A game by Puzzling Dream for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
The Way is an adventure platformer inspired by the likes of Érick Chahi’s Another World (a.k.a. Out of This World) and Heart of Darkness, featuring a protagonist in a mysterious world who must use his wits to overcome enemies, obstacles, and puzzles. The world around him is as beautiful as it is dangerous, with detailed spritework representing the deadly creatures that inhabit the lush yet hostile landscape. Intricate backgrounds offer a wide range of colors and tones, supported by an atmospheric soundtrack and ambient sound effects, helping to set the mood as the player explores many vastly different areas.
As the game begins, Major Tom (the developers are apparently Bowie fans) is standing over the grave of his wife holding a flower. As the rain pours, he kneels and sets the flower down, and then he does something truly unexpected… he picks up a shovel and begins digging up her grave. Then he pulls his wife’s dead body out of the ground in a player-controlled sequence.
Tom carries her body over to his company truck and drives back to his apartment building where he takes her body up to his apartment and then seals it into a large capsule. The player is free to explore the apartment while he waits for the capsule to charge, and it is here where he learns that Tom and his wife were involved in a scientific expedition to explore an alien planet, which resulted in her death.
Once the capsule finishes charging, Tom loads it back into the truck and drives to his company’s heavily guarded facility, beginning the first proper mission. The player’s journal indicates that his goals are to infiltrate the facility, open an emergency hangar entrance, and find the spaceship that is being stored there.
This opening mission is a primer for things to come, allowing the player to grow accustomed to the basic mechanics. The environment here is droll and dark, as the player explores a distinctly manmade industrial area filled with sentry robots, sweeping security cameras, and no small number of computer consoles which must be accessed in order to open new paths. The design of this area stands in stark contrast to the vibrant colors of the alien world that lies ahead, establishing the human world as harsh and cold, while the alien world is vivid and full of life.
The opening area also establishes the very puzzle-centric nature of the game, as most obstacles must be overcome through a clever combination of actions, with shooting and platforming acting as secondary measures to achieve greater objectives. The facility features a large multi-story complex with an expansive underground area, and early on, the player encounters a map showing the layout of the area.
The entire facility must be explored in order to complete your objectives, as simply locating the ship is not enough to complete the mission; you also need to find a way to power it up and secure clearance to take off. At the start of the game, the player has no offensive abilities, so he must carefully avoid robots and other security measures, being mindful of their range of vision as he moves in behind them to activate switches, and crawls through ventilation ducts to reach out-of-the-way computer terminals.
There is a good deal of backtracking here, as players constantly discover additional actions that must be completed before they may move forward, but the tight design of the facility prevents this from becoming overly lengthy. For instance, clearing a passageway of sentry robots involves opening up ductwork to reach several areas, avoiding sentry patrols while activating a series of switches to overload the power supply, and then returning to a computer to cause a discharge that fries all machines in the area.
Puzzles like this require the player to complete a set of environmental challenges while remaining hidden, while others require the player to discover a specific item, such as a computer password or the instructions for retrieving a tool from the storage room. However, most puzzles are of the logical or spatial variety, requiring players to employ their wit and puzzle-solving prowess in order to move forward. There is a good deal of variety between these sorts of puzzles, involving an array of tile flipping and environmental manipulation challenges that range from single screen affairs to expansive full-level endeavors.
Early on, one such puzzle requires the player to balance unequal charges between a series of three towers by using a battery with a limited capacity. The player must drain power and store it in the battery, and then push the battery to another tower to redistribute the charge. While varied, puzzle solutions never become overwhelming, and new puzzle types are introduced as the player gains new abilities (more on this in a bit).
The player does eventually gain access to a laser pistol, allowing him to blast his way through most of his enemies and solve a few environmental challenges, such as shooting lizards to distract huge tentacled plants that would eat him otherwise. But players shouldn’t get too comfortable with making progress through violence, as this device is wrested from their hands as quickly as it was earned, leaving players with only their wits and a few creative tools.
Taking its cues from Another World, the hero is capable but far from superhuman. He can run and jump, duck and crawl, climb ledges, and even grab ladders in midair, but he has a deliberate movement speed, dies in a single hit, and is killed if he falls from too great a height. Fortunately, autosaves are frequent and the player typically loses very little progress when restarting.
There is one oddity to the controls which requires the player to duck before dropping down to a lower platform, rather than simply pressing DOWN+JUMP as is the common platforming control scheme. The ducking animation is long and the camera pans downward during this time, and pressing DOWN+JUMP after ducking causes the player character to immediately stand up before dropping down, which jogs the camera back up, making this a cumbersome and jarring process.
Arriving on the alien planet presents the player with a colorful organic environment filled with flora and fauna, some of which is very dangerous. Major Tom and his wife (and a team of others) had previously visited the planet but were unable to uncover many of its mysteries during their time studying it… but that is all about to change.
Unknown alien life forms have left clues behind, reserving their secrets for those who have the intelligence to solve their puzzles. Major Tom discovers an opening that leads to a previously undiscovered section of the planet and begins finding ways into its temples. These temples are divided into self-contained puzzle areas, each of which is meant to be solved with a new tool.
Among these tools are telekinesis, which allows the player to reposition blocks and use them as floating platforms or keys, and later to use blocks to create shadows on the wall that conform to a specific shape. A teleportation ability allows the player to solve some more traditional teleportation puzzles. And a shield lets the player alter bits of the environment at a distance to solve puzzles, and it can also be used offensively to deflect laser blasts back at enemies... but it doesn’t work on grenades. Later, the player is tasked with solving puzzles by switching between these abilities as needed.
Each of these abilities drains a meter that recharges fairly quickly between uses. This makes sense during more action-oriented scenes by adding tension as the player attempts to make the most of his abilities while under fire. During strictly puzzle-focused scenes, waiting for the meter to recharge simply slows the game’s pace. There are also a couple of overlong puzzles, such as a sequence where you must use mirrors to deflect a set of lasers to match a specified configuration… and then you are asked to solve the puzzle six times in a row to match six different configurations.
One painful element of solving puzzles using these abilities is that the player also has a device that allows him to access certain control panels, and the player must enter a menu to deactivate his current ability and activate the device. Throughout the early parts of his adventure, the player simply has a generic ACTION button that he uses when standing near anything with an exclamation point (a design which makes interactibles easy to spot in visually complex environments).
Use of the dedicated ACTION button is never removed, but certain electronic interfaces require the player to open the inventory screen to switch over to a device which simply performs an ACTION command. This leads to some cumbersome menu-ing and a bit of confusion as to which objects need to be triggered with a button press versus an inventory item.
Several challenges must be completed somewhat indirectly with a support character, which is a nod to an early enemy in Another World (among other adventure gaming references is the appearance of a certain lovable tentacle). Players can also use the creature to mount platforms and defeat some enemies. Without access to his laser pistol, the player is forced to consider alternate or indirect methods of dealing with dangerous foes.
This is particularly true of boss encounters, as bosses tend to be fast and deadly. In many cases, the player must simply run away and avoid being gored to death while he looks for opportunities to slow his attackers down. Taking on bosses is generally done indirectly with the player manipulating the environment to cause damage from a distance.
Players who thoroughly explore the environment can also find additional rewards in the form of seven memories that are tucked away around the planet. Finding each of these provides some additional insight into the relationship between Major Tom and his wife, as well as the events that took place during the preceding mission.
The Way was developed by Puzzling Dream, and this was the studio’s first release. The game was written and directed by Pawel Matysik and Blaise Sanecki, with art and animation also by Pawel and programming also by Blaise. Music for the game was composed by Panu Talus. The game was funded in part with a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The game was published by PlayWay, a company publishing primarily simulator-style games.