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The Path Day#2: No Compass, No Guide, No Fun

My second hour into The Path and I think I’m done.  I clearly made progress today, and I even had the game tell me I was successful, but I still have no idea AT ALL what  I am supposed to be doing.  And perhaps even more importantly, the game shows no indication that it has any interest in making a compelling play experience. There are moments in The Path that are interesting aesthetically, but there are an equal number of moments that are unforgivably bad design.  I have no idea where a 79 metacritic score came from for this obtuse and unreadable experience. I may come back to this to be completist, out of curiosity, or for some good ole masochism, but I hereby give up. My next post will be on Dragon Age.  Spoilers within.

So, it’s back to the room and the six girls. I chose Carmen this time, just to be different. I have an agenda to have something happen today, so I’m going to experiment. In old text adventure game, there’s a technique I call “use lamp on door.”  It refers to that moment when you get stuck in a puzzle, and for want of any clue of what to do, you just start using every item in your inventory on every object in the space. That’s where I am at with The Path. Let the random experimentation begin!

I get past the title screen, and this time I go back up the road. Just in front of me is a phone. I go towards it and action, which causes Carmen to pick up the phone and make a call. We then transition back to the room with the other girls. I guess that’s the reset button. Check. I click Carmen again to start over.

This second time I decide to stray off the path and run out into the woods. I’m loosely using the wolf tracks that appear while I’m running as a guide; I’ve yet to find the wolf according to the results screen, so there’s a knowable goal.  The music changes as I go out there. I notice that there’s a wolf print in the frame and I try to follow it, but it keeps disappearing at random times. I think it may be the ornamentation of the frame obscuring the symbol. I don’t know what worse: if the design of the screen is making the wolf print invisible, or if it’s disappearing for no reason.  Either way, this is not helping me figure the game out.

The result is that my wandering becomes semi-random, but that turns out okay as it leads me to some camp with a girl in white running around it.  I run up to it,  and the game transitions to a CS of boy hitting something with an axe, then cuts to a first-person zoom through camp which includes a tent, a fire pit, and a cabin. Text appears: “the tent is closed the shack is closed but the beer seems fresh and the fire is still warm.”  I get control back at the edge of the camp.

I wander into camp and as I do, I get close up transparent view of a beer can. I click enter to do something (“use beer on door…”), and I end up losing control to see Carmen walk over to the fire pit and sit on a crate near it. Why did that happen? Why didn’t I get a beer action instead of a fire action? And to top it off, as I sit there, nothing happens. I mean nothing. Carmen sits there, and gives me no information about whether this was a right choice or if she’s eventually going to do anything.  I give up and have her get up.

When I do, I see the beer can again. When I press enter this time, Carmen gets a beer, and as she drinks it, I get a vision of a red staircase. When that fades, I try to action with girl in white. She does cartwheel — no idea if anything I did caused that. But beyond that, I’m not seeming to affect her. Then I wander to the cabin. I get a close up of the cabin and try to action there, which causes Carmen to try the door futilely. Okay, I have no clue when I can and can’t affect things. The feedback in this game is just terrible.

I walk away from cabin and towards fire. Suddenly, with no action on my part,  I lose control of Carmen and she starts blowing on the pit to restart the fire.  (Do I even have to choose to action in this game?) I get a fire icon in my inventory, and a view of what I think is a wooden hallway. Carmen sits at the fire and text appears reading, “the warm glow caresses my skin. peels me layer by layer. until i am pure. for you.” The axe guy sits near me.  I hit action with no idea when it has any effect. Regardless, the camera rotates around Carmen and axe guy as they drink beer and the girl in white runs into woods. The game zooms out to scratchy, creepy music and fades to black.

I reappear with control in front of grandmother’s house. Carmen is lying on the ground, and it’s raining. Carmen’s movement is different — she can’t run, and she’s holding the back of her neck. Making me wonder if she’s  hungover. It’s could be an interesting artistic choice, but dear god this walking is PAINFULLY SLOW.  After a minute of holding down the up arrow, I get to the fence and action there.  Oh, there seems to be a little black frame that indicates  a cut scene is starting and I lose control of Carmen. That’s actually useful feedback. Wow would it be nice if they didn’t clutter the edges of the screen up with ornament so that I could see the useful feedback.

Okay,  here’s where we cross the Rubicon of crap. Remember how I lost control as Carmen as I approached Grandmother’s house? Well, Carmen is still moving slow, and it takes 5 MINUTES for her to complete the cut-scene. I am not exaggerating here. 5 minutes with no control, watching Carmen walk toward the house with NOTHING ELSE HAPPENING.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is not evocative or artistic. This is unforgivably BORING. Sorry, Tale of Tales. This is where you earned your FAIL and lost this player.

Let me finish this post. I’m back in house in first-person perspective. Now there’s a saw blade for the ceiling fan, red Xs on everything, and the sound of wolf growling.  I enter new door marked with X — it’s the red staircase. I go down the stairs into a weird big room with dripping water and the sound of a girl singing. There’s a set of chairs and a tree stump in the bottom of a filled pool with one chair outside of the pool up on a set of mattresses. I walk around pool through another door into wooden hallway. I hear a woman moaning to the sound of hand sawing, and there are red Xs all through hallway. I pass briefly through a weird room that looks like upside down version of the previous room, and then more wooden hallway with red Xs and more faster moaning. Eventually, foliage starts appearing in the hallway obscuring the path. It takes a long time, but I finally get to top. It ends in a room with a creepy deer head, hole in floor, and axes on the walls. I go down hole and through door to room that is empty except for a huge fire on the right. (WTF is going on? Seriously, what is all of this?) I finally go into a room with a bed that has a tree growing out of it. Carmen CS gets in the bed, and there’s an admittedly evocative series of images of Carmen, the axeman and the tree to some interesting world music. The above, for the record, was about 10 minutes where I did nothing but hold down the up arrow.

And then the results screen. I’ll doing my ranting line by line this time.

  • 0 out of 13 items — I’m sorry, what are the beer and the fire and the raven? What is an item in this game?
  • 2 out of 3 rooms — Which of the many room-like spaces that I saw for the first time were “rooms”?
  • 396 meters traveled — And this matters why? It seems like it’s just a reminder of all of the time I slowly wasted on this experience.
  • wolf encountered: yes — Really? I don’t remember that. Unless the wolf is some pretentious, unreadable symbol, which I suppose makes sense, because that’s all this game is.
  • SUCCESS — Having any sense of the criteria would give this some value. Right now, it’s totally meaningless.
  • Rank C — See above.
  • You have found the camp site — Hey, something straightforward. Yes, I did find the camp, by randomly wandering and trying everything I could think of to have an effect on your broken, unreadable game. Yea me.

After that, I arrive back in the room and Carmen is not there. Did I complete her story? Do I need to save her with another character? Is she dead? Inquiring minds may want to know, but mine is not one of them.

To conclude, it is entirely possible that I am just not getting this and that I will change my opinion when I do, but I think this game is an overly pretentious attempt at art that fails in the most basic interactions. First, it is very bad design that I am almost three hours into this experience and still have almost no sense of what’s going on at the level of core goals. Second, the game is far too slow and too willing to make me sit through boring stuff or force me through pointless agency for whatever story they want to tell. There is nothing engaging about watch an avatar crawl towards a unrewarding destination and having no ability to accelerate it. These two things together make an unforgivably bad product. I’m going on to Dragon Age now. I may come back to this if I get curious, but even if the later parts of the game cause mana to fall from the sky and flowers to cover the earth, it doesn’t forgive this TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE learning process.  FAIL.

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  1. Margaret (student) says

    I’d managed to forget exactly how slow and painful the gameplay was. Ramsey and I made it a little further than you did, but we were discussing the various interface mysteries with one another, which made them less annoying, and we were also using the game as a way to shirk classwork, which made it artificially more interesting.

    I think the agonizing slowness is why we haven’t returned to it. But if that weren’t enough, they actually have a map system for their very-obviously-too-large game world that is tuned perfectly to infuriate and disorient you. Haven’t seen it? That’s because you have to run around for something like 1000m before you get to see it at all, and then it appears approximately every 500m after that. When I say “appear” I mean “fade in for about a second and then fade away with no way to retrieve it”. And when I say “map” what I mean is “a big black rectangle (mis)representing a cylindrical space, with no landmarks or features except a line representing your random wanderings”. I literally can’t imagine a worse system.

    But I disagree on the subject of the wolf as an unreadable symbol. I don’t want to spoil anything (if you even care about spoilers at this point), but there is a central metaphor they’re exploring here, based on the postmodern analysis of the fairy tale, and I think the way they set it up is pretty clear IF you have the patience to keep playing. They just made it so painful to play that only a masochistic few will get to admire their concept.

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