Somebody remembers Another World and Flashback. Puzzling Dream even says so in the description of The Way on Steam. This new 2D adventure looks and plays much like those classics, but that doesn’t guarantee that it carries the same high degree of quality. It doesn’t.
This does not mean that The Way is a poor game. Far from it. It provides some great entertainment and some fiendish puzzles, all set to a backdrop of both beautiful visuals and intriguing story.
We start out at the grave of the protagonist’s wife, just before digging up her body and taking it to be stored in cryostasis. Of course, our hero has to navigate the security of the lab in which he works, before stealing a spaceship and taking his late wife to another planet. This is where the real game takes place, on a gorgeously detailed alien world filled with vicious flora and fauna, and is incredibly reminiscent of Another World’s setting. The pixel art design is brilliant, however, and the world comes to life thanks to its incredible attention to detail.
The game is visually stunning, with the protagonist himself animated very well. Not quite to the same standard as Flashback, but then what is? The Way’s main character doesn’t have much weight in the world surrounding him, with his movements seeming more like a traditional platformer than something as realistically weighty as the games that inspired this adventure. The backgrounds look amazingly detailed and help fuel the atmosphere of the game.
Atmosphere is a key point in The Way, affected by everything from the aforementioned visuals, to the lighting, story and sound. The music ranges from Blade Runner-esque synth styles, all the way to pieces that would not sound out-of-place in a gritty western like Deadwood. As with the best sound direction, The Way knows when not to use music, too. There are areas in which environmental ambience does all the work, building suspense in dark areas or even just mimicking the metallic din of an industrial factory.
Despite some great level design to accompany the aesthetic quality, The Way does suffer from some horrendously unnecessary backtracking. From the lab in which the game starts, all the way through the game proper, puzzles often require running from one end of an area to another. More than once. It becomes incredibly tedious and makes up for at least three-quarters of your in-game time. This is made even worse when you’re stuck on a particularly obscure puzzle, having to move here, there and everywhere looking for the answer. Luckily, most puzzles are quite fair and logical, though very few are without challenge.
For the most part, the controls work perfectly well to aid in your quest against the challenging puzzles, and in your fight for survival too. Using an Xbox 360 controller, the twin-stick nature of the aiming works reasonably well in combat, although its accuracy comes into question when it comes to the more puzzle-oriented aiming. Trying to hit a small target when the aiming seemingly bypasses dozens of pixels at random? Irritating, to say the least. This awkwardness carries throughout the game and constantly pulls it down, holding it back from being a great experience. This becomes especially apparent during platforming sections, when the clumsy jumping mechanics and laughably short “death falls” combine to cause many, many restarts. Despite these restarts being instant, the awful checkpointing often results in losing decent chunks of progress.
The story does keep pulling you back in, though. Similar to Shadow of the Colossus, you’re often reminded of the personal, potentially heartbreaking reason for your adventuring: the protagonist’s love. Optional memory collectibles are dotted around the game world and serve as back story to fill in the blanks, sometimes with heart-wrenching results. Dialogue is kept to a minimum in The Way, which gives the story a bit more weight when it gets going.
The Way is a fun adventure, filled with difficult-but-fair puzzles and wonderful art direction, but often marred by clumsy control issues and poor checkpointing, made especially worse in a game filled with long backtracking segments. As a love letter to Amiga classics Another World and Flashback, it isn’t bad, but does it come close to the quality of those games?
As I said earlier, it doesn’t.
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