This week was a bit awful, I’ll admit.
Summer Spotlight trundled out in full force as per, with the promise of interesting titles galore. But after some time, that promise slowly decayed into an evening of disappointment for your debonair host. The Long Dark was looking to be an interesting journey of self discovery and hardship, but what I found was a half-baked survival simulator with a fantastic story bolted onto it. Vostok Inc. was looking to be a solid twin stick shooter with some minor RPG elements implemented but instead, it was an annoying trek through galaxies with no real focus on anything.
And aside from that, what else was there? Race Arcade? A top down racer reminiscent of the Commodore 64 days which controls just as well as its predecessors? Oh Sir.. The Insult Simulator? Oh yeah, a crushing call of cynicism from a team that put “Simulator” in the title in the hopes of pulling in the demographic of “ironic customers”? No, what I needed was a breath of fresh air, something beautiful, interesting and absorbing. And you could say I was shown The Way. Oh god, that was terrible, I’ll leave.
The Way is a “realistic” platforrmer from Puzzling Dream, a Polish team who came out with The Way in 2016, where it made a small splash on Steam before being showcased in Super Bunnyhops YouTube series, “Games From My Inbox”. Code Horizon came in and published The Way for release on the mainstream consoles, which was a good move on their part.
You play as Tom, a man with a burning passion for science, who loses all that passion when his wife is inexplicably killed in a Disney scenario. Unable to come to terms with the concept of death, he searches for eternal life itself, which he believes is on a planet he visited in one of his last expeditions before his wife’s untimely death. Stealing her body and a spaceship to preserve her corpse, he lands on the planet and begins to take the steps to bring her back.
First impressions are solid yet scuffed. The world building is well done, a somber tone with an edge of forced anger around it, and the music adds enough atmosphere to suck you in. The gameplay does a double cross on you at first. I believed it was going to be a side scrolling stealth title, where you had to sneak past robots and cameras to avoid the one shot deaths that are common in these games, but as soon as you get the gun, it turns into a walk to press buttons. Until you lose the gun, that is.
The challenge comes from precision, as is the case for most of these realistic platformers. It’s all about finding the perfect pattern of movement rather than the best strategy to approach the scenario with. And these puzzles are serviceable, they’re not too taxing and they offer the right amount of challenge without making you want to consult a walkthrough. Well, until the precision platforming kicks in.
When you control a man who only has two sorts of jumps, a sluggish limp and a full on leap of faith, precision platforming on pixel-wide platforms is an issue that endss in frustration. It’s a callback to the platformers of it’s time, like Another World, Flashback and Future Wars, sure, but that was the 90s. And it’s 2017, cut me some slack.
Really, it doesn’t help either since the game suffers from a lack of technical polish. Sometimes you’ll fall through blocks, clip into obstacles and just flat out stop moving if you don’t adhere to Toms beliefs, I imagine. It’s frustrating but it was never enough to make me resent the game. If anything, its biggest complaint isn’t really a deterrent since it only happened 3 times during my playthrough.
The core mechanics extend further with special skills and power-ups that you get with further progression and these are a bit muddled. There’s one where you control blocks with your mind in order to make paths. Its introduction to the upgrade is with single blocks that you have to meticulously place in order to descend a pit, and no, I just said precision platforming is stupid with these controls, I’m not playing Another World 2: Another Whirl.
Speaking of Éric Chahis former work, The Way does improve upon its inspirations, mostly in the storytelling. Yeah, I know Éric and Interplay revolutionized the gaming industry with Another World, but it was just a glorified tech demo. The Rage of that time. Here, Puzzling Dream have created a story of beauty, of fear and the unknown. Tom is a sympathetic character, who will go to great lengths to achieve his goal, spending years on his dreams of bringing his wife back.
He’s a man dedicated to work, as shown in the flashbacks. Here, no words are said yet what they show is something words can’t describe. As time goes on, the paperwork that Tom engrosses himself in strains his marriage, strains his grip on anything but his job. It’s sympathetic and there are moments like this throughout. But don’t worry, it isn’t all pressing buttons and watching the futuristic version of Office Space.
Every once in a while, there’ll be an chase scene, of sorts, where you get pursued by planetary predators. These beasts want your head on a plate and you’ve got to outrun and outwit them in order to progress. The music gets tense and you’ve got to think on your feet. It’s the most action packed moments in the game, sure, but I’ll take that, especially when Puzzling Dream have other things to focus on, like the world itself.
The pixel-art alien world of The Way is another brilliantly-crafted section of the game. Cliffs are filled with lush plants and alien wildlife, with waterfalls plastered on each one. The aforementioned alien life, while mostly hostile, are all distinctly unique and you’re able to differentiate them. And some of the set pieces are so beautifully executed. That’s the key word here. Beauty.
The Way is beautiful, it’s a well-told story, a well-made world and a well-done journey through a genre that needed its swansong. And this is it. You owe it to yourself to buy The Way, and for less than 10 dollars or pounds or credits or whatever your local currency is, you cannot complain. The pixel perfect platforming isn’t enough to stop me from recommending this and I genuinely hope more people play it.
A beautiful experience through worlds we've explored but not like this.