I am priviledged enough to have been given the opportunity to play The Path. It's currently in its beta stage, set for release in March/April, and currently undergoing final tweaks. For what it's worth, in the couple of hours I've spent with it so far, I haven't noticed a single significant problem, glitch or bug. I find it impressive that some enormous games are released riddled with such issues, yet a game crafted primarily by two people and not even considered finished yet is so smooth, so stable. Rather telling, methinks.
Anyway, for a variety of reasons, I'm not really obliged to say a lot about this yet, other than, y'know, what's already known. It's a third, second and first person adventure game, split into six chapters, which are in turn split into three acts. Each chapter essentially comprises one 'play-through', but depending on which character you've chosen, your experience will be rather different. Each chapter play-through takes anywhere between five minutes and a couple of hours to complete. That length is entirely up to you. You can practically see the end of the game from the start of it. But there's also a wealth of other things to do between the two points. At the end, the game grades you. If you survive, you get a low mark. If you die, you get a high one. Hmm...
The Path is about growing up. It's so heavy on its symbolism that it's going to alienate a lot of people. There's not much in the way of a 'story', but it oozes 'meaning'. It's artistic. It's suggestive. It's metaphorical.
It's really good...
It's actually quite difficult to snap out of the idea of 'gaming for completion'. When you can see the finish line, it's always tempting to sprint straight for it. What's admirable about The Path is that it lets you guide your character into whatever you want. It doesn't prevent you from finishing in five minutes. You just get a very banal, predictable ending. Nothing happens. It's no fun. Venturing away fom the path and into the forbidden forest is dangerous, but it's where most of the interest lies.
The Path teaches its players about independence. It shows us that, one day, we'll have to let go of our videogame mummy's hand...
A bit of subtle 'state-of-the-medium' satire, perhaps?
Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Path is its constant tendency to surprise. Its AI routines are fabulous to behold, utilising a system whereby letting go of the controls for a certain amount of time causes your character's own mind to take over, your avatar behaving as she chooses within the context of the area. The writing (comprised entirely of the characters' 'thoughts', scribbled in pen over your viewpoint) is rare and minimal, but so carefully worded and credible that it's an absolute joy to read each time it appears. The discovery of the 'wolf' in each chapter is simply fantastic, with its heavy suggestion of the different phases of a girl's childhood and adolescence. The occasional ambiance of European New Wave cinema is just beautiful.
At the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant: a lot of people aren't going to 'get' this game. Tale of Tales know that, and they're not aiming their title at those who care about whether Killzone 2 is better than Halo 3. But the people who do get it are going to have a lot to say about this. It's testament to the quality of The Path's design that it's incredibly fable-esque without ever being preachy; uncomprimisingly artistic without ever being overly inaccessable. This is shaping up to be very interesting indeed. I can't wait until the finished version, and the opportunity to share my more detailed thoughts with you all.
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