March 21, 2009 9:43 PM | Michael Rose
Trying to find words to describe The Path is not easy, especially without throwing in too many spoilers. So here goes - wish me luck.
The Path is not a game. Sure, it contains elements found in this generation of gaming (most notably mass-collecting) but it's clearly not meant to be a game at all. It just all feels incredibly... messed up.
You probably know the setup by now. Choose from 6 Little Red Riding Hood-esque girls, then make your way to Grandmother's House by walking The Path. Of course, while you're told 'Don't Stray from the Path', curiosity (and trying to find some actual fun) tells you to take off into the forest and explore.
This is where I try to keep the spoilers to a minimum. In the wilderness it's pretty empty and you'll pelt along for a while before you encounter anything. That being said, it does mean that when you finally do spot something in the mist it's a good feeling.
Your next feeling all depends on what exactly is it that you've found. There seems to be three different types of scene to be sought out. The first is a simple 'here is an object, interact with it, move on'. Then you have pick-upables which your chosen girl will place into her basket (accessable via the space bar). Finally, there are whole scenes set out to find which, depending on which character you are, may or may not trigger cutscenes and special storylines.
The horror elements work very well. The creepy music and girls singing/laughing/crying mix with the dark, spooky settings and random shapes flash up all over the screen as if imprinted on your monitor. Tale of Tales set out to make a horror game and this they have pulled off spectacularly.
This is especially evident when you reach the end of the path and enter Grandmother's House. Again, trying not to give away too much, but depending on what was encountered during your walk along The Path, the inside of the house will look, sound and feel completely different. You might take a different route to normal and end up in rather strange settings, or maybe you'll take the regular path but the walls will be covered in... colour, and doors will be slamming in the wind.
So what it all boils down to is that Tale of Tales have developed an object-hunting horror extravaganza. I'll put a big tick next to 'horror' on their report card, but in the 'gameplay' box, I'm writing 'See Me'.
The thing is, like I said at the beginning, The Path is not a game. Yet, unlike other recent attempts at arty gaming (see Flower), Tale of Tales have not drawn that line between and art and gaming well enough. Everything screams that it's an arty-farty malarkey - there's poetry, beautiful surroundings, specific storylines dedicated to each girl which seem to be telling some kind of story about 'growing up' - but the control scheme coupled with running around everywhere, grabbing golden flowers and having a real, set objective to complete give it a very gamey feel.
And this is rather a problem. As a game, it's pretty boring. Maybe the first run through is entertaining enough, then the second go lets you use your new-found understanding of how the game works, but after that the whole experience just feels like an absolute chore. By the time I'd powered through the forest with my final girl, I was sick and tired of it all and really could not be bothered.
I think it's also worth mentioning that this game did not like my computer at all. While I don't own an incredibly high-end machine, my rig is only a couple of years old and can run the likes of, say, Far Cry 2 without problem. The first time I ran The Path, the opening video lagged immensely and I eventually had to turn the graphics down in the options to get it to run properly - that's with all the latest drivers installed et al. Maybe it's just my PC, maybe it's ATI gfx cards - I haven't seen it run on another computer to check.
So there is my spoiler-free take on this month's - hell, this year's weirdest game. If you're wondering whether to grab a copy (there is no demo, understandably, to try out first), decide which of these categories you fall into: If you're curious and are looking for a messed up experience, or are just a big fan of artistic gaming, give it a go; If you don't fit into that category, you probably won't like it. Of course, with this kind of game, it all boils down to your own experience, so what I think may not apply to you at all.
That's why it is hard for me to either recommend or veto The Path. All I can say is, buying this game is a risk as some will like it and some won't. Hopefully my experience with it has helped you to decide whether it will be for you.