The Way Review: Beautifully Atmospheric
It's the quiet moments in The Way that really shine through. The opening, which features almost no dialogue whatsoever, does more to communicate the worldview of Tom, the player character, and the players goals than any stereotypical video game "objective complete" ever will. The Way begins as a story of loss, but it's also about discovery, fear of the unknown, and, ultimately, love, and it builds a beautiful atmosphere along the way.
Old School Platforming, New School Storytelling
The Way takes a lot of inspiration from games like Flashback and especially Heart of Darkness. While it's primarily a platformer, the physics feel more realistic and grounded than your average Mario or Sonic adventure. The art style also calls back to this era as well, and while pixel art has become almost a cliche of indie games, The Way displays some of the most gorgeous art I've seen in a long time. In spite of the pixels, the art is detailed and animation is fluid.
The scenery is one of The Way's biggest selling points, as each location is not only rich in detail, but utterly alien as well. As such, I felt like I was actually exploring another world. This feeling of discovery was primarily what kept me playing.
Despite drawing influence from earlier eras of gaming for it's gameplay, The Way's storytelling takes a lot of influence from more modern games. A lot of the game's story is told through collectibles found lying around, such as photos, research notes, and other notes and documents. The collectibles I liked the most, however, were the memories of Tom's wife that he finds on the alien planet. They're mostly dialogue free, and do a great job of showing, rather than telling, what their relationship was like.
The one major fault of The Way is its first level. While the rest of the game is made up of exploring alien jungles and ancient temples, the first level is on Earth, and it's easily the weakest and most visually uninteresting section of the game. While the game improves astronomically once you leave Earth in your stolen ship, actually getting to that point can be maddening, as it's one of the only points in the game where you don't have any special abilities or weapons, and have to rely on stealth. This level also highlights how difficult The Way can be, as there are very few checkpoints and you can lose a lot of progress. While it's over in less than an hour, this section looses a lot of the momentum the game has from it's strong opening.
The only other criticism I have is of Tom himself. While he's fine most of the game, and in moments such as the flashbacks with his wife he shows a lot of emotion without saying almost anything, his habit of spouting off action-movie-style quips when fighting doesn't really fit with the tone of the rest of the game. For example, the arrival of a frightening new alien is undermined when Tom responds with, of all things, a Family Guy quote.
The Bottom Line
Despite it's poor first level and some questionable dialogue, The Way is a great platformer that's both tough as nails and visually stunning. If you're looking for a rewarding gaming experience, particularly if you miss the games like Flashback and Another World, give this one a try.