does its very best to confound the player by giving them opposite and opposing instructions. The very first lines with which the developer describes the game are:

There is one rule in the game. And it needs to be broken.
There is one goal. And when you attain it, you die.

The game forces the player to drop any pre-conceived notions of what it is to ‘play’ a game is or, even, what exactly defines a game. Judged on the conventional criteria used to evaluate a game’s worth, The Path simply isn’t very good, though. There is barely any gameplay at all, and what little there is, is unchallenging, tedious and, ultimately, a little dull. But to evaluate The Path under these terms – as a game – would be to do it disservice, because it is not a game.

The best I can come with is ‘interactive experience’ because I don’t really know exactly what the The Path is. All I can say is that it’s interesting, a curious piece of programing. You don’t do anything apart from go up to things with your avatar, waiting for them to interact with it, and then watch. The gameplay is almost non-existent. Sure, you can move your avatar all-around the forest in act two, but that’s it – there isn’t even a button to activate objects as the game does that for you.

And yet, I’ve spent the last three days playing the game, picking up flowers, picking up all kinds of junk, exploring, discovering – driven by my curiosity to understand and comprehend this phenomenon, this game. Who are these girls? Are they five distinct personalities or one fractured mind? What does the ‘wolf’ represent? Who is the girl in white who flutters around the forest, guiding you? I’m intrigued; I want to know. I’m curious, and there aren’t many games which inspire that kind of thing.

The Path is challenging, but not in any ordinary manner. It dares to tamper with the fundamental rules of game design, and it poses questions and provokes the player in ways in which games just aren’t supposed to do. What it comes down to is a recommendation, though. Do I recommend, to you, that you go and pay the seven-or-so pounds to download and play it? It kills me, but my answer has to be no.

To everybody but games journalists, critics and aficionados, this game is going to come across as being a pretentious, shallow, boring, unfulfilling waste of time. To those who are willing to look past the hugely simplistic gameplay or who are looking for something different or thought provoking, maybe it’s worth giving it a shot. After all, at the worst you’ll just be disappointed.

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