The Path starts by telling you to go to Grandmother's house and to stay on the path, so that’s what you do. You follow the path through the woods, go inside, sit on the bed and that’s it. The game is finished and you’re told that by achieving this goal quickly and directly that you have utterly failed the game. You missed an untold number of secret items, you didn’t explore and, most importantly, Red Riding Hood never learnt her lesson. She never found the Wolf.
It’s an odd way to start a game, but a strangely effective one once the remaining elements swim into focus. More than anything the game over screen exists not to give you a sense of closure, but to ram home one thing; that The Path is not about staying safe. It’s a dangerous world out there; you should stay on the path, but if there’s one thing you shouldn’t do then it's to stay on the path.
This next idea is hard to express, much like The Path itself. I want to tell you that, in its most banally distilled form, The Path is a game about exploration, risk, patience and vulnerability – but I’m hampered by the fact that, well...
Hell, I may as well just come out and say it; The Path isn’t a game, it’s art. It’s pretentious and self-aware and it alternates in broad strokes between being beautiful and crushing. It isn’t something to play, but something to experience. The Path isn’t an entertainer; it’s an evoker.
In short, if you didn’t like Braid or Flower then you’d better stop reading now because The Path is like that kind of thing, but it got lost in the woods as a child and has become a wild, savage thing that wants to make you sick. That’s what it does. You can’t come to The Path expecting it to be accessible any more than you can come to it and expect it to be scary, fun or exciting. All you can do is come to it and accept the fact that it’s going to make you chew your hands in frustration and tension.
Normally, game reviews don’t start like this and I shouldn’t have to tell anyone what the game is or how to approach it, but The Path makes that a necessity because...it’s special. Broken, but special – just like the characters that fill it.
There are six of them, all girls, all dressed in red and with a penchant for mischief and walking too slowly. At first it seems like that’s all they are; just girls, but as you get to know them it becomes obvious that each of them is really more of a snapshot than a person.
There’s Robin, the youngest and most innocent of them all, whose fears and hopes and dreams are the most basic and literal. There’s Carmen, the oldest and most voluptuous, so secure in her newly found sexuality and who fancies herself a femme fatale. Ruby is a typical goth-kid, with plenty of eyeliner, one leg in a brace and a distant superiority complex. She just wants to be left alone.
Each of them is a snapshot of a different age or emotion and each one of them is vulnerable in a very specific way that’ll conjure terror, disgust and uncontrollable anxiety in anyone that spends time getting to know them.
And if you play The Path then you can’t help but get to know them very, very well.