Something that can easily frustrate in video games nowadays is poor checkpointing. Implementing a checkpoint should allow the player to fail, but be placed in a position where failure doesn’t feel like a punishment. So many games get this right, The Way Remastered, does not. Dying is easy in this game – you can fall from heights and crumple into a pile, or maybe end up the dinner of a giant alien creature or maybe you fall victim to the poor control system and don’t pull your gun fast enough to kill a bug that is speeding towards your face. Mercifully the restarts are quick, but some of the checkpoints are so oddly placed, they cause anger. It seems as if, struggling for a way to add challenge to their game, the developers implemented ridiculous deaths in order to set back the player.
Our saddened hero, Tom, wants to raise his partner from the dead and he has, handily, visited an alien planet that holds the secret to eternal life. After a genuinely entertaining and interesting opening hour of running back and forth to collect information, open doors and prep a spaceship for interstellar travel, the game loses its way, ironically. Sure, fetch quests can become tiresome and The Way Remastered does ask the player to do a lot of fetching, but they’re wrapped up in a genuinely interesting story, interspersed with stunning pixel graphic scenes that strike a poignant chord. The latter takes the form of memories which can be discovered and triggered, allowing the player to see into the past during quiet moments of this couple’s life together.
And the story is intriguing, seeing as the game opens with Tom standing by a grave and the first button prompt ensures he digs up the corpse of his partner. That’s quite a hook. The problems begin to arise once touched down on the alien planet. The plot lingers in the background, taking a back seat to the gameplay, which takes the form of a side-scrolling shooter and platformer hybrid. This wouldn’t be an issue if the controls were tight and the enemy programming made sense. Instead, we’re forced to use a system that hasn’t left the 20th century. Of course, retro aesthetics are fine, but they have to feel comfortable in this modern realm of game playing. Needing to precisely line up the avatar with a ladder feels archaic, especially when being chased by a mutant spider.
Which brings us neatly back to the checkpoints. Dropping to the bottom of a ladder triggers a chase sequence. Tom runs full tilt down the corridor to a dead end where the only way is up. Pausing momentarily to adjust positioning he finally begins his ascent only to be faced with a zig-zag climbing wall. He painfully stops and stutters his way to the top overdoing the term ‘slow and steady’. If he reaches the top and doesn’t act in time, he’s gobbled up and respawns back at the top of the ladder before the chase. Now do this a few times as the controls force unwieldy moments – chomped on the climb up, then caught on a jumping section because Tom wouldn’t turn on the spot correctly. After a few attempts, the sight of that ladder feels like an ice pick in the eye.
Before this, there’s a lot more running back and forth, picking up objects to insert in holes or jumping over spike pits in order to find more objects which fit into even more holes. And on the way, bugs will burst from the wall to eat Tom’s face. To shoot them, we must aim with the right stick and fire with the ZR button. The shooting is fine, when the enemy is clearly in front of you or already on screen, but when they leap from holes and scurry over killing poor Tom in one hit, they feel a bit unfair. Of course, we respawn, spy the hole they will come from and better prepare the next time. But, it’s not fun, it doesn’t feel natural.
These problems aren’t just the checkpoints. It’s the controls, as well as design decisions. And they each spoil what could be a great adventure game which deals quite profoundly with loss, grief and the idea of infinity. The Way Remastered looks beautiful and features a haunting array of sounds which add to the atmosphere. This is slightly spoiled by repetitive dialogue, but the voice acting is decent otherwise.
In order for the story to be truly engaging, we need to be fully absorbed into the game, rather than pulled out by jarring moments. As I progressed, I began to care less and less about Tom, his old crew and his plight. Which is a crying shame considering the opening of the game felt like the writer and developers reaching out and grabbing me by the throat. Discovering alien artefacts and cave systems initially perked me up, but the rinse and repeat nature of obtaining these upgrades wore me down.
NOTE: The Way Remastered, sadly features a couple of bugs of the coding variety, which have been leaving players with lost save points, most of which are game breaking. The bug is known to the developers and a fix should already be in the veins of the internet, if not already in the game. I was alerted to this issue – Reddit notes a patch has fixed some, but not all issues and therefore I can only end my review here, before I lose my save file and then, my mind.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SONKA