Here’s the basic framework for the game. When you start you’re taken to a red room and made to choose a girl to run the errand to Grandmother's house. That girl then appears on the path and sets forth, with you pushing her on.
Pushing is the operative word here. The controls for the game are a stroke of perverse genius; WASD is used to steer your Red Riding Hood wherever you want to take her, but if you want to actually get her to do anything then you need to leave her alone and let her do it. If you find an old boot in the forest then you walk up to it, leave the girl for a moment and see if it grabs her interest. This is a game of patience.
It’s also a game of exploration. One of the most interesting things we noted from The Path is how unquestioningly players follow their objectives in games. When it says ‘Stay on the path’, you just do it. It took us three goes before we ventured off-road. All too often in games we follow orders without thinking and while sometimes we might, in boredom, fire a bullet or two at a friendly NPC we never actually expect the game to be affected. The first thing The Path does is play on that.
The next thing it does is give you secrets to find in the woods - items which provoke all sorts of responses from your Red Riding Hood of choice, their thoughts being scrawled on the screen in easily-obscured yellow crayon. Here’s a boot, a feather, a bullet – what do you make of them?
If you want you can take these things and go straight to Grandmother's house, dumping yourself in a claustrophobic, first-person scene where you have no choice but to move forward, to Grandmother. The house is always different, but the one constant is that no matter what button you press, it only moves you onwards, one reluctant step at a time. John Walker was right to call it a perverse take on a quicktime event.
There are certain places in the forest where the Wolf dwells, though it takes a different form for each girl. It seems wrong and you kind-of don’t want it to be, but the object of the game eventually always becomes a matter of finding the Wolf and letting it have its way with you.
Robin, youngest and most simple of all the girls, is simply carried away by a real-life Wolf because she’s blind to the dangers. Others find themselves forced into abuse or seduced by older men when nobody is watching, while others lose their innocence in more benign ways that are damning in a different sense. It takes some unexpected turns which we don’t want to spoil for you, but seeing the girls being utterly demolished by everyday evils is a uniquely uncomfortable feeling. It feels like being the only person laughing in a cinema – except the film you’re watching is Schindler’s List.
When you’ve faced the Wolf the result is always the same. You wake up outside Grandmother's house and begin the long walk up to her door. You started the walk in broad daylight with the sun on your back, but now it’s dark and raining and the world is unfriendly. Getting up the garden path is painfully slow going and you’d be forgiven for just weighing down the Forwards button and waiting it out, but the game wants you to know; this is a walk of deep, unfathomable shame.
Inside Grandmother's house nothing is what you’d expect; the world is ripped with symbolism and the type of creeping unease that really gets under your skin. Why are the walls green and the floor lined with lidless jars? Because this is that worst type of horror - the type that's scary for reasons you can't quite figure out and the more you try the worse it gets. It's like a bad trip or drowning in your sleep.