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Pathway Review — Pulp Strategy Adventure

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Fans of the Indiana Jones movies will find familiarity in Pathway. Developer Robotality has drawn on the same inspiration, using classic tropes from 1930s pulp action-adventure books and films to create a strategic RPG adventure.

The setting is a bleak but beautiful desert that contains dark, dangerous ancient tombs; long-lost artefacts; and many Nazis, zombies, and cultists to battle. The visuals are one of the most appealing things about Pathway. The pixel/voxel art is skilfully combined with gorgeous watercolour-style backgrounds, along with incredible dynamic lighting. This combination brings the entire scene to life. The overall effect results in a pleasingly modern take on early LucasArts adventure games.

Complementing the desert setting and pulp stylings is the music, which is cinematic and sounds perfect for the game. The soundtrack owes a lot to John Williams’s work on the Indiana Jones films, and this is by no means a bad thing.

At the start, players can pick from a range of characters who all have their own backgrounds and skills. This array can result in some amusing combinations, such as a priest who is deadly with a shotgun or a nurse who is incredibly skilled with a pistol. Sixteen characters are playable in all, some of which need to be unlocked before they can be used. Each character is a specialist in some area and has particular perks that can be unlocked as you progress. That said, every advantage comes with a disadvantage, such as a limited upgrade path or a disadvantage in one stat. This design ensures the characters are relatively balanced.

Pathway has a sprinkling of roguelike elements. Among these elements is permadeath, where losing the entire party will send the player back to the main menu screen, though any experience or item and weapon upgrades gained by the characters remain into the next attempt. Each run is randomised, so the locations and events through the map are shuffled each time.

The map itself is arranged in a node structure, similar to FTL: Faster Than Light, and each tile on the route has its own event. This structure can mean an encounter with some desert nomads, finding a trader, or even encountering a new party member. Unfortunately, though the events are randomised, many do not seem to occur, and the player will start seeing them repeat quite quickly. Some of the events can be entertaining, though, like the encounter with the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the blatant Stargate reference. However, after the same scripted event has played for the fifth, or tenth, time it gets tedious and players might find themselves skipping them as fast as possible to get to the meat of the game.

Though the little vignettes are nice, what the player will usually end up with is a combat scenario. Like the other events, these can also become a little bit repetitive, as the player will find they are facing the same Nazis or zombies in similar locations over and over again. The combat itself is fairly solid, feeling much like a cut-down and simplified XCOM. The difficulty curve for the combat is fairly steep at first, but, once players adapt to the flow of ‘hit-and-run’ ranged attacks and staying in cover unless necessary, progress becomes easier.

Characters come with a health and armour stat and a Bravery meter. Bravery points can be gained by killing an enemy, dodging an attack, or performing certain special attacks. Special attacks include a bleed effect when using a knife or a cone-based area-of-effect ability. However, a lot of these abilities are not as effective as just staying at range and filling the enemy full of bullets, though skills and perks for that exist, too.

For players who are experiencing problems with the difficulty curve, using sliders in the options menu can decrease enemy health and damage output, as well as increase the amount of starting ammunition and fuel. The sliders also go the other way for players seeking more of a challenge. Unfortunately, this modifier does not quite work as expected, as upping the difficulty just makes the experience frustrating and tedious.

As expected for a roguelike, losing the entire party means the player is sent back to the main menu. Starting up the same campaign means characters utilised in the previous attempt will be unavailable, as they are listed as being hospitalised. While this can be frustrating if the player has become accustomed to the previous characters, it does provide some variety, as well as access to different abilities. One interesting perk is the Daredevil trait, which allows a character to jump between vehicles in pursuit of an enemy.

Five campaigns are in Pathway, although these are not particularly deep. The first campaign involves trying to rescue a friend kidnapped by Nazis, which is about as much plot as players get. The background, skills, and personality of the characters along with the lightly sketched narrative seem to be designed to encourage the player to devise their own tales about the characters, but it really just serves to make Pathway feel a bit shallow.

Pathway is a decent game, but it could be superb if a few more events were added into the randomised event tiles and the campaign storyline was strengthened. The combat has a solid strategy core to it, and the music and visuals are both brilliantly crafted. Variety is the spice of life and video games; Pathway just needs to add a bit more of that spice to make it stunning.

OnlySP Review Score 3 CreditReviewed on PC.

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Review

ZED Review — A Boring Walk

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ZED Review Screenshot 1

Players intrigued by the premise of ZED will have to look elsewhere for a game that delivers on the promise of an emotional journey set amidst surreal landscapes. Although the game does have fascinating visuals, the lack of any real gameplay makes the entire experience dull and uninspiring. However, despite being an altogether terrible experience, the ending is still somehow emotional.

ZED tells the story of an ageing artist suffering with dementia who must recover his lost memories  to create one final artwork for his granddaughter. The player assumes the role of the artist, stuck in his own twisted mind, to collect important objects from the course of his life and bring him peace.

Gameplay entirely consists of two things: walking around to find objects and solving basic puzzles. In all of the game’s areas, only four objects are to be found. Finding the objects is an incredibly simple task in most levels as the design is linear and leads the player along a path or through a small collection of rooms to find these items. Occasionally, one of the objects will be placed in a ridiculous location. Breaking the linearity in this way is incredibly frustrating and forces the player to backtrack and find hidden paths that are not immediately obvious. As for the puzzles, they take seconds to complete even without searching for the striking blue solutions on the walls of the level. Such a simplistic and unoriginal gameplay loop makes the incredibly short game boring to play through.

The environments are genuinely fun to look at and do a brilliant job of capturing the mayhem inside the mind of a man whose memory is failing him. Disappointingly, the game has no interactive elements within the environments beyond the key items, toilets, and plush toys. Even then, interacting with these objects requires specific mouse placement, which is almost impossible to predict as a cursor has been omitted for the sake of immersion. The game has many quirky assets, yet the lack of interactivity makes them feel worthless.

Eagre Games tries to create an immersive experience, though falls flat for a number of reasons, the most annoying of which is the load screens. The player progresses the story by unlocking doorways to reveal the next scene. However, after getting this glimpse of art, the player is thrust into a brief black loading screen which ruins the point of revealing anything at all.

The narrative is told through voice-overs that belong to the protagonist’s daughter and two different sides of his deteriorating mind. Subtitles are turned off by default, yet, without them, the player has no way of knowing that the artist’s voice is represented as a dual identity. What is being said makes little sense as is, let alone without the context of a warring ego and id.

By the end of the game, the player just wants to see the result of this painful object search and, surprisingly, the conclusion is overwhelmingly touching. Against all odds, ZED somehow manages to finish on a high that acts as a reminder that anything is possible if you chase your dreams.

The ending is the only redeeming feature of this boring experience. ZED is short, uninspired, and disappointing. For a game that sounded so promising, weak gameplay prevents it from having any real emotional impact. Hopefully, the strong development team at Eagre Games will learn from its mistakes to create something that is as fun to play as it is to look at.

OnlySP Review Score 1 Fail

Reviewed on PC.

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