20 July 2009

The Path

"Where are you going? What do you carry?"

[The Path] is a short horror game from my favorite indie developer ever, [Tale of Tales].

In short, it's a modern take on the Little Red Riding Hood story with gothic sensibilities. The color scheme is almost exclusively red, black, and gray. The playable characters are six sisters ranging in age from nine to nineteen, each with her own personality.

The six sisters live in the city. In turn, their mother sends them to the edge of the city to venture through the woods to their grandmother's house. The only directions given are "Go to grandmother's house. And stay on the path!"

The trailer gives a taste of the story and art, but there's no actual dialog in the game. I love the creepy music though!

Of course, the only way to complete the game is to ignore all the rules and wander the forest. Each girl has her own story and background which can be revealed as you collect and interact with objects and unlock secret rooms in grandmother's house. Most importantly, each girl has her own personal wolf. Once she meets the wolf, the girl is never the same.

The game itself takes about four hours and describes itself as a "slow game". This is apparent on several levels. Physically, the girls do not walk or run faster than a normal human. They don't move at the usual faster-than-real-life speeds that are typical of game characters. Also, the game itself doesn't have timers or puzzles or even really obstacles. The focus is on getting lost in the woods and exploring. There's also a lot of waiting to allow the girls to go through their own motions and move the action along.

As you explore, there are various creepy objects scattered around that different girls can interact with in different ways. There are also shiny flowers that the girls desire to pick (thus drawing them and you further into the forest) and six "attraction" areas. These areas are integral to the story and each girl has one that she can interact with in a special way.

There's also a neat (and scary!) mechanic where when you direct the girl to run the camera pans out, the screen blurs and darkens, and a pounding heartbeat comes to the auditory foreground. This really helps to facilitate the "lost" feeling because it's difficult to see where you're going and where you've been.

The Drama Princess AI also gives a lot of autonomy to the girls. If you get them close enough to an object they will interact with it on their own. Also, if you find yourself lost you can leave the girl alone and she will start acting nervous and afraid, attracting the Girl in White who will lead you back to the path. The idea that you have to give up control at points in the game (and wait) to progress contributes to the "slow game" feel.

What I liked most about the game was how open to interpretation the stories are. The game clearly says something about what it means to grow up, but while there is no violence or sex in the game there is possible implied sexual violence. I'm not really sure what it all says about the victimization of women and becoming a woman, but not all the wolves are men or are even human. The age of the girls definitely effect their experiences and choices. (Various interpretations of the events and wolves are discussed ad nauseum on the Tale of Tales [forums] of which I am a member.) I'd love to discuss the stories in detail but I don't want to give too much away. At any rate, I'm a big scaredy-cat so I was pretty well afraid during my first run.

The game takes about four hours to complete on the first run and has decent replay value. I found it compelling and even after owning it for about four months I still find myself ruminating over my gameplay experience.

To sum up:
[The Path]
Worth buying
$10 on [Steam] or [direct from Tale of Tales]
There's a free [demo]ish
Also available for Mac

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