To try and review The Path is a bleakly thankless task, and also a Catch 22 situation. It's impossible to explain the experience without describing it in detail, yet to do so would remove the emotional and psychological impact of playing. But please bear in mind that The Path is definitely an experience. If I were to review it purely as a game, I'd be hard pressed to even give it two out of ten, but as a haunting piece of interactive art it scores quite highly.
You begin in a simple room with six characters, all girls of different ages. As soon as you click on one, you're whisked away to the middle of a dense forest where you take control of that girl. Ahead of her stretches a mud path that cuts straight through the forest. Your objective flashes up in screen in childish scrawl – you have to get to Grandmother's house, and whatever you do, stick to the path! So, you head forwards amidst creepy fairytale music, while sketches of flowers and footprints flash up on screen. So far, so very surreal. After a minute or so, Grandmother's house looms before you and things turn even more sinister. The sky fades to a dark purple, the music dies, and it's quite obvious that this isn't some flowery little cottage with gnomes in the garden and an array of colourful window boxes.
As soon as you enter the house, the perspective changes from third-person to a rather unsettling first-person view. The kicker here is that your control is even more limited – whereas outside you can move in any direction using the mouse or arrow keys, inside you can only travel along on invisible rails no matter what button you press. You venture deeper into the house a step at a time, until finally you find Grandmother...and the game tells you that you've failed.
“But I did what you told me to!” you scream, as you throw cold custard at the screen. Unfortunately, doing what you're told isn't the point of The Path. When you start again, you quickly realise that you're not supposed to stick to the path at all – you have to venture out into those dark and sinister woods and discover each girl's 'wolf', before you finally go see Grandmother. Saying any more than that would sadly result in spoilers.
At the risk of repeating myself, The Path is not a game, it's an experience. There's no real gameplay, other than exploring the forest and finding clues to each girl's existence. Although you'll find weapons, you'll have no choice and no reason to arm yourself because enemies in the conventional sense simply do not exist. The Path is certainly challenging, but only because the forest is so big and finding everything is difficult. A 'trail' will occasionally pop up to show you your path so far, but it only tantalisingly appears for a brief moment, then vanishes again. It'll take some real determination and patience to see everything this title has to offer.
Unfortunately there are a couple of flaws, which slightly detract from the overall experience. Firstly, the controls can be a little clunky. It's easy to get caught on a tree or some other obstacle, and in some parts you're forced to walk at a frustratingly timid pace. Bugs also occasionally rear their ugly head, in the form of clipping and some crazy AI. Still, providing you can overlook those minor issues, there's a lot of twisted beauty here. The graphics are simple yet suit the 'game' perfectly, giving it a warped fairytale appearance. Sounds too is excellent, from the aforementioned sinister music to the care-free lullabys the girls sing to themselves as they enter the forest. To run smoothly, the system requirements ask for a 2GHz processor and a gig of RAM, and that should be plenty.
In terms of comparisons, The Path is probably most similar to the demoscene title Linger In Shadows that hit the Playstation Network last year. Both 'games' offer limited interactivity, and both tend to haunt your dreams and invade your waking thoughts for a good while after you finish them. This is definitely a mature title with some very adult themes, but the power of suggestion is heavily used instead of blatant gore or horrific images. Your own imagination will play a large part in the overall experience.
The Path isn't for everyone and probably can't be called 'enjoyable', but if your interest is piqued and this review has done nothing to put you off, then definitely give it a try. And give my regards to Grandmother.