Review – The Way

The Way screenshot trenchcoat
Review – The Way

Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Steam

Game Name: The Way

Publisher: PlayWay S.A.

Developer: Puzzling Dream

Genre: Action, Adventure

Release Date: May 20th, 2016

The Way – What We Think:

Against the backdrop of a futuristic metropolis, a man appears to be grieving before the tombstone of a loved one. Then he digs her up. After securing the body of his wife in a state of suspended animation, the man begins a quest to bring her back to life. On a distant planet, the pair had uncovered evidence of a race that had surpassed the constraints of mortality. He’ll risk everything to reach that world and unlock the secret of everlasting life.

Deeply inspired by 2D sidescrolling adventures like Out of This World and Flashback, The Way combines action, wildly diverse puzzles and even a dash of bullet hell into a thrilling and challenging tale. In a story that spans years, the player must brush ancient dust off an eons-old question: how far would you go to bring back a lost loved one?

The Way screenshot better times
Better Times

Crumbles to the Ground, Though We Refuse to See

With his wife’s rigor mortis halted, he begins to gather his notes. The pair were once deep space explorers investigating the world he now seeks to revisit. To get there, he needs access to the spacecraft he once piloted, and it is heavily guarded.

Breaking into the facility eases the player into the basic controls and some of the puzzle-solving requirements. Even at this early stage, death happens often, and the puzzles are surprisingly tricky to figure out. It’s only through trial and error that any sense can be extracted, as there is no hint system. The amount of backtracking that takes place while getting the lay of the land can be a bit irksome.

Once deep in space, the hero is forcefully relieved of his blaster weapon. Eventually his research leads him to a series of trial chambers, each of which makes use of one of four abilities. Once the skills of Deflection, Teleportation, Telekinesis and Access are mastered, the subsequent trials demand a mix of each to solve.

Coming to Grips with Loss

Traveling between crypt levels employs some deftly implemented platforming. Taking a running leap at a ledge will cause the hero to latch on and clamber up. Certain surfaces will also allow for climbing horizontally. Once Tincan – a massive mammalian alien pet – is introduced, he can be summoned to position himself as a boost, and he can also get the drop on unsuspecting foes.

The Way screenshot trenchcoat
You can’t escape bad news

The level of challenge is high, with a vast array of logical conundrums to surmount. Though the dungeons that introduce usable alien abilities are linked with a common theme, the puzzles found in each vary greatly from one another. All in all, there were only a couple of puzzles that had me frustrated enough to run to the outstretched arms of the forum pages, and generally, the “light bulb” moments come frequently enough to keep the coals of the inner-pride fires stoked.

In particular, there was a stopgap involving a cargo bay door and a robot that needed to be meticulously programmed in order to pry open the rig from the inside. Solving this required first figuring out the puzzle lingo, and then solving the program needed to guide the robot correctly. The drawback? Trial and error overkill. After a new sequence is punched in, the robot performs the sequence it has received (as best as it is able, given the obstacles around it). This has to be watched from end to end, and then in reverse, until the true path is programmed. For this section, I completely forgot that I was supposed to be playing an explorer, feeling instead like a code monkey in a triple A game studio.

Indiana Alpha Centauri Jones

Breaking up the hero’s efforts is a healthy smattering of action sequences. Running from bloodthirsty creatures and dodging perilous obstacles requires precision timing and spot-on reflexes. Players who can’t muster up these attributes on the fly are going to find themselves repeating these sequences numerous times, often meeting a gory death between attempts. Though these repeat attempts can get repetitive, these sections aren’t difficult enough to evoke a rage-quit. There is even a well deployed bullet hell sequence serving as a quasi-boss battle.

The Way screenshot wilderness
The hills are alive. Your wife is jealous.

The Way’s pixel art is intricate and lush. It is truly a retro love affair that is bursting with artistry. Ancient crypt areas, while bathed in shadow, still buzz and glow with alien technologies. Open areas are garbed with abundant vegetation, and the creative placement of ledges creates a sense of depth, enhancing the organic feel of the landscape. The hero and alien creatures all move fluidly, with enough of a sprite-like clunkiness to keep it true to its spiritual roots. The retro feel also adds a subtle timelessness to a tale steeped in trappings of futuristic sci-fi.

Like Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread

Though the soundtrack has the industrial future dystopia at its mechanical sounding core, the tracks are often morose and mournful. None are overly bleak, and the tunes accompanying action sequences in particular pulse with a ambient rhythm reminiscent of a persistent heartbeat. Truly a perfect fit throughout.

As the tale unravels, some of the great philosophical questions surrounding mortality are addressed. Can death truly be circumvented? Would one truly want to live forever? The tale comes to an epic conclusion that leaves the player with a monumental decision, and and ending to reflect each choice.

The Way screenshot village
Great folks, once they warm up to you

Only for a Moment, and the Moment’s Gone

The tale spans a galaxy, plays out over countless decades and stares down time itself. In its desperation to cease the draw of the future, it casts a loving glow on the past games whose spirits helped to give it shape. Those unfamiliar with Out of This World and Flashback will still find a heady tale packed with action, intrigue and elusive secrets. The Way makes for a lengthy journey, but it’s well worth every spent moment.

The Way is available via Steam.

[xrr rating=”4.5/5″]

Watch the trailer for The Way below: