Road Not Taken

PC, PS4

EDGE - - GAMES -

Pub­lisher Spry Fox De­vel­oper In-house For­mat PC (ver­sion tested), PS4 Re­lease Au­gust 5

Amother weeps, a bliz­zard howls. A wolf paces across the path deeper into the for­est. You’re ex­hausted, and there are still more chil­dren wait­ing to be saved. You know where they are, but you’ll die be­fore get­ting to them. You give up. “Ev­ery year we lose a few,” says the town mayor, whose heirs you have sworn to find. “We’ll make more.”

Road Not Taken is about as grim a puz­zle game as you’ll ever play. Ev­ery move of its Sokoban- like block push­ing presses you closer to ex­haus­tion. And you can never undo. Ev­ery choice is per­ma­nent. Your jour­ney is filled with re­gret as you fudge the for­est’s in­ter­con­nected rooms of ran­domly gen­er­ated puz­zles. And your pow­ers seem so slight: you can lift ad­ja­cent ob­jects with a tap of X, then throw them away with an­other tap, or you can walk with them by ex­pend­ing en­ergy. Use all your en­ergy, and you restart from scratch.

Your first task is of­ten to clear a way through a thicket of the game’s 200 dif­fer­ent ob­jects – sleep­ing racoons, flame sprites, trees, bears. You’ll also find your­self hav­ing to open the doors be­tween the for­est’s rooms, which are marked with var­i­ous ob­jects you must place next to each other: three conifers, seven rocks, eight open flow­ers. Some­times the room won’t have enough of them, so you’ll need to throw them in from other rooms, il­lus­trat­ing the for­est’s per­sis­tence.

Com­bi­na­tions of ob­jects will of­ten meld them into new ones, a lit­tle like they do in Triple Town, Spry Fox’s pre­vi­ous puz­zle hit. Three flame spir­its will com­bine into an axe, which com­bines with a tree to form a log. Two logs form a camp­fire, which will stop you us­ing en­ergy when car­ry­ing ob­jects. Not that you know any of this when you start. Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is key, each new com­bi­na­tion or ob­ject fill­ing an en­try in your log­book. This Rogue-like el­e­ment of Road Not Taken pro­vides its back­bone, your ex­pe­ri­ence fu­elling more suc­cess­ful runs in the fu­ture, and your log­book re­tain­ing all its en­tries.

Road Not Taken is an im­mensely clever game, rich in de­tail and com­plex­ity. But stum­bling through its forests so of­ten feels like fail­ure, your en­ergy lev­els drop­ping steadily as you scrape through the limit of find­ing half the chil­dren be­fore you give up for the year and be­gin a new for­est the next. Noth­ing is ever ar­bi­trary, but the ran­dom lay­outs rarely pro­vide el­e­gant, au­thored so­lu­tions, and there are so many vari­ables in play that mas­tery al­ways feels far from your grasp.

For all its de­light­ful art and writ­ing, the cold logic in its Gor­dian de­sign is un­re­lent­ing. Some will rel­ish the chal­lenge and in­vest the nec­es­sary time and thought to un­der­stand all its in­tri­ca­cies. For others, though, the for­est’s win­ter will leave them snow­blind.

If you col­lect them, you can stop cer­tain ob­jects from ap­pear­ing in the for­est – a use­ful way of avoid­ing ir­ri­tants, such as the hawks that swoop down, take your en­ergy and dump you in a ran­dom lo­ca­tion

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