I had no doubt that a combo such as that between an innovative publisher like Annapurna Interactive (What Remains of Edith Finch, Gone Home), and a talented studio like Giant Squid Studios (Abzû) would be a success. The Pathless - a new adventure game for PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 - confirms that it's still possible to develop games characterised by a relaxed pace, especially in a world where videogames as a medium seem increasingly obsessed with velocity. And the result is incredibly satisfying, believe me. In my first hour with The Pathless, at least a couple of games came to mind that are capable of exemplifying the powerful substance contained in this new title: Okami, Shadow of The Colossus, and The Last Guardian. And not because Giant Squid has "copied" from other studios' ideas, far from it, but the sensations contained in it reminded me of these games for very different reasons. Especially, because they gave to me the same emotions.
But let's start with the plot. An unnamed Hunter, armed only with a powerful bow, reaches an island wrapped in a curse. Many adventurers have attempted the feat, but no one has ever managed to defeat the dark threat that dominates the island. It's up to the Hunter, accompanied by a splendid eagle, to eliminate the evil spirits that occupy this once thriving land and finally restore peace. The story in The Pathless is simple, linear, but also timeless. The connection that you create with its protagonist is almost immediate, a heroic warrior who, holding her bow, allows us to accompany her on this truly fascinating journey. The bow, in particular, represents a very interesting mechanic within the game: by taking advantage of the talismans scattered around the map and hitting them with arrows, the Hunter can move more quickly, offering an unprecedented sense of speed.
By combining this movement with jumps and the use of the eagle, which is able to transport the heroine to higher points of the map (thanks also to a boost), The Pathless also offers a great sense of verticality, which becomes more and more intriguing as the skills of the bird develop thanks to some crystals that the player finds along the way. Compared to other similar adventure games, Giant Squid's new game doesn't use a mini-map to guide the players along their path but, as its title suggests - which is also a splendid metaphor about the human beings and their free will - it's up to them to find their own path. To do this, the character is helped by Spirit Vision, a special viewer that, if activated, allows you to see where treasures are hidden, talismans that can activate the towers to awaken the demons that occupy the island, and much more. It's a beautiful mechanic that also leaves the player great freedom in terms of approach and also the opportunity to explore this fascinating world.
To retrieve the talismans useful for awakening the spirits, the Hunter must solve some small puzzles, ranging from the activation of platforms and gears to the precise shooting of arrows, and much more. They are never complex puzzles, far from it, but they often require a point of view from above to understand which mechanisms to activate, and this is where the eagle proves to be a truly valuable helper. The close relationship that gradually develops with this delightful bird reminded me so much of that of the nameless guy and Trico in The Last Guardian, to the point that the player even has to cuddle her after the bird gets scared in some fleeting encounter with the evil spirits of the island. In this regard, along the map, it's possible to come across some red vortices, which activate some completely optional stealth sections. Here the Hunter must escape the demon's view - represented by a cone of light projected by the spirit - in an attempt to retrieve the eagle, from which she is separated when she encounters the red cloud. It's perhaps the only truly difficult section in The Pathless, which breaks the more staid rhythm of the rest of the experience a bit, devoted primarily to exploration and puzzle-solving.
But it's not all peaceful, after all. Once the three towers have been activated to awaken the demon in that specific area of the island, the hunt for the spirit begins. And it's a hunt in the truest sense, as the Hunter must chase the evil deity using the aforementioned running mechanics, hitting him with bow and arrow. Once knocked down, a second phase of the fight opens which catapults the heroin into an arena. Whether it's a fearsome Hydra or a fire-breathing Dragon, each end-of-level boss fight is truly exciting, though never particularly complex. The Hunter, in fact, can never die, but she can still be slowed down or pushed out of the arena. Again, the real challenge offered to the player is figuring out how to take down the creature, solve another puzzle in order to defeat it. It fits perfectly with the mood of the game, which doesn't look for heart-pounding moments, but rather prefers the players to use their brains. This phased structure to defeat the boss, combined with the puzzle-solving, reminded me of the giant colossus in Shadow of the Colossus, although the difficulty level is undoubtedly less high.
However, it's impossible to talk about The Pathless without mentioning its graphics. If already in the days of Abzû, Giant Squid had proven to have great talent in terms of artistic vision, this new game seals this great skill of the studio. The Pathless is truly spectacular from a graphic point of view, with rich and lively atmospheres, full of color. Because of its bright colors and original style, it reminded me of the same amazement - at least in terms of atmosphere, not for the graphics in and of themselves - experienced the first time I played Okami. It reminds me of that same sense of wonder and excitement that you get when you look at a really beautiful game from an artistic point of view, and that is able to effectively convey that feeling. Confirming how hard the Giant Squid guys worked and how much they paid attention to detail, there's also a perfect use of the music, composed by Austin Wintorys, which goes well with the evocative atmosphere of the game.
Ultimately, The Pathless is a really great game. Exciting, relaxed, visually flawless, Giant Squid's new game confirms the excellent direction taken by the studio, since the time of Abzû. If you are looking for a game to dedicate some time to, but without rushing, I can only recommend the adventures of the Hunter and her friend eagle, available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. You won't regret it.
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