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The Path
Lewis Denby
dares to venture into the unknown...

This is interesting.  A far cry from the high-budget thrills that dominate the videogames market these days, The Path is being created almost entirely by two people: Belgium-based developer Tale of Tales, aka Auriea Harvey and MichaŽl Samyn.  Theyíve been working on The Path since 2006, following some time experimenting with unusual storytelling techniques.  They described their previous 'game', The Graveyard, as 'an explorable painting', and their other release of note is an oddball MMO title where everyone is a deer.  Now, Tale of Tales are putting the finishing touches on The Path, which is... well.  That's rather difficult to establish.

Tale of Tales are keeping many of The Path's secrets under wraps.  What we do know is that it's a non-linear horror game, loosely based on traditional versions of Little Red Riding Hood, and featuring a group of Tim Burton-esque sisters known as the Red Girls.  The young ladies, whose family has recently moved from the city, have only one task: take some food and drink to their sick grandmother - and be sure, above all else, to stay on the path.

From there on out, progress is up to you.  Do you choose to be obedient, stick to the long, winding path through the foreboding forest, and deliver the hamper to your grandmother?  Or do you begin to question what you're told?  Why is grandma always sick?  Why is it so imperative that you stay on the path?  There appears to be something sinister at the end of either option: as the marketing blurb puts it, Ďwill you take the path of needles, or the path of pins?í  Curious...

The Path might be best described as a sandbox adventure game, with heavy thematic elements of survival horror.  The intentionally ambiguous narrative, Tale of Tales have told us, is expressed through the actions of the players, and unravelled as the girls explore.  But exploration is forbidden by the very premise of the story.  It's a heavily metaphorical tale set in an unashamedly fictional world: more about what you're supposed to take from it, than how much you believe in it.  And, just to confuse the hell out of us even more, apparently the only way to complete the game is for the main characters to die.  ÖRight.

Initially, The Path looks to play like a reasonably traditional adventure title.  But thereís a peculiar difference in the way players interact with in-game objects.  That is to say, they donít.

"...why is Grandma always sick...?"

Instead of having to click on an item of interest, simply letting go of the controls causes your particular Red Girl to interact with an object of her choice in the vicinity, in a way that she sees fit on that occasion.  This, according to MichaŽl Samyn, results in a degree of variety and unpredictability in the game, triggering new events and unfolding new surprises each time the game is played.  A combination of this and the completely freeform world means that no two play-throughs will be identical.  It sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, and it probably is Ė but I wouldnít be surprised if thatís the whole point.  The Path is a game about challenging the notions of rules and conventions Ė both in terms of narrative and gameplay.

Even with all this to prick our ears up, itís the heavily stylised visuals that really stand out.  While the Quest3D engine (last seen in Audiosurf) isnít exactly cutting-edge, The Path remains utterly remarkable to look at: more like an abstract piece of art in motion than a videogame.  Subtle overlays drift in and out of the picture, the tones over-saturated and unusual.  Occasionally, it switches to greyscale.  Occasionally, a seemingly unrelated image replaces the game world onscreen, only to snap back again a second later.

The recent trailer, featuring a hefty amount of in-game footage, manages to be truly chilling without ever doing anything overtly frightening.  The Path seems to build its fear on the premise that cheap jump moments donít create true horror.  Instead, itís the little, unusual touches that unnerve: slight deviations away from normality.  Remember the way the patients ambled in Thief: Deadly Shadowsí ĎRobbing the Cradleí mission?  That odd, otherworldly feel, so close to reality yet so slightly removed.  The same technique seems to feature in abundance in The Path, which is a very exciting prospect indeed.

Interestingly, Samyn has stated in The Pathís development blog that the game will essentially be as scary as you make it, with players having to specifically search for the big thrills.  As he puts it, ď
Interactive horror is interesting because - at least in the way that we design games - it gives you the freedom to tune the degree of the scariness to some extent, in a way that is fully compatible with the narrative - unlike turning the sound off on a horror movie, for example.  There are certain things in The Path that you can do for that extra thrill, or avoid to soothe your nerves.Ē  How successful this will be remains to be seen, but itís thoroughly refreshing to see developers thinking so far outside the box.

"...little, unusual touches that unnerve..."

If thereís one thing thatís particularly encouraging, itís reading through the fantastic Livejournal pages set up for The Pathís individual characters.  Charismatic, interesting, fleshy and wonderfully written, these character blogs show great promise for the quality of storytelling in the final product.  The Red Girls appear as honest, credible and genuinely real characters, and it's difficult not to fall in love with them as you read about their lives.

Remember: in The Path, these adorable adolescents will meet their demise.  It's the only way to complete the game.  This is heavy stuff.

The Path is currently in its beta stage, being play-tested and tweaked in preparation for a Spring release.  Tale of Tales have made it clear that The Path will not be a particularly lengthy game - around six hours to exhaust everything, at last estimation.  Instead, itís an exercise in poetic storytelling and innovative design.  The result may be wild and unpredictable, but it promises to be thoroughly intriguing either way.

DEVELOPER: Tale of Tales
PUBLISHER: Tale of Tales
RELEASED: Spring 2009

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