By Mento 2 Comments
May the Thirteenth
The source: The Evolved Bundle
The pre-amble: The Path is a survival horror adventure game in which the player chooses one of seven sisters, each at a different stage of their childhood/young adulthood, and guides them to their grandmother's house in the woods in a spin on the Little Red Riding Hood folktale. Though the game explicitly tells you to stay on the path, greater rewards and discoveries await those who dare to venture deeper into the forest.
The playthrough: I haven't yet done a straight up walkthrough of what I experienced with one of these games, but in this case I feel its apropos in order to better explain what The Path is and what it's trying to do. You do lose a bit of it by having it described, though, so if you currently have it in unplayed in your Steam library or are otherwise planning to play it at some point, I might suggest skipping the playthrough part and move to the last paragraph for the appraisal. I'm not spoiling anything (if there's spoilers to be found in The Path, I'm equally in the dark about them) but it seems this game is built on revelation and discovery and I'm always loathe to disrupt that relationship between a game and its player in order to elucidate on how it functions. It'd be like explaining a clever mechanic in Portal that the player needs to figure out in order to progress: while not a spoiler of the traditional "Soylent Green is people" narrative variety, one can still deprive someone else of a portion of the enjoyment a game can provide and is therefore equally deleterious. But man, am I waffling. Here goes:
- So I originally picked the middle girl, Ruby, she of the leg brace and gothy make-up. Seemed a decent fit for what appeared to be an artsy horror-themed jaunt into the woods. After being told the controls by the game's tutorial messages, it left me with a warning to stay on the path at all costs. Which is what I ended up doing, until reaching Grandma's house, climbing the stairs to her bedroom and falling asleep next to her. Apparently this is what the game considers a "failure", as obeying the rules is the quickest and most uneventful course to a dull conclusion.
- On the second playthrough I chose Ruby again and wandered off the path. As you head deeper into the forest, things get ever more obscured and I soon spotted other young girls milling around the forest at random (I couldn't talk to them for whatever reason) and finding little yellow flower collectibles everywhere. Eventually, I came across a broken playground and a Kanji Tatsumi-looking suave guy on a bench. Choosing to sit on the bench, Ruby coyly shared a cigarette with him and eventually woke up outside of Grandma's house in the rain, a little worse for the wear. So hey, this game has some ambiguity and symbolism in it, no surprises there. Entering Grandma's house, everything was a darn sight more sinister and I can only infer that after discovering some bizarre rotating bed in a red room and getting whupped on the back of the head that Ruby was no more.
- Indeed, when it came time to play again Ruby was nowhere to be seen in the character selection screen. The book she was reading laid abandoned on the large table around which her other sisters stood, absorbed in their own activities just as they had been previously. I next chose the eldest sibling, Scarlet, and a similar series of events occurred: A bit of rudderless walking around the trees, a few wandering naifs, a few arbitrary collectibles, a broken structure and a charming white-haired gentleman of my character's age that apparently did untoward things upon her person before leaving her in a heap outside of Grandma's house. Grandma's house had an entirely green interior this time, but Scarlet collapsed all the same at the end of her journey, felled by an unseen foe.
The Path is filled with symbolism and subtext, a fair amount of which is deliberately obfuscated the heighten the unease. The discordant melodies, the plaintive singing, the fuzzy lighting and artifacts that appear around the screen and in your peripheral vision, the ambiguity of each sister's fate after meeting "the wolf": it all serves to discomfit and discombobulate. I've heard that if games are going to be art some day - with the view that they aren't already - they need a way to challenge a player in a manner beyond simply setting obvious goals and asking the player to reach them through skill and perseverance I don't know if The Path necessarily manages that, as grave, unerring narrative fates, disconcerting visual and audio tics and ingénues suffering various mishaps aren't exactly uncommon in the Survival Horror genre, but the way the game tasks players to essentially doom themselves rather than walk straight ahead for an uneventful "happy" ending is an interesting twist on the grim inevitability of these horror games. Can't say I enjoy it as a game much, but it's definitely got--as the French might say--a certain "I have no effin' idea what's going on" to it.
The verdict: Maybe. There's more to discover, but I kind of got the jist.