“Journey to another planet and discover its secrets in order to bring your loved one back to life. Experience an adventure, inspired by old school classics like Another World (A.K.A. Out of This World), Heart of Darkness and Flashback.“
– The The Way Steam page (http://store.steampowered.com/app/311010/)
There’s something about Éric Chahi’s video games that have a special place in my heart. Whilst I confess I haven’t played all of his titles, I have extremely fond memories of playing through Another World and Heart of Darkness – especially the former.
With The Way, the developers have tried to create something that replicates the experience players had in Éric Chahi’s classic 2D adventures. It’s as close a replica you’re going to find and for the most part it certainly lives up to the comparison, though there are a few issues that prevent it from reaching greatness.
The Way casts you in the role of Tom, a space explorer who has recently suffered the loss his wife. Whilst on an expedition, Tom discovers ancient writings that offer him the hope of an ‘eternal existence’ and through desperation and the desire to bring his wife back to life, Tom digs up her body and put her into a cryostasis chamber. After stealing a spaceship from his employers, he heads out to try and revive her and end her would-be eternal slumber.
There was something about the story of The Way that really stuck with me throughout my time playing the game – I could really sympathise with Tom and his struggles with the loss of the wife. The game keeps things ambiguous and offers very little dialogue, but it still manages to clearly show that Tom is going through such a desperate, heart wrenching experience and that he’s even willing to go to some real extreme lengths to try and fix things. It’s not often you’ll feel sorry for someone who’s digging up a body at a cemetery but it’s all comes down to the context of the situation.
It’s a tragic tale, but The Way isn’t all doom and gloom. Despite the initial harrowing undertones, this is a game about hope too. Tom goes on a fairly epic adventure to try and bring his wife back to life, and it’s clear that it’s hope that keeps him struggling on. It’s an enjoyable tale overall and will keep you hooked until you reach the satisfying conclusion.
The environments in-game look absolutely gorgeous with some amazing pixel art making up the various landscapes you’ll get to explore. You’ll encounter a wide range of environments too that each feel and look uniquely different. Whether it’s golden desert ruins, a futuristic cavern or even an overgrown village, the game looks incredible. The Way isn’t shy on offering the little details too, with plenty of flora and fauna bringing the world to life along with some fantastic lighting effects. There’s a great mixture of areas too – whilst some areas are luscious and full of life, others are more derelict and dark. It keeps everything varied and you’ll never get bored of what you see in the game, especially since it all looks so damn gorgeous.
The game’s soundtrack is top notch too, utilising a good mixture of both sci-fi tracks as well as ambient noise. The varying tempos of the soundtrack fits the game perfectly – there’s even room in the game for the occasional tune that feels out of place within the theme of the game, yet still manages to fit in so perfectly with the overall vibe.
Much like the games that inspired it, The Way features a good mixture of platforming and puzzling sections. The platforming itself feels good with precise controls that allow you to complete most tasks with minimal fuss, though you’ll still suffer a lot of deaths seeing as the game nearly always requires pixel-perfect manoeuvres. Nothing ever feels impossible, but there’s not much room for error. Thankfully, you’ll respawn at the nearest checkpoint quick enough so you’re never out of the action for too long. Speaking about platforming sections, fans of Another World will be glad to know they’ll come across some great chase scenes in The Way – they don’t quite match the epic chase during the start of Another World, but they’re a great addition nonetheless.
The game’s puzzles are enjoyable to solve, with a good variety on offer throughout your adventure. As you get further in the game you’ll unlock plenty of new abilities too, offering a real sense of progression as the puzzles adapt to work with your new abilities. You’ll even make a four-legged alien friend who helps you out in some sections too.
There were moments when The Way could feel a little frustrating though. The energy gun weapon can feel slightly clumsy to control at times (especially without a controller), whilst the game also features a hell of a lot of backtracking – it’s fortunate that the game’s locations look so good since you’ll be seeing a lot of them over and over again.
Much like in Éric Chahi’s games, there’s not a lot of hand holding in The Way. It’s up to the player to find out exactly what you need to do and how exactly you do it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I quite enjoyed having to work everything out myself, but those who aren’t so accustomed with the genre may have a difficult time getting into the game initially. It’s certainly worth persevering through though – there’s nothing in the game that feels overly frustrating and there’s certainly satisfaction to be found when you get through some of The Way’s trickier sections.
One thing I will mention though – a control pad is absolutely essential to get the most out of the game. I tried playing through it with just a keyboard initially and it was close to unbearable at times. All it takes is a quick switch in the options menu though, so get that Xbox 360 controller ready!
Soul Axiom certainly has a lot to offer with its intriguing premise, enjoyable puzzling and wide variety of environments to explore – it just lets itself down with a severe lack of polish. The narrative feels disconnected and fails to engage you, the graphics are sub-par whilst there’s also the occasional puzzle that will frustrate the player rather than perplex them.
It’s certainly not all bad and puzzle fans will certainly find something to enjoy within Soul Axiom, it’s just a shame that the game’s negatives points are so glaringly obvious that you won’t be able to ignore them.
The Way started life as a Kickstarter project, offering gamers the chance to play through a modern imagining of an Éric Chahi-style video game. It certainly provides that with its beautiful world to explore, mysterious narrative, and enjoyable puzzles and platforming.
Is it as good as Éric Chahi’s classics? Not quite, but it’s certainly a damn good tribute. It manages to take everything that’s good about those games and put its own modern spin on it, all whilst maintaining the old-school vibe. There are moments of frustration to be found, but there’s nothing that stops The Way providing an enjoyable experience overall.
Developer: Puzzling Dream
Publisher: Playway (www.playway.com)
Release Date: 20/05/2016
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux