Review: The Path

ThePath.jpg The Path is a small independent game by a little shop called Tale of Tales that is described as a horror adventure. The fact that it is an ‘indie’ game sets up several expectations – low budget, lousy graphics, limited scope and appeal, and somewhat derivative of existing works. It probably also suggests to you that it is a ‘casual’ game. If you start playing with those expectations, you will soon feel like you’ve been smacked upside the head with a baseball bat. The Path might be small and short, but it is certainly not a casual game … and it is unlike any other game you’ve ever played. Intrigued? Read on!

The Path is an innovative retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story. As the description says “Six sisters live in an apartment in the city. One by one their mother sends them on an errand to their grandmother, who is sick and bedridden. The teenagers are instructed to go to grandmother’s house deep in the forest and, by all means, to stay on the path! Wolves are hiding in the woods, just waiting for little girls to stray.”

So … Little Red Riding Hood, eh? Yes, you know, the one where you are on an errand taking a basket to grandmother’s house? This is the same core story, but retold six times from a modern perspective. The girls vary in age from 9 to 19, and the game changes depending upon which one you are controlling. There are almost no environmental sound effects, but instead you are treated to a continuous soundtrack that shifts as the game progresses and matches up wonderfully with everything that happens on screen.

The tale of The Path really needs to be looked at two ways, so here goes. Note: the second analysis could potentially spoil the experience for you, so proceed with caution!

The Path as a Game

You control each little girl identically, from a third person over-the-shoulder perspective with a fairly simple set of controls. You use the WASD keys to move and the mouse to alter the camera angle. There is a button to run, and you interact with things by… releasing all buttons. All of this is introduced when you start the game with the first sister and serves as your only tutorial… and really the only thing approaching direction you will get during the entire game.

Visually the game is actually quite impressive: it is dark and moody and very disturbing. You start standing right where the road ends and the path begins. Behind you is the city and in front of you the path leads on as far as you see. On either side of you are the woods.

Once you get used to the play style, the game becomes more straightforward. There is not much more I can say without revealing stuff that would ruin the fun for you.

The one issue that many folks will have with the game is the pacing – glacial is the only word that comes to mind. There is a run button, but as is true with most adventure games, running means missing pretty much everything. This means you need to walk around and constantly observe your surroundings. As you progress you will realize there were things you missed – again pretty typical – and this means backtracking to get every detail. At the pace you’re moving this is rather tedious.

But you will do it if you are a fan of horror or adventure games, because the rewards are simply worth it. This is a very good adventure game that is also much more than that. There is replayability built-in after you complete all six sisters’ stories and the epilogue and are launched back into the room, but even without it The Path is definitely well worth much more than the budget price.

The Path as Existential Contemplation

There have been a load of ‘games as art’ discussions that have sprung up around The Path, and for good reason. There have been many games held up as artistic for one reason or another: Planescape: Torment and The Witcher for their writing, GTA IV and Indigo Prophecy for putting you into the midst of a highly cinematic movie-like experience, and many others for a variety of reasons.

Yet The Path is different – it contemplates a philosophy and forces us to confront that metaphorically through playing the game. You are playing six different incarnations of Red Riding Hood at different stages of childhood, presented with a seemingly simple task – stay on the straight and narrow path towards the goal in front of you and never stray into the luring dangers that you know can consume you. Yet if you do so, if all you do is walk straight to grandmother’s house… you die, and are met with a game over screen.

So you MUST go into the woods, even though the only rule you received was NOT to go into the woods. This is where things get interesting.

You cannot go into the woods because of the wolves, or so you are told. But what if the wolves you meet are not furry creatures with sharp teeth, but rather metaphoric wolves constructed from your past experiences, fears, and future desires that you need to understand and confront in order to be ready to cross the threshold into grandmother’s house?

That is the question posed by The Path, and one that makes it an amazing experience that was something completely unexpected for me. You roam the woods with each of the sisters, and depending on the age of the girl you will uncover different experiences.

There is no explicit sex or violence in the game, but there are implied cues throughout. Some of them are rather disturbing – these are all young women, some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, so seeing them imperiled immediately tugs at our senses. But it is not a simple gimmick like it is in Prey or Bioshock – this is a truly mature experience that makes us think rather than showing us contrived scenes to play on rote surface reactions. It is truly worthwhile immersing yourself in this experience, even if it is relatively short lived.

Final Thoughts on The Path

Suffice to say that I felt that The Path succeeded wonderfully as both a thought provoking experience and as an adventure game. The price is stunning – you can grab the game for the price commanded by many games on the iTunes App store, yet this experience offers so much more. My advice – if you are at all a fan of horror and adventure games grab this, but if you know that nothing will get you past the slow pacing you might want to give it a pass. If you can handle the slow speed, you will definitely be rewarded for your patience!

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Pros:
+ Stunningly original
+ Never the same experience twice
+ Tremendously satisfying experience
+ Budget price

Cons:
– Glacial pacing

Game Info:
Platform: PC, Mac; digital download only
Publisher: Tale of Tales
Developer: Tale of Tales
Release Date: 3/18/09 on PC, 5/7/09 on Mac
Genre: Adventure/Horror
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!