Pathway Review: If Indiana Jones Was a Good Game
Everybody knows that of the Indiana Jones movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best. I mean, when the Nazis get their faces melted off by the Ark of the Covenant? Classic. Pathway, from Robotality, gave me a lot of flashbacks to those classic movies starring Indy (minus Temple of Doom, because really, it’s the most boring of the original trio and doesn’t have Nazis). In Pathway, Nazis (much as they were in Last Crusade and Raiders) are scouring ancient sites in order to find occult artifacts, and it’s up to some intrepid adventurers to thwart the Nazis and prevent them from gaining more power.
I Bet You Did Nazi That Coming
The basic plot of Pathway is really just what I said above – to stop Nazis from finding ancient, powerful artifacts and from completing strange, occult rituals. The story plays out over a series of missions that will always remain the same, meaning you’ll have a set beginning and end. The story in-between, however, will never repeat itself. Every event that happens after the opening of a mission until its conclusion is randomly generated. Sometimes you’ll stumble across a little extra information that will help guide your decisions, while other times you’ll fall into a Nazi ambush. These scenarios are played out in a text box, alongside a smaller window which has your chosen party acting out that scenario. It’s a delightful touch and incredibly effective in the game’s storytelling. Even better, should you encounter the same event more than once, making the same choice does not always mean you’ll get the same result.
Explore Ancient Archeological Sites
Exploration is the name of the game in Pathway, and it’s how the above mentioned story events play out. At the start of each mission, you’ll be given a set amount of cash, fuel, ammo, and supplies. The gameplay really reminds me of a board game. There are spaces you can move to spread out across the map. To move from one space to another, you’ll have to expend one fuel. And, adorably, a miniature version of your party will hop in a teeny, tiny jeep and drive on over to the next location. Here you’ll be presented with an enormous variety of events, from stumbling on Nazi strongholds or being ambushed by zombies (because of course there are zombies), to finding abandoned vehicles you can pilfer extra fuel from. Just to name a very, very few.
As I mentioned before, the events that play out often ask the player to make a choice. For example, if you happen to sneak up on a Nazi encampment without them noticing you, you are sometimes given the option to ambush them, giving you a slight edge in combat, or you might be given the choice to quietly sneak away. Sometimes you’ll come across dangerous scenarios, like a crashed vehicle that’s on fire, but that has some very valuable fuel in the back. You’ll be given the choice to gamble – that is, the outcome may be good or bad, depending on your luck. Or, with a feature I found particularly useful and interesting, you might just have a character with an innate skill that can help in that situation. There is quite a range of skills; some characters have the Daredevil skill, allowing them to perform daring feats with a greater chance of success (though there is still a chance it might go wrong), while others might have the Engineer skill that will allow them to fix vehicles or broken equipment you stumble upon. There really are a surprising number of layers to this game.
Punch (or Shoot, Stab, or Laser) a Nazi in the Face
Combat in Pathway is a strategic affair. When you have to engage in combat, you’ll be given the opportunity to place your team members in a specific area, indicated by green squares. Each turn you’ll be able to have your units complete two actions: a movement action, and either attack or use an ability such as first-aid or repair armor. Each character has their own movement range, as well as an attack range based off of their preferred weapons. This means some characters will use shotguns, which can attack in a blast range, while others will have rifles that will help attack from a greater distance. Characters are also able to equip an item alongside their weapon, including combat knives, medical kits, and grenades, to name just a few. Walls and obstacles will offer you some protection from enemy fire, but remember the same holds true for your foes. You’ll also need to keep a close eye on your ammo; once you run out, you’ll need to spend a turn reloading, and all ammo is pulled from the community pool for all your characters.
Pixelated Goodness, Through and Through
Pathway’s art style is delightful, and really fits well with overall game. Perfectly pixelated, with smooth animation and lots of fun little details, I honestly can’t picture this game done in any other style. Sound effects are done well; I particularly like the sound of your party jumping into your jeep and tearing through the sand to your next destination, or the groan of zombies as they shuffle about a stage. Music-wise, there’s nothing really good or bad going on, so I can’t honestly say much about it. I will say, it never feels like you’re missing out on a soundtrack or anything like that.
There are a few improvements I think that the game could use. The text is incredibly tiny; I felt like I was going to go (more) blind reading it in handheld mode, but even up on my television I still had to strain my eyes to read it. I also wasn’t able to find an option to make the text bigger. It would also be nice if a weapon told you who could equip it, instead of having to cycle through your party members and trying to equip it to see if they’re able to use it.
An Interesting, and Unique, Experience
Pathway has a lot to offer. It’s got aspects of a tabletop roleplaying/board/resource management/strategy game all in one. And while that may sound like a confusing mash-up, it’s executed quite well. Really, my biggest complaint is the steep difficulty curve, as each mission seems significantly more difficult than the one before it. While there are options to reduce the difficulty, even still it felt needlessly hard at times. The last thing I’d like to mention about this game is something I haven’t encountered before: the ability to turn off the violence against the dogs in the game. Sometimes you will be attacked by dogs, and there is an option that when you defeat them, rather than dying, you can have them simply run away. As a lover of doggos (especially my derpy dog, Link), I found this to be a wonderful addition to the game.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC; Publisher: Chucklefish; Developer: Robotality: Players: 1; Released: May 27th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $15.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Pathway given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.