I've mulled over how I would start this piece a hundred times in my head. I was searching for some way I could accurately and elegantly communicate my feelings on Tale of Tales' new indie PC horror game, The Path. But what I've decided is that I'm not good enough for that, so I'm going to give you the next best thing and just be completely honest with you, leaving nuance and subtlety at home with grandma so me and my friend clarity can have a crazy night on the town.
The Path is weird. It's like, really, really, weird. It's like a "play it for three hours and you're still not sure if you're doing it right, and then in hour four you realize that there may not even be a right way" level of weirdness. I'm not reviewing the thing because I'm honestly not sure if they did what they set out to achieve. Yes? Maybe? I have no clue.
Here's what I can tell you, and I'm going to try not to give too much away, because grokking the mechanics is actually one of the game's primary challenges. You play six different girls who've been thrust into a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Your only "goal" or "instruction" is to go to grandma's house and stay on the path. ... Oh, and if you do that, you fail.
In the end, The Path is a little bit like getting punched in the nose by a centaur.
Do you see? Do you see now? You get one instruction in the game and you have to disregard it. That's the kind of experience we're talking about here. Once you leave the path you'll find innumerable creepy yet beautifully rendered experiences to take part in, but you're never really given any guidance as what the point or object of all of it is. Basically, it's gameplay in the abstract.
This is not a mystery where you'll piece it together and immediately understand all the facets. There are plenty of signals that are random or seemingly so, and just when you think you've got it figured out, your concept of the game will unravel. This is an experience, an experience everyone is going to take something different from.
I almost felt as if my disorientation was being used at some points, like ToT knew I felt off-kilter and used that feeling to creep me out even more. Gameplay is rarely being used as a mechanism to deliver fun or satisfaction, and though I found it extremely engaging, I can't say I had a particularly good time playing The Path.
What I know I enjoyed was the game's gorgeous art and music, creating a constantly shifting, dangerous atmosphere that never felt safe, never secure.
Whether it was the presentation or the gameplay, I know The Path stuck with me, which is a far rarer quality in games than I'd like. There are some big ideas being explored here, if your heart and mind are open to them. My worry is that players will miss all of it if they get too caught up with "playing it wrong." I know I often did.
In the end, The Path is a little bit like getting punched in the nose by a centaur. It's momentarily painful, but you get to spend the next few days trying to figure out precisely what the hell just happened to you. I don't know about you, but for $10, that sounds to me like an A+, two thumbs up, four out of four stars ... which is why this isn't a review.