It’s 1936, and the burgeoning Nazi empire sweeps through North Africa and the Middle East, stealing any artifacts it can get its hands on. You control a cast of rogues and swashbucklers fighting against the German military and trying to put a little money in your pocket along the way. Each adventurer in this cast feels like they could be on the cover of a pulp magazine: the Brazilian steamboat captain, the Anglo-Indian antiquarian, and the Belgian secret agent. It’s not Indiana Jones, but Pathway, from Robotality, wears its influence on its sleeve.
There are five expansive missions to play through, each with an “overworld” of branching paths. Some events are marked—traders, battles, points of interest, and so on—to help guide your decisions. Each space on the map has a handwritten story event; there are nearly 500 in total. Some are brief, requiring no input. Others allow for conversation choices or options that take advantage of character skills. Many events, such as random battles, are unmarked, triggered only when you arrive on a specific space. Every playthrough is procedurally generated, and will never be the same twice.
Anyone who has played the XCOM games should be familiar with the combat system. Deploy your characters in a starting zone and advance through the map turn by turn, taking advantage of cover and angles to get the best chance at successfully shooting a Nazi. While Pathway’s combat may have good genes, it’s only passable. Enemy AI isn’t particularly smart: it often shuffles around endlessly in the fog of war and never seems to coordinate its attacks or press advantage, particularly when player characters are low on health. There’s also not much enemy variety. There’s the standard Nazi, the Nazi with a shotgun, and the Nazi guard dog. If you’re lucky, you may encounter a zombie while in a tomb.
At the start of the game you can only take two characters in a party, so options in combat feel particularly limited. While XCOM, for example, is all about setting up ambushes or multistep attacks, Pathway hamstrings tactics by locking certain basic moves behind character skills. Only someone with a sniper rifle can perform an overwatch attack—a move wherein a character automatically attempts to attack anyone who enters their line of sight during the enemy turn, a staple of any XCOM-style game—and a character needs a particular skill in order to throw a grenade.
Grenade throwing locked behind a skill? Come on, now.
There are some light RPG features. If one of your characters gets knocked out during a mission, for example, they have to either sit out the next mission or pay a hefty amount to heal. This forces you to adapt your play style, as certain characters specialize in certain weapon styles, and each also has a skill tree to level up as they gain experience. A majority of the characters are locked to begin with, and most require an in-game feat to unlock; some can be accessed quite early, while others have borderline-absurd requirements that require some serious hours. I like the idea of this cast of characters but wish they were fleshed out more, along with the world they’re in.
Let’s talk about what’s good: Pathway’s graphics are gorgeous. From desert vistas to claustrophobic tombs, the lighting in particular conveys a sense of atmosphere not often seen in pixel graphics. The music is great in setting the mood, but the narrator who sets up each mission frankly sounds quite bored, like someone on your local public-access television station.
It doesn’t help that there are only a few “story battles” in each mission, so you sort of forget why you’re doing the mission. I want more of that indescribable 1930s globetrotting charm pulled from the silver screen. This area of the world was going through challenges and changes at this point in history. Show me. Have it play into the story. The Nazis may as well have been looting Europe in 1939; it wouldn’t have changed the game all that much.
As long as we’re on the topic, I don’t particularly care for the name of the game either. Pathway seems such a generic title it will get lost in the lurch of mid- to low-priced games.
The game description sounds like the perfect blend of elements: XCOM-style gameplay, an Indiana Jones influence, and fighting Nazis. But it missteps with most elements, preventing it from breaking into “must play” territory.
Pathway is available on PC.