Eurogamerated: The Path Review

By Kieron Gillen on April 6th, 2009 at 2:15 pm.

Oh, Girl. You are so mysterious and your pathfinding is so poor.
A couple of weeks after the micro-furore which followed its launch, the good ship Eurogamer send me off to evaluate Tale of Tales’ game of short horror and long walks. I start like this…

“There’s an urge to give it one out of ten. Maybe a two, because two sounds more genuine than one. One sounds like foot-stomping petulance. Two sounds considered, as if I really do mean it. I’m not, because I don’t, but it’d serve a couple of good purposes. Firstly, if considered solely as a classical game, The Path is bloody terrible. Secondly, if you’re the sort of person who cares about the review score, it’s almost certainly not for you and I should turn you off as quickly as possible.”

And then set controls for the heart of the sun. Join me!

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57 Comments »

  1. ImperialCreed says:

    One of the ways that we show our age.

  2. phil says:

    A thoughtful review, nicely balanced. But, and I apologise for being scorist, 7/10? If you can give Boiling Point a double score for ambition vs. execution, doesn’t the Path deserve the same treatment? Or a score as a game, score as a piece of art?

  3. Theoban says:

    The simple act of running in this game is the single most traumatic experiencce I’ve had in a game. I’ve met the ‘wolf’ with one character but I’m now a bit scared to go back and play any others. It’s beautiful and terrifying and sad and wonderful all at the same time and I don’t know if I ever want to open it again.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Phil: I think I did the split early on – the mark is solely as an art game. I think it’s 7/10 on those terms. Even if you love art-games, I don’t think the Path is a must-buy.

    KG

  5. BaconIsGood4You says:

    Bought it. Play until I cross the forest line and the screen goes black (but hear sound). No help on the forums. Awesome.

  6. Sid says:

    I doubt this will run on my computer but really want to play it. I could use a demo just to see if it works.

    However I am getting more and more tempted to just buy it anyway and see what happens

  7. qrter says:

    Is that first link supposed to be different..? Now it just links to the review, like the other two.

  8. Turin Turambar says:

    As Game: 1/10
    As “pseudo interactive ART” : 6/10. More decent than the “game”, and a bit interesting as it’s own, but still a bit near mediocre, with too repetitive and overblown motifs, and too much audiovisual nonsense passing as modern art.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    Qrter: Thanks! Fixed.

    KG

  10. Paul Moloney says:

    Balanced article, I thought; I’m glad I bought it, and plan to revisit. I’m been lured away to finally play “Stalker” properly, which like The Path, has a wonderfully oppressive atmosphere (both games should win audio awards), but instead of teenage girls, flowers and wolves, has grizzled Ukranian mercenaries, artifacts and bloodsuckers. You say potato…

    P.

  11. Xercies says:

    Hmm quite good review i have to say, you were kind of on the wall a bit trying to reviews this game and putting a *shudder* score on it. i think The Path also proves that you must look past the stupid score that we must have. Scores are meaningless.

  12. phil says:

    @KG – Thanks for the clarification.

    @Xercies – Scores are indeed meaningless, unless a portion of your sales and, more importantly, team bonus, are both dependent on your metacritic score.

  13. marilena says:

    KG: “the mark is solely as an art game. I think it’s 7/10 on those terms. Even if you love art-games, I don’t think the Path is a must-buy.”

    I’m a bit surprised by this, to be honest. The review seemed quite positive to me, after you remove the (rather numerous) caveats.

    Looking through it again, I’d say you left out the part about what you feel about the game. You said what ‘normal gamers’ will feel, you said what some of your friends felt, you described some technical problems and some nice artistic touches… But what did you think about it?

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Good question. I think it’s meaningful, but not profoundly so. Atmospheric, but not consistently overwhelming. I think it’s a bloody good try. I think it’s a 7/10.

    KG

  15. kobzon says:

    I’m guessing this is the smug game of the month, the game that makes everyone patronise everyone? Eurogamer is definitely the last site I’d expect to scold its readers for score fetishism.

  16. Persus-9 says:

    @ marilena, phil, Xercies & KG.

    I actually like scores on reviews. I think they serve a purpose, for instance I just didn’t read the Eurogamer review of Banjo-Kazooie but I looked at the score, I did this because I’m not interested in that game but if it had got a really high score I might have invested the time in reconsidering my lack of interest or if it had got a really low score I might have stuck arround to hear about the train wreck.

    Scores certainly aren’t meaningless, many people understand what scores mean, they even discuss what score games should have recieved without totally talking past each other. Heck, Eurogamer even explain exactly what their scores are shorthand for. That might sound silly to defend the idea of their having meaning in those ways but really what extra meaning can we ask for? It’s when people start looking for meaning beyond just a bit of shorthand that things get silly.

    I think I agree with KG that the score should be given to it as an art game and given that a seven seems reasonable because it’s fairly ground breaking, I think it’s definitely taken art games forward, but it’s also pretty damn trite at times and as KG says in the review, it’s more pretentious than a “500-word “what-are-games-anyway-man?” intro”.

    It’s not a must buy but I’m glad I bought it because I’m into arty games, that feels like a Eurogamer 7 to me.

  17. PetitPiteux says:

    I think the important thing about that game is the fact that it’s more adequately described by its theme than by its gaming genre/gameplay. Wich is common for books/film (good film are “about something” before being part of a genre -comedy, sci-fi…-)

    In a few word, its more “a game about the end of childhood and the loss of the illusions that goes with it” than “a adventure game with minimalist interaction -or whatever-”. And I think its the first of this kind. Or at least the first to reach a level of maturity/professionalism/accessibility that allow it to be on steam…

    So again there is the question; should one rate -if you have to rate- only the game or the game taking into account the meta-game -ambition, importance for the genre etc…-?

  18. RazorBlade79 says:

    so he considers it “art” and at the same time gives it a review score – I thought that score at the end is supposed to be the “fun” factor and from that review I read it as 0/10. Not very consistent.

    Also, f off review scores.

  19. BigJonno says:

    I’ve been interested in this game since reading about it here, but I’m still not sold. From an “I know what it’s like, but I’m on the fence and need a bit of advice on whether it’s worth buying or not” perspective, I found the review a bit of a let down.

  20. bansama says:

    This game is certainly something different and I keep meaning to try and write a review of it myself, but work keeps me from finding the time to do that.

    I will say though, that you should really avoid playing the girl that looks like the traditional little red riding hood (I can’t even remember her name – that’s how pressed for time I’ve been >_<)

    Anyhow, avoid playing that girl first as I find the experience with her seriously messes up perception for all the others. And although the blurb for this game states that the girls die as soon as you reach your goal, I’d disagree with that for several of them.

    And that’s what I like about this “game”. There is no clear interpretation of what happens. For once, we actually get to make up our own damned mines instead of being spoon fed a story.

    I’d love to see what they could do with a premise that isn’t so dark to begin with.

  21. Andy`` says:

    Will have a go with this…erm, game? program? neurological obfuscator?…I’ll try it later once I’ve determined whether it will black screen on me too, but I kinda want to see whether it really needed to step out of the boundary of a classical game to try and do what it does. Either way, world needs more experimentation in screwing with your mind, and doing certain dramatic things which books, film and television have already had a go at. Because I think games could do it better. Also, the game looks pretty.

    BaconIsGood4You: Nvidia card, right? Go to the control panel, ‘Manage 3D Settings’, and add the program’s executable to the list. If it keeps happening you might need to tweak some settings. I don’t know if it actually works, but I have it on good authority (Google) that it works for another game (Wanted: Weapons of Fate) which was giving me that same problem. I may test this completely third-party theory later.

    kobzon: Is there a game ever made that doesn’t make everyone patronise everyone?

    KG: Is the heart of the sun thing a sneaky reference to a particular piece of recent popular dramatic entertainment creation I see there, or is that just coincidence/my imagination? ¬_¬ It seems quite familiar…

  22. Nero says:

    Good and balanced review I wold say. I don’t regret buying it because all and all is what a great and fascinating experience. And regarding scores, I have never seen a score for a game and said that I’m either buying or not buying something. I read about it, read what people say on different forums etc and if that sounds interesting I’ll get it not because of some score it got somewhere.

  23. Persus-9 says:

    @ PetitPiteux

    It depends on the nature of the game, what the game is aiming to do and so I guess that means you should access it only as a game if it isn’t trying to be anything more but if it is trying to be more then that should be taken into account. So the later of your two options but those other considerations will often be irrelevant because the game chooses to have no ambition in those directions and that’s understood by the audience.

    If next year someone releases another game called The Wolf that was basically identical to The Path but a bit more polish then it should probably be completely slated as a derivative piece of shit (unless it’s a comment on the timeless repeating nature of the narrative in which case it might be good). If on the other hand someone releases a new football game that’s just like the current FIFA but a bit more polished then it should probably be lauded as the greatest football game ever made.

    @ RazorBlade79

    As I remember nothing in the scoring policy says it’s just about fun. If you think it’s just a fun factor then I think you’re mistaken, I have the impression it’s something far more holistic.

    Why can’t we give scores to art? Scores are just shorthand reviews. If the worry is that you can’t express everything to say about the art in that shorthand then the same applied to writing any review of anything. I guarentee that even the best reviewer could never write a review of Pong that would perfectly explains it to the extent that the person wouldn’t gain any extra experience by playing the actual game. All reviews are necessarily comparatively simplistic gestures at the likely game experience, artistic or otherwise.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with putting scores to anything. Heck I’ll give you some of my own scores right now: -

    Emin’s My Bed 1/10
    Caravaggio’s Judith beheading Holofernes 9/10
    Hirst’s For the Love of God 7/10
    Klimt’s The Kiss 5/10

    Now you know roughly what I think of four well know works of art. I’ve communicated with you. I’ve told you that in my opinion, given the choice between Emin’s My Bed or Klimt’s The Kiss you should get yourself The Kiss because it’s a better work of art. I haven’t perfectly described any of them but that’s completely impossible and I don’t think we should give up talking about art just because we can’t realise an impossible dream that would probably be a nightmare.

  24. Sparvy says:

    Damn it, this kind of game needs to die. It was completely broken as a game and supbar to say the least as art. All they succeded with was marketing. Just because gaming is a “new medium” or whatever doesnt mean you can shovel shit into it and call it revolutionary

  25. Jim Rossignol says:

    Persus-9: The more pertinent argument is that putting a score to something detracts (or at least distracts) from what is said in the text. That’s often true, because the resulting discussion and analysis following scored reviews often ends up being about whether text is coherent with the score, or whether a personal opinion matches the score. None of which really helps people decide what they think about a given game.

  26. Larington says:

    Good review, I definately enjoyed it, its unlikely I’ll complete it a second time, but I do think it was worth the money I paid for it on Steam.
    And I feel I have to say, I’m one of those people who thinks that some of the established names for games (IE Games) needs to die, rather than attempts to do something different from the norm.

  27. bansama says:

    @Sparvy: Or you know, you could just not buy it and let those who enjoy this sort of thing enjoy it without your complaining… I mean, I could say the same thing about Left4Dead – most boring pointless excuse of an FPS game I’ve played for a long time – but I don’t as I know there are those who enjoy that sort of thing…

  28. Lewis says:

    I think treating it as art rather than as a game would lead me to score it lower. It’s not necessarily a particularly good piece of art – but that it comes closer than any other commercial game I can think of is what elevates my opinions. Maybe.

  29. Zanthox says:

    Good article, unlike most people just bash it or others (people me myself) who just sing its praise you do a good job of keeping it balanced. Good read. (you see, I read all of it so I have to like it, right?)
    And seriously, its 10$ how can you go wrong? I would’ve paid more just because I want to give these indy guys more money to encourage them to keep improving.

  30. phuzz says:

    I agreee with bansama, I didn’t feel like the girls had died, well, except maybe Robin (the youngest right?). Although there may be a veiled petite mort reference I’m missing.

    And yes, give them money so we can see more of this sort of thing! (or be cheap and download Dear Esther)

  31. Heliocentric says:

    I’m with the down with scores crew. But when i’m in game and i see a ds title my son wants. My first thought is ‘is this a dog egg’. So on my phone i type the name into a metacritic search. So yeah, it will actually educate my purchases, but know this its not the total that informs me. Its the scores eurogamer and 1up give the game that matter.

  32. Persus-9 says:

    @ Jim Rossignol

    I’m not really buying that as an argument against scores because the people who comment on reviews are a fairly limited subset of those who read them and I’m convinced they aren’t a representative sample.

    It strikes me that people who comment are more likely than most to be taking it all far far to seriously. People who take games far far too seriously like the crazy Killzone 2 fans, or myself for that matter, don’t actually matter much, we’re all just parts of the loonie fringe. A pretty mainstream publication like Eurogamer should be worried about their average reader and I think for the most part those guys don’t comment on reviews, they simply don’t care that much (I’d be interested to know what portion of Eurogamer readers even have Eurogamer accounts, not that many I’m guessing). I also don’t think the average reader spends ages wondering about the number at the end and how it ties to the text. I think they either look at the number but don’t bother with the text if they aren’t really interested enough to read a few hundred words (and I’d argue strongly that there’s nothing wrong with that, I just did that with the Eurogamer’s Banjo-Kazooie game because to be honest I’m not interested in that game and if Tom Bramwell gives it a 5 it’s very unlikely I need to know exactly why he considers it a 5 and much as I like his reviews I’m not going to read the ones for games I don’t give a damn about) or they read the text and the number and take away an overall impression and I can’t see anything wrong with that as long as both the number and the text are fairly accurate representations of the reviewers opinion within their constraints. After all no matter what you write I very much doubt the average reader takes away from it anything more complex than a number.

    Imagine you actually got the chance to ask people questions about Keiron’s The Path review, if you got the chance to ask them “What does Keiron Gillen think of The Path?” I can’t imagine the average response would be any more complex than “He thought it was ok but a bit odd, very arty and not really any fun.” I think the only thing that would change depending on whether or not there was a number at the end is that some of them might say “He gave it a 7.” and only say something more complex if pushed, I very much doubt the complexity of what could eventually be got from them would be decreased by the addition of a number on the end. Does it detract from the review that the first thing that might spring to mind is the number? Maybe, does it distract? Ok, yes it probably does but I’d take some convincing that it’s a particularly bad thing since a lot of the time all people want is the one number answer. Reviewing may be an artform in it’s own right but it’s also a service and I don’t think anything will be gained for it by forcing people to carefully consider text by denying them the simple one number answer.

    Another point might be to question whether it really distracts form the review text if it’s causing people to engage with the review text in arguing about whether it agrees with the shorthand one number summery at the end. Don’t ask me to say that with a straight face but I still think there’s something to it.

  33. chesh says:

    @KG: I for one am extremely interested in reading your essay on it, if you care to write it.
    And thanks for pointing out that there are directional arrows in the screen embellishments. I stopped playing after about 20 minutes, because running around without finding anything except the occasional ghostly apparition creeped me right the fuck out more than anything actively disturbing or malicious is likely to. Now I can give it another shot and start reading the critical discourse that’s been piling up about it.
    And dammit, you made me want to listen to the Sisters again.

  34. Muzman says:

    I wish this was on consoles just for the comments threads (I seem to recall ‘Flower’ provoking howls of outrage from some PS3 types for being not-a-game. Maybe it was just one exceedingly loud person).
    2- I’m amused that this review is doing what so many seem to want reviews to do: explaining its mechanics quite well and laying out who the reviewer thinks will and (perhaps more importantly) won’t like the game. I have no more in depth thoughts on the matter than that.
    3- I’ll tell you why The Path is an art game; the discussion seems mostly focused how how people react to it, not in the relative quality of its genre mechanics (like everything else). I guess that’s implicit really, but I’m in a spelling-out mood.
    The detail that almost tips me over into actually getting the game is that Walker finds it unconscionably pessimistic (that might be overstating, but close enough?). John not a goth at any point I take it. The game sounds to me quite similar to the tortured, doomed romantic maunderings of many a teenage girl (and older) I’ve known. Curiosity and facing helplessness against dangerous abstract forces seem like pretty strong themes there, from memory.
    But anyway, point is it gets a lot of strong and unusual reactions from people. Makes me curious to see how I’d react to it, rather than whether or not I’d find it fun or not-fun.

  35. drewski says:

    I enjoyed the juxtaposition of The Path on the frontpage with Banjo Kazooie and Singstar.

    Nice review. The more I read about it, the more I want to play it, if only because it will reaffirm my internal snobbishness about not being one-of-those-guys.

  36. John says:

    Hey, that was a great review. Maybe the best I’ve read. (I’m the guy that wrote it off as rape-y rape rape).

    I’d actually be interested to see what art critics think of the game. In many ways it’s more that than it is a game. Having more than a passing interest in the local art scene but none of the money to support turn such a habit into a position to actually comment, I would rank The Path somewhere above Recently Graduated Art Student.

    I’m off to get raped by Spelunky.

  37. Hajimete no Paso Kon says:

    Amazing review! Many thumbs up, multiple times.

  38. Bas says:

    I hate this. It’s supposed to be all clever, but all I see is a bunch of developers with their heads so firmly up their asses that the molecules of their heads and asses get pushed into each other and form a black hole.

    Braid managed to be clever, and playable. This just sucks.

  39. Tarn says:

    Best thing about the review, Kieron, was your thoughts on the term ‘game’ itself. I wrote about the same topic on my blog a couple of month backs in a waffly manner, so it was simultaneously good to see someone else examining the subject and annoying to see you tackle it so much more succinctly and effectively. Bah!

    The inevitable response that litters comments after any mention of stuff like The Path, even on a relatively high-brow site like RPS, comes back to what I touched on in my article – the limitations of the term ‘game’ aren’t so much a problem for developers as a problem for the critics. How do you reconcile reviewing Guitar Hero, Gears of War and The Path? They have about as much in common as Scene It, Armageddon and Un Chien Andalou.

    After all, you don’t see experimental short films reviewed in the latest issue of EMPIRE.

  40. lumpi says:

    Though when we’re running out of the drugs
    and the conversation’s winding away.
    I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision
    for another five years of lies.

  41. Xercies says:

    Hmm I think I have hit the excuriciating bit, the boring bit and it being frustrating that you are lost and just want to find the wolf. Hmm Maybe I praised it a bit to early, I loved it at the beginning, it made me feel things that art hadn’t made me feel ever. It’s just now that I know the mechanics and all that I don’t know, some of that edge is gone and some of the more boring walky bits are being a bit more excruiciting. I’m glad I paid for it though.

  42. Arathain says:

    You created something remarkable, KG. No, not the review, although that is one of your best. You have created… a EG comments thread that’s Actually Quite Mature and Interesting!

    In all seriousness, I’m with Tarn. I think your thoughts on the misleading use of the term ‘game’ for all sorts of things are the most interesting in the piece.

  43. Jim Rossignol says:

    After all no matter what you write I very much doubt the average reader takes away from it anything more complex than a number.

    Unless you don’t put a number at the end.

  44. Heliocentric says:

    Yeah, shame eurogamer doesn’t have the balls to do it though. At least they don’t use a percentage *glares at pc gamer*

  45. Moonracer says:

    I really enjoyed The Path. There are a few issues I have with it, but it was a generally interesting piece and I got a much stronger reaction to it than most games or traditional art I’ve experienced lately.

    One big problem I had was that the girls’ dialogue is displayed in solid white text on the screen and while it is primarily a dark game there were many bright scenes where I couldn’t make out what was being said. That came of as a pretty obvious and sloppy design flaw. It also ruined several scenes for me.

    I think one of the big internal arguments I have with myself is deciding whether or not this game is a feminist game or not. Or at least how I think people might view this game from a feminist angle. Beyond the dark subject matter there are also many moments of seemingly normal girl youth thought processes and bad poetry. But not being a girl myself and not yet convincing any female I know to try the game I can only speculate.

  46. Lewis says:

    “Yeah, shame eurogamer doesn’t have the balls to do it though. At least they don’t use a percentage *glares at pc gamer*”

    I’d say the percentage is actually *less* authoritative than out-of-ten. Picking a number out of a hundred makes it ludicrously subjective, something it’s important for more people to understand reviews are. The precision’s there if the nitpickers want to buy into it, but ultimately, what’s the difference between a 45 and a 46? It’s there if you want to pick it out, probably, but y’know.

  47. Rei Onryou says:

    @Helio: I find a number out of 10 worse than a %. What makes one 7/10 the same as another 7/10 (assuming we’re looking at two games from same genre/style/what-have-you). A % at least gives degrees of difference.

    I’m not from the “down-with-scores” group, but I definitely agree that scores aren’t what counts. If someone were to read KG’s critique, skip to the end, see the 7, buy it and then dismiss it as they thought the 7/10 was bull, then more-fool-them.

    Well done Kieron, that was a well thought out piece. I expect that must’ve taken a few attempts to put your point across while not spoiling the experience. No doubt you’ve gained Tale of Tales a few extra sales.

  48. Thirith says:

    Rei Onryou: a percentage score suggests a degree of precision that simply is bullshit. How is it meaningful in any way to say that RTS 1 gets 86% and RTS 2 gets 88%? Chances are that any differences in how much people will enjoy them will depend on the games’ style and feel but not on any actual, absolute superiority of one game over another. Going for a 10-point scale is closer to saying, “The game is pretty good” or “The game is absolutely awesome.” It doesn’t pretend to be scientifically exact.

  49. MD says:

    @John, I think what Persus was getting at is that doing away with numerical scores would not force those who normally rely on them to suddenly start engaging with the text at a deeper level. It seems likely to me — though obviously this is nothing but speculation — that those who currently focus on scores to the exclusion of actual reviews would either take even less away from a scoreless review, or more than likely simply not bother reading it. Leaving aside the question of whether score-centrism is actually a problem that needs addressin, simply removing the numbers would basically just be an “up yours” to those who like them, without improving the service/experience for anyone else. Plus, from the looks of it a lot of reviewers would struggle to meet their wordcounts if they were no longer able to fall back on lengthy discussion of what their numbers mean/why their numbers are ultimately meaningless. :p

  50. jalf says:

    @Rei: And that degree of difference means what, exactly? That the reviewer was in a hurry? That he had a bad day? Or that he tried to fit the game in so its score fit relatively with other games of the same caliber in that genre?

    7/10 simply means “pretty decent”, or “worth playing if you like this type of game, but hardly a classic”. If you want details, read the review. What does 70/100 mean? And how does it differ from 69 or 71?

    I think the best scale is only up to 5.
    That gives us:
    1: Sucks. Don’t play it. Ever.
    2: It’s a bad game. You won’t enjoy playing it, unless you’re truly desperate and addicted to the genre.
    3: It’s ok… ish. Not worth spending money on, but if you have access to it anyway, and don’t have anything better to do, you probably won’t hate yourself for playing it If you like the genre, you may even enjoy it.
    4: Good. You’ll like it
    5: Classic. Everyone must play it.

    For a grade to work, it has to be boiled down to the essentials, to something you can more or less objectively agree on. Picking 88 over 86 is in no way objective, and depends more on who reviewed it, and what random games he thought of comparing it with, than on the game itself.

    But if your you have to choose between “it’s playable if you really like the genre”, and “it’s a good game”, I think most reviewers would settle for the same score.

    And the funny thing is, it’s just as informative to the reader. 79% doesn’t convey any additional information to me. It doesn’t even say that the game is better than all the games that got 78% or less. Those couple of percent may be a fluke. Looking at the grade for a review, I simply want to know “is this game something I’d enjoy?” And a minimalist 5-step scale would tell me that just as well as a 82% score.
    It’s about not promising more precision than the reviewer is able to deliver. No review can authoritatively say that “this game is a 93%. It is two percent below Half-Life, three percent below Starcraft, but 4% above Oblivion. It’s simply bullshit. How much gameplay can you get in one percent anyway? The games can’t be compared in this way. The only comparison that makes sense is “this is a good game. But so is this”, or “this game is a classic, that one sucked”.

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