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The Way

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: PlayWay
Developer: Puzzling Dream
Release Date: May 20, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'The Way'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 17, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Journey to another planet and discover its secrets to bring your loved one back to life. Experience an adventure, inspired by old-school classics like Another World, Heart of Darkness and Flashback.

In the early '90s, Another World was unleashed on the gaming public. Also known as Out Of This World in other regions, it and its spiritual sequel Flashback dazzled gamers initially with rotoscoped animations that looked much more advanced than what many were used to at the time. The games also ushered in side-scrolling puzzle platformers with narratives that were just as strong as the puzzles were tricky. There have been a few more titles since then that have tried pulling off the same thing with varying results, but it isn't a game type that gets done too often. The Way is the latest game to attempt being a puzzle game with a deeper narrative, and while it starts off strongly, the experience gets weaker by the end.

The story starts on a rather morose note, as the main character Tom stands before the grave of his deceased wife. Once you start the game, you find him taking a shovel to the gravesite, eventually digging his wife's corpse from its resting place. He takes her back to his apartment to be cryofrozen, and once the process is complete, they go to their workplace to steal a ship and fly to the last planet where they were both stationed. Tom's previous research suggested that the ancient inhabitants could've discovered the key to immortality, giving him hope that he can revive his wife.

For a story that starts off deep and remains that way until the end, it is fascinating to see that the game accomplishes this level of storytelling with only a few cut scenes. Part of this is attributed to the fact that Tom talks to himself, giving you important details and plot points without pausing the gameplay. The cut scenes are rather brief and convey Tom's plight. The game also employs things like notes to further the story details, but even if you never find any of them, you'll still be hooked by the broader storytelling strokes.

Aside from the opening moments in the apartment, the game starts as a pure puzzle platformer. It errs on the side of realism, so you can run, crawl, and climb to your heart's content, but you can't fall too far, and all it takes is one hit from any projectile to take you out. Most of your time is spent finding switches to unlock doorways or providing the right power balance to exterior generators to activate the ship you're about to steal. It takes a while before you find a laser pistol, which is powerful enough to take out almost all enemies with one shot but needs constant recharging. Even then, the pistol is used more for defensive than offensive purposes, so it doesn't suddenly make this an action title.

The Way begins to open up once you reach your destination planet. The locales start to vary as you get further into the game, making the planet feel more alive since it has a variable climate system. Though you start off your journey alone, you'll soon be accompanied by an alien animal who can help you with puzzles. There are many temples you'll be able to visit, and you'll do so without having to follow a specific order, so the adventure feels a little less linear. You'll also acquire more items to complement your laser pistol, including an energy shield that can reflect things and telekinesis to help you manipulate things from a distance.

For the most part, the puzzles are quite enjoyable because they vary greatly in terms of difficulty. Some are fairly rudimentary for the genre, like sliding tiles or hitting enough switches to cause something to occur. Some require a little more thought, like figuring out the order that switches need to be hit in based on symbols located elsewhere or figuring out a passcode based on a few hints in some scattered notes. Others get more advanced, like trying to use your newfound powers to hit light in a circuit. There are a few that are trial and error, which can be disappointing if you're looking for something more cerebral but for the most part, they're all enjoyable enough.

There are two aspects that can erode any goodwill earned by the rest of the title. The first is the unpredictable checkpoint system. It isn't clear where you'll return when you die, and while there are a few spots that seem logical, others can be crushing since you'll be forced to repeat some puzzle steps because you've been placed so far back. That unknown is amplified when you realize that a number of the puzzles ask that you go to completely different areas several times over to solve an otherwise simple puzzle. You'll be doing this enough that you'll resort to the classic method of taking notes with a pen and pad or, for the more digitally inclined, snapping pictures of the screen on multiple occasions to save yourself further trips to the same room should you forget key parts of the puzzle.

The second thing is the sense of padding. The aforementioned backtracking already makes the game feel quite long since you'll realize that you aren't really traveling far in any given area. For example, the opening level has you going back and forth between the same rooms for a while, and the later stages also tend to rely on this tactic. It also doesn't help that the game seems to artificially lengthen itself by repeating some of the same puzzles throughout the journey. Some puzzles already require precision to solve, so it's often deflating to see the same puzzle type reappear.

Like the story and gameplay, the presentation tries to channel inspiration from influential classics. The music is a bit minimalist at times, favoring silence over an atmospheric melody, but the score fits the mood, as it can go from exciting to poignant without feeling abrupt in its tonal changes. The game adopts the modern pixel look that is utilized by a number of indie titles, and that translates into some stunning-looking locales. From small villages to the caverns and deserts, the game looks rather gorgeous. Your character and the enemies also look nice with this style, and while the animations never quite reach the level of fluidity that its forbearers achieved, it looks rather nice overall.

The Way isn't perfect. The wonky checkpoint system and the underlying feeling that the design was built on artificial padding makes the title feel a bit disingenuous. However, most of the puzzles can be fun because of the powers at your disposal, and the story is gripping enough that you'll want to see things through until the end, even if the game starts to grate. It may not completely capture all of the traits of earlier side-scrolling puzzle platformers, but it's worthy of a look from genre fans.

Score: 7.0/10

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