Here's the short review, to help you decide if this is worth buying. First, listen to Booty Queen by Lizz King. If you like that song, adventure games, or getting caught in the rain, then buy this thing. If you expect some kind of tight time-cycle between action and response, if you expect strategic depth or even a modicum of decision-making depth, if you expect any level of rapidity, you should pass. Most of the reviews have made the dual mistakes of either praising this game uncritically or dismissing it out of hand because it does not suit the reviewer's personal tastes. "The Path is the art of the goddess, and if you don't like it you're a philistine!" meanders over to the other extreme, reacting "not a game, wtf!" I have a secret weapon that no other reviewer has applied, co-op mode. I played this with a 19-year-old Argentian that I also wolf on periodically, she's a non-gamer but did work at an Xbox call center.
If you're ready for a "Slow Game" that will disturb, enchant and challenge psychologically, go buy it now and come back for the debriefing. If that doesn't sound like your ticket, that's cool, because I'm about to rip this thing open with my wolf claws of keen analysis; blood and spoilers will follow.
First off, this is a game, there's even a goal. The goal is to get a family of girls systematically assassinated by a primeval force more ancient than time. The explicit goal is to go to grandmother's house and stay on the path, but doing so represents a life wasted, a struggle-free journey to old age. These girls are better than growing old. The game is weakly interactive but in a way that massages the frontal lobe and if you open to it, the soul. The core gameplay involves figuring out what the 3rd person characteristics are of each of the girls. Figuring these things out enables you to say "ok, I bet this girl would interact with that object", which leads to results. Finding these psychological treasures unlocks new rooms in grandmother's house after the girl is literally or metaphorically raped and wanders into a Silent Hill abattoir before being murdered by a "wolf" in familiar form. The quite moments of interaction without a goal highlight the value and joy of the girls' lives, further accented by their inevitable fates; Shadow of the Colossus achieved a similar sense of fate but with swords and boss fights.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, shedding all the literal secrets, to give you an idea of what this game really does I need to describe the co-op. First get someone younger than you, on the cusp of adulthood, preferably someone who doesn't play games like you do, who is of the desired sex and who you happen to have screwed and slightly bitten earlier in the day. Her job is to control the girls, who are programmed to run off on their own whims from time to time, and your job is to offer her a teasing "strategy" guide, to trick her into being raped and murdered. I unlocked this strategic realization as I goaded my girl into completing each set, I wanted her to run around and do her own thing, but I was getting bored, I wanted something definitive to happen, I wanted to "win". She had run from the guy on the playground, but the illogical spaces of the forest, the disappearance of the path, the wrap-around (as seen in King's Quest II), had thrown her back to temptation.
"He's ok," I said, "you should say hi, plus there are points you can get in the playground."
"But he hit that girl!" she said, "I don't want to get raped!"
"Just relax," I said, "it's just a game, plus he's harmless".
That was when it hit me, I'm the wolf.
As the guy slipped Ruby a cigarette, my co-op partner had flashbacks to when she was 16, to past encounters best forgotten. She woke up at the end of the path, Ruby seemed broken.
"No, you got me raped!"
"Aren't you going to go in the house?"
"No, I'm going to a public phone."
But the public phone was very far away, and the developers had intentionally left the victim walking very slow, so that the path of least resistance is to go into the house, to walk into your doom with hobbled legs like in nightmares where your instinctual flight impulses are dulled by sleep paralysis.
She got frustrated and quit. When she returned to the room, Ruby was not there. I encouraged her to pick another girl. The game continued. Eventually she got clued into the program, she's a bit twisted too, so she really enjoyed it. She told me she loved the game. As she unraveled these girl's lives and personalities, my role as wolf-guide waned, I'd tell her to slow down when running so as not to miss anything, to stop and pick the flowers, to check out different scenes for further clues and items, but she got the reins well comfortable. The illogical spaces and vertigo of 3D flux had her a bit tripped up, whereas my gamer-honed sense of direction was on point. Ultimately however, she became her own wolf and liked it, and in this manner the real game was completed.
Here's the deal: this game succeeds at appealing to an audience segment that does not usually play games, and in a baroque and crafted way that many hardcore gamers relish about their chosen genres, not in some watered-down, Wii Fit kind of a way. It is, in other words, an important benchmark for the high's evolution into the true mainstream, beyond this indie-games-versus-blockbuster-games false dichotomy, I'm talking about those extra billions who could really be succored by interactivity, but have been ignored. At the same time, my partner claimed that she wished she had more choice, she enjoyed the morbid thrill of mouse-buttoning these girls to their all too certain and well-rendered deaths, but she wanted to have a real say in the matter. Many games have thrown out this post-modern caveat of low interactivity finished with a good aesthetic so that the player consumes their own defeat, The Execution being a much more minimal... execution. This is the legitimate negative criticism of the game because it's coming from an audience subset that isn't trained to want goals and strategy, but rather wants choice instinctively. The auteurs at Tale of Tales are right about Slow Games and subtle pleasures, but they're wrong about gameplay being extraneous. What The Path does right and what other games do right are not mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, this is a bold step, not in the right direction, but in one of many awesome directions.