The Path

 By Shamus Aug 17, 2009 49 comments

thepath1.jpg
It’s common knowledge that our children’s fairy tales descended from older and significantly darker stories. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty had already been Disney-ified once before Uncle Walt ever attempted them.

The Path is an indie game from Tale of Tales. (Not to be confused with Telltale Games.) It goes back to the original stories of Little Red Riding Hood and turns them into a series of disturbing interactive adventures. It’s survival horror, but without the “survival” part. (Maybe.)

When I say “survival horror”, note that I’m talking more about Silent Hill and less about Resident Evil. In fact, The Path is about as far from the narrative of Resident Evil as you can hope to get. You might have trouble understanding The Path because it’s open and ambiguous, while you might have trouble understanding Resident Evil because it was written by drunken chimpanzees. The Path is subtle, unnerving, playful, and full of imagery. This is not a game that tries to scare us with tentacle zombies popping out of closets. This is a game that tries to scare us by showing us the parts of life that usually go unregarded. A lot of games tackle the question of “can games be art?” The Path seems to be asking, “can art be a game?”

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In the game, you will guide six girls along the path to grandma’s house. The youngest is the six-year-old Robin. The oldest is the seventeen-year-old Carmen. The game instructs you to “stay on the path”. You can do this, and arrive at grandmothers without incident. Or, you can actually play the game. Leaving the path will lead the girls to their adventure, but also to their undoing.

The events you see will be “open to interpretation”. You can view it as a painful journey of children brushing up against the adult world. Or you can take a literal approach and see it as a game where you steer six girls into situations where they are possibly molested, murdered, menaced, or raped. There’s no blood, no nudity, but both violence and sex are alluded to, so don’t go buying this for your kids just because it has Lil’ Red Riding Hood.

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When I was a kid, I found the adult world terrifying. Men were immense hairy beasts. Women were less physically daunting, but their forms had some sort of inexplicable power over my mind. Adults seemed grim and joyless, and their stories were blood-soaked tragedies. (This was particularly true in the 70′s, when movies with happy endings were seen as things for Plastic People. You know what I’m saying, man?) Even their comedy was mean and hurtful. (I remember recoiling at the blood in Holy Grail. Oh! That poor historian! Is he going to be okay?) Cigarettes, alcohol, cars, heart attacks, jobs. Everything in their lives seemed strange and threatening. I hated the dullness and stupidity of school, but even more I dreaded the day when it would end because what came after seemed to be so much worse. The Path found those long-forgotten ideas laying around in the back of my mind, and woke them from their decades-long slumber. For a moment I was able to be an adult seeing myself as a kid picturing myself as a grown-up. The game reached into my childhood and played with old fears that never even had a name.

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I live happily in the adult world now, and I’m a lot more content at thirty-seven than I was at aught-seven. But The Path reminded me of how scary and mysterious this adult world looked to my seven year old mind. I found myself connecting with the girls, even as I led them to foolishness and ruin.

I hate to say too much about events that unfold in the game, because to relate them is to interpret them, and I don’t want to impose too many of my impressions onto your experience. I went into the game with very little idea of what I would find, and so I found a lot of myself in it. If I’d read an overview I might have gone in expecting more and getting less.

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The controls are interesting in their near-absence. (I’m using a gamepad, but it also supports the mouse & keyboard duo of old.) You move your character. You look around. Press a button to run. There’s a button to see what items you’ve collected, but it’s not really an inventory. You don’t get things back out. It’s more like a scrapbook of strange crap that you’ve found. And that’s it for the controls. To “interact” – to do something besides walk around – you need to stop giving input. You steer the girl to some remote place, far off the path. Then you simply let her go and see what she chooses to do.

If you’re like me and you’ve been lamenting about how games have been stuck in a rut of boilerplate storytelling and carbon-copy gameplay, then you owe it to yourself to check out The Path. I don’t give the game my full endorsement as a game, but I give it full marks for having a bold vision and running with it. It’s innovative, unique, and it’s only ten bucks.


20209Feeling chatty? There are 49 comments.


  1. Jabor says:

    This seems … really interesting.

    And at ten bucks, it’s right in the “why not?” price range.

  2. Another Scott says:

    I’ve been thinking about trying out “The Path” ever since I watched the escapist’s review of it.

    Found here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/reviews/5928-Review-The-Path

    I’ve always been a fan of the various Red Riding Hood stories. Does it have 6 different versions of a story just like the old tale itself has so many variants? Or is one story told in 6 different pieces?

    Actually… don’t tell me, I’m going fork over $10 and go find out for myself.

  3. Sounds interesting, I’ll definitely pick it up and give it a go.

    In some way it reminds me of a childs view of the events of the cult book The Dice Man.

  4. Sounds interesting! Their system requirements are a little vague though, is a Radeon x1900 GT recent enough?

  5. HeadHunter says:

    Sounds like a fascinating experience. It’s nice to see games that take a chance and do something different, games that emphasize story above all.

    I have had high hopes for other titles in the past – Black & White had promise to be “different” but in the end was mired by its gameplay.

    Not sure if this will run on my 5 year old fossil, let me go have a look.

  6. Randy Johnson says:

    You convinced me, I will reply later with some thoughts on the game.

  7. Vegedus says:

    What Jabor said, pretty much.

    Even the implication that you can apparently breeze through the game without incident by following the path seems interesting. That the real game only starts once you wilfully steer the girls towards harm.

    In a lot of games with fixed storylines, you have to do bad/stupid things because the plot demands it (warning: tvtropes link), but the idea that you don’t HAVE to, but is only doing it for your own pleasure is almost gross.

  8. Vladius says:

    Got this a few days ago. Frankly, I think it’s too slow, but a great concept. And it’s somewhat hard to find it scary in any objective sense.

    All the characters that do appear (even Granny) are creepy, though.

  9. antsheaven says:

    Finished the game a while ago, and while it is a pain not being able to run freely (you can, but shouldn’t, really). I enjoyed the overall experience.

    I hate to say too much about events that unfold in the game, because to relate them is to interpret them, and I don’t want to impose too many of my impressions onto your experience.

    But I’m really interested in reading your interpretation, *nudge, *nudge.

  10. Haven’t check this out yet, but anyone worried about system requirements (or even just want a taste of how the mechanics work), you can grab The Path Prologue from the Tale of Tales site.

    Honestly, I’m surprised they don’t advertise this on the Path main page… it’s apparently a separate game experience set in the same world (so those who liked the Path, don’t miss it either).

    Look forward to more discussion… when I have the $10, this is definitely on my list.

    • bee says:

      DO NOT get the prologue. I picked it up after i played the game to get more insight on the girl in white. All you do is go to the same areas created before (but destroyed and smokey) and collect yellow flowers. (which do nothing.) I guess they made it to give the play experience without any giveaways… but frankly i was TOTALLY disappointed. No items to explore. No wolf. No insight. See the wreckage and then head to granny’s, where the game promptly ends–you don’t even get to see the inside of the house!

  11. I remember as a child being deeply disturbed by the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I was horrified by the ‘punishments’ that were being inflicted upon the various kids. So you’re not alone, Shamus.

    Like antsheaven, I’m curious as to your personal interpretation of the game.

    Leslee

  12. Sheer_FALACY says:

    The trouble with The Path is that it’s not a game that emphasizes story. It certainly doesn’t emphasize gameplay. What it emphasizes is art. It’s not so much “games as art” as it is “art as games”. Which is interesting, certainly. Maybe there’s even an artistic reason for the 20 minute walk in the rain. But it’s very, very niche.

  13. chabuhi says:

    Tale of Tales also has a bizarre but interesting “massively multiplayer screensaver” called Endless Forest. In it, the players are human-faced deer whose only capabilities are a small set of gestures they can use in interacting with other players and the environment. There is no chat function or any other way to communicate in any human language. The forest is either generated on the fly or is some kind of boundless torus/Moebius (or a combination). There’s no inventory system as there is nothing to collect. It’s all about interacting with other people without “speech”. Like I said, bizarre.

    The Path is, imo, equally bizarre, though much more “playable” and overall more interesting. Though its bizarreness may really annoy some people.

  14. Tesh says:

    I’ll second Vegedus’ comment. That the “real game” only starts when you willfully lead the heroines off the safe path is more than a little creepy. It’s one of those “when you stare into the Abyss” moments, and while such does have value in that it’s unique and can teach each player something about themselves, I lament that we don’t see more positive teaching experiences.

    If this is the natural direction of the game/art discussion, we really are feeding those who complain that games are vapid, violent, dark engines of destruction. I think that’s unfortunate and unwise.

  15. Greg says:

    Sean: Thanks for the link, I’d have missed out on that otherwise :)

    Shamus: I understand not wanting to put your interpretation on the game before people play it, but can we look forwards to hearing your opinions at a later date? It’d be interesting to hear what you and others thought about it.

    Everyone else: I enjoyed this game a while ago and would definately pick it up for £10. As Sheer Falacy says it’s not a game or a story (though there is a story to be had) it’s a something else. I think it’s important to try something elses though, because even if most of them aren’t what you’re looking for, the only way for something to be truely awe inspiring is to try something new.

  16. Johannes says:

    @Tesh: I strongly disagree with you (but then, who said we’d have to agree on everything? ;-)). Life isn’t black or white, or even grey, but a very rich palette of colors. Art, and whatever you’d want to call multi-medial expressions like this computer game, should reflect that. Personally, I find a lot of computer games quite bland with respect to what they have to offer ethics-wise (which, of course, is not the reason I play them). The same goes for a lot of Hollywood-movies (which I only very occasionally watch).

    I don’t think games, or books or films for that matter, should try to teach us something. If anything, they should help us look in a mirror, and nothing more than that. Remember Bioshock, and the so-called confronting way the game would throw the moral issue of freeing the girls at you? Much lauded by many a game reviewer, but it possibly only marginally impressed the actual players of the game.

    And of course, this type of game deserves its own shelf, at a safe distance from children (or rather, it deserves sufficient advisory for all those watchful parents that of course don’t allow their children buying violent/shocking/whatever 18+ stuff).

  17. Spider Dave says:

    I’m going to try this game as soon as I get the chance. I do love my indie adventure horror games, like The White Chamber.

  18. Kdansky says:

    It was included in the Indie Game Package on Steam two weeks ago. Darwinia, The Path, World of Goo, Braid, Mr. Robot, Gish, Everyday Shooter, Blueberry Garden, Crayon Physics Deluxe for 30$. World of Goo was worth it by itself, Braid I already owned and everything else was a freebie. Did not yet find the time to play them all, though Darwinia is great. The Path is a bit tiring to play, since oyu have to hold down the walk button for eterneties, and the screen tilts in such a way that you cannot see where you go.

  19. DarkLadyWolf says:

    Wow, this is definitely on my to buy ASAP list!

    Thanks for pointing it out Shamus!

  20. Sean Riley says:

    Shamus, make sure you do a wrap-up post on it as well. I want to know your interpretation of the game as a whole, not just the parts of it.

    I think I can say this without spoiler warnings, but for those worried, take heed.

    My basic interpretation is that it’s about growing up. There’s only one girl, not seven, even though they have differences along the way. The basic message of the game is that we grow up via pain, loss, and suffering. While this is heart-rending; the alternative is dreary, boring, and sanitized.

    And I have a whole essay ready to go in my head about how The Path is a great example of why ‘standard’ mechanics are a better choice than ‘alternative’ ones most of the time. Imagine how much more invigorating the game would be if you could jump, run and play as Robin. This is LIFE! And how much you’d miss it once you reached the girl with the leg-brace (Ruby), etc. This game could have made its points more forcefully if it had been willing to be a little bit more conventional.

    Oh, and a final thought: The real brilliance of The Path is in the way the game explicitly gives you one goal, and implicitly sets you another one. This is actually another tie to Silent Hill, which likewise explicitly told you one goal (find your daughter) and implicitly set you another one. (Discover the truth behind Silent Hill.) The tension between the two goals is what gives the horror a lot of its potency.

  21. LafinJack says:

    There’s also this review, and the reviewer was… let’s call it “not impressed”. Or maybe “horrified”.

  22. Sean Riley says:

    Mein gott, LafinJack. That may be the most tone-deaf review I’ve ever read in my life. How on earth do you see a game with such precisely designed imprecision and not even begin to question why they chose that design? How do you not even question the metaphor and be so utterly literal?

    That review is everything I think gaming needs to get away from.

    (Yes, this is true even when I kind of agree with him. We both think the controls should be snappier and faster, but he’s arguing, “They need to make this move faster, god it’s slow and boring” where I argue, “They should make this faster to increase the contrast between the joy of life and horror of violation.”)

  23. H.M says:

    … *shrugs* So whens the next Halo coming out?

  24. Ralph says:

    This sounded kinda cool, and I am tempted to buy it, but having tried the prologue on steam I am not so sure.

    As far as I can tell it lacks many of the elements that have yourself and many others raving about it. The forest is sort of creepy, and wandering around it is fun for a while, but eventually I quit without feeling that I had achieved anything. Yes there is the collection task, but without being given any indication that anything will happen at the end, I am not willing to devote the hours necessary to it.

    Many say that it makes more sense if you have played through the complete game, but this is no use to its primary audience really…

  25. Liz says:

    You sold me, Shamus, in the first four paragraphs. I barely even finished reading the review before clicking through to buy… only to discover that my two-year-old Mac doesn’t meet minimum specs.

    Anyone else playing this know whether it can be played with OS 10.4? I’ve got all the other specs, but I haven’t upgraded my OS to 10.5, yet.

  26. Sheer_FALACY says:

    That review is less a review and more a description of the whole game, line by line. Yeesh, if anything about the game deserves a spoiler warning it’s that.

    Since it mentions the sound, I will too: It’s a very cool soundtrack when you hear it at the start of the game after you pick your first girl. Then it loops. Then it loops again. There are like 2 places with different soundtracks. By the end of the game you’ll want to hunt down the composer and beat them with a stick. There are random noises throughout that seem meaningful, but they aren’t.

    Speaking of the start, you sit through it with every girl. It’s identical.

    Anyway, that review is meaner than the game actually deserves. But I still agree with it in a lot of places.

  27. Zaxares says:

    This game certainly sounds like it has an interesting premise, but based on that review LafinJack provided, I think I’ll give it a miss. I see enough pain and anguish and terrible things in real life. I play games to get AWAY from all that. :P

    Still, I would be interested in seeing an article series on The Path once you’re done with it, Shamus.

  28. krellen says:

    I’d go out and buy this right away if only I had a computer that met their specs.

  29. Menudo Ia says:

    I did exactly what it told me, but I still got a D Rank! This game licks monkey nuts.

    And why are the character models so ugly?

  30. Rainmaker, the gray says:

    “drunken chimpanzees”… LOL!!!
    ok,that was totally HILARIOUS!!!

  31. Tempus Fugit says:

    Absolutely ghastly. Remind me not to listen to your thoughts on games anymore, Shamus.

  32. Corey Lavendar says:

    Agreed. That a man who enjoys this game has a daughter is anything but funny.

  33. Crazy Merry says:

    What I like about the Path is the darkness it contains.
    Nowerdays, even Grimm has been toned down, and Anderson’s are more fairy tale than faerie tale. Everything has been to Disney-fied, and to PC World. When I play it, as my autism cause me to feel little emotional attachment and empathy, the (mind) rape is both disturbing and fascinating at the same time, like the old Black Forest tales, which are downright unpleasent at times – children eaten, fratricide, incest, rape – which you rarely see today. It is dark, it is nasty, and it is unpleasent – the likes of which you never see in this day an age.
    Tinkerbell actively tries to kill Wendy in Peter Pan. Snow White kills the Queen (who has killed all but one of her blood) by making her “dance the night away” in white-hot shoes. In Rapunzel, the Prince has his eyes torn out by the thorns. In the King of the Golden River, the Black Brothers are petrified. For the Frog Prince to transform, first you must cut off his head.
    These dark tales were dark for a reason – the world outside was darker still, but we seem to want to make these brighter for the children, whom we see as more fragile with each passing generation…

    (PS – I’m A-sexual, and exeptionally liberal. Hopefully that will neutralise the ad hominem arguments.)

  34. DaveMc says:

    @Liz, Mac Games Arcade lists the specs for The Path as OS 10.5.6 or higher, an Intel Core Duo, 1 GB RAM, and an ATI X1600 or NVIDIA 7300GT (you can go to “About this Mac” to see if you have these video cards). I think it bodes ill for even a two-year-old Mac, unfortunately.

    (Mac Games Arcade is a sort-of-Steam for Macs: basically a front-end to the Mac Games Store, but you can launch any game from it (including games you didn’t buy from them), and you can redownload your purchased games any time. I’ve found it quite handy, if you’re playing games on a Mac.)

  35. Lever Up Down says:

    my autism

    Oh, now I get it.

  36. Author says:

    Indie games are usually ghastly. It’s an obligation their creators feel in order not to be “mainstream”. Anyone played Katawa Shoujo?

  37. BlckDv says:

    I saw an interview with the author of “Where the Wild Things Are” recently that I think contained an idea very key to the.. I’ll politely call it debate… about the themes of this game. He said that his main concern in the making of the film was not faithfulness to his work, but faithfulness to his desire to speak to children without being patronizing.

    Many children have an awareness that there are dark truths in the world; and somber tales can help them to understand and make sense of a world without having to experience it. As Susan says in the Discworld books, children are already afraid of the dark, scary stories teach them that they don’t just have to sit idle in fear.

    I have not yet played “The Path” so I won’t comment on whether or not it is a game suited for children, but the notion that accepting media which conveys unpleasant reality as a topic is the same as craving that unpleasant reality is rather absurd.

  38. Crazy Merry says:

    Just re-read my rant. Sorry for being so Pseuds Corner-ry.

  39. Grendel103182 says:

    Thanks Shamus, after I read your review I downloaded the game and was quite impressed. Not a perfect game but perfect for the price. Its a shame that some people act negatively and closed off for they are truly missing the point. Kudos to you and your site!

  40. Hirvox says:

    As a game, The Path is atrocious. The camera angles are awkward, the ban on running near locations makes the game tedious (especially if you find the Misty Lake from the wrong side) and finding the correct memories is the very definition of trial-and-error gameplay. Not only that, the UI even misleads you. The memories with a darker background are supposed to be collectable with the girl you’re playing.. but when you reach them, the game says you need to collect them with an another girl, requiring multiple playtroughs to see the full Grandma’s house sequence with all of the girls.

    As art, it’s perfect. It’s beautiful, serene, thoughtful, ambiguous, foreboding and builds the atmosphere carefully.

    What I’m most conflicted about is when those two elements clash. Sure, the slow pace makes getting lost in the woods appropriately scary (and conversely making you genuinely glad when you encounter the Lady In White). And I can understand why walking to and through the Grandma’s house is slow. But all of that is interesting only once, after that it’s just tedious, and the option to skip doesn’t get unlocked until you’ve completed it with all of the girls and found all of the memories.

  41. Slinkyman says:

    Hi there Shamus, I really enjoyed reading your review. Mainly because it reflects my own review, on my own site, so very closely. I’m glad to see someone share the same views as me on this truely remarkable game. I’d be absolutely delighted if you took the time to view my own site (link thru my name). I think you would be particulary interested in an article entitled ‘Art in Computer Games’, as it explores the potential of video games as an art form.

    Thanks for your time!

  42. Alien Cowboy says:

    This game sucks. Pretentious intellectual self indulgent emo bullshit. If this game is art, its in the “bronzed dog turd in a gravy boat” category of art. Tale of Tales pushed the envelope only at how completely they could bore the hell out of the suckers that paid for this complete piece of… art (myself chief among said suckers). The revelations that come about the characters are so blatantly descriptive of the wounded emotions of the precious snowflakes that serve as the characters that it can only be a reflection of the manic narcissism of the “artists” behind this travesty. I quote Don Henley, “I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass”.
    Makes one question how art ever existed before we knew all of this esoteric shit about or psyche. Oh yeah, I remember! IT TOOK TALENT AND WORK TO BE AN ARTIST, not the ability to be a self centered twit blathering on about your inner red riding hood in whatever medium you desire. Steer clear of this turd-burg.

  43. Violet Black says:

    Is it socially acceptable to ask Crazy Merry why his/her autism causes him/her to feel little emotional attachment and empathy? I don’t wish to invalidate his/her life experiences, I’d just heard it described differently by other auties…

    I’m sorry for being off topic, and thanks be to the reviewer for drawing my attention to an interesting game-thingy. :)

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