Pathways Into Darkness Review
When I hear 90s dungeon crawler, I usually think of Eye of the Beholder or Dungeon Master or of course Ultima Underworld. It also reminds me of a lot of adults worrying about Satan, so I wasn't playing a lot of these games until years later. Even still I rarely see Pathways Into Darkness brought up. It's pretty ambitious for a game that was only developed by three people. Wolfenstein 3D had only come out a year before this in 1992, and this would be a combination first person shooter and dungeon crawler. Originally it was going to be a sequel to the designer's previous game; Minotaur the
Labyrinths of Crete. Well that didn't happen and Pathways is now its own thing. As for its obscurity, well, this was a Mac only game and if you did jump the hoops to play it the game would look like this. Saying the studio had enough developers to be called a team was generous. They're not getting an Ultima Underworld interface. Fortunately it now plays on Mac, Windows, and Linux thanks to an excellent Aleph One port. This is all thanks to the work of . . . Wrk . . . work antour . . . wrk-cacoter . . . W'rkncacnter. Ugh, Hope I don't have to say that again,
Anyhow this will make your game playable but you'll really have to read up on the controls. So if you're playing a dungeon crawler that should already be on the itinerary, but for example here the microphone button will open your inventory, so you'll need to read carefully binding everything up right. That leads to the actual manual and what this is all about. Spring, 1994, the Pentatgon. The American president is in a meeting being briefed by his staff. They're interrupted by a hologram from an alien race called the Jjaro. The alien diplomat informs them they have barely over a week to save the world. Its name is Ryu-Toth and it tries its best to break down the situation
into Bill Clinton friendly terms. It turns out the object that killed the dinosaurs remained intact after impact. It was buried thousands of feet underground and after some millennia it began to dream. The object is a member of a race so ancient that it was formed before the Milky Way was dust. This particular one, whose name no human throat will learn to pronounce, fought in a war that formed the Magellanic Clouds. It died there, though Ryu-Toth specifies that it's more like it came as close to dying as it can. The dead god's dreaming has been warping reality beneath the surface of the planet, but over the past century the changes have begun appearing in the jungles above including the sporadic appearance of a strange pyramid. The elder god is awakening. There's only
one hope now - the pyramid leads down into the earth near the god's body. The Jjaro have researched human technology and found that using a nuclear device at that depth will bury the god further and send it back to sleep. The Jjaro themselves are on the way but it'll take them two years. When they arrive they'll get rid of it properly, so Bill Clinton sends a spec ops team to kill god.
This sentence alone sounds more like a Persona game. You play as one of these commandos - your parachute didn't deploy, most of your equipment is damaged, and your team is gone. All you can do is set off alone into the pyramid. This is where the game begins and there's no telling what waits in there. (Prometheus siren) Taking the first steps in and the pyramid doesn't look too eldritch. The game is completely silent and there's a skeleton in the corner with a copy of Mein Kampf. It says it won't make good reading because I don't know German. Once again gamers are
thwarted by bad localization. So I'm going to shelve that for now and talk about the graphics. The environments are pretty simplistic. Different levels can have different wall patterns but sometimes the colors are just swapped around, but there are still some details like strange growths or pillars or bones and debris scattered around. There are some distinct areas and there
is some environmental storytelling to be found. By its nature it still is mostly very repetitive, but corpses are very important in Pathways and they do make those hard to miss. The art they do for the characters is colorful, detailed and stylish, and yes these are characters.
This especially goes for the monsters you encounter. They have a lot of personality to them with some designs I haven't seen in another game (for better and worse). Even with a generic enemy like a slime, Pathways has its own unique spin on it, instead giving you ooze men with giant gaping maws in their chest. Like the environments there are some recolors of these too, but they usually indicate having a new special ability or needing some new way to deal with them. The only things in
the "whatever territory" are the lightning orbs. I don't remember what they're called but they exclusively live in the labyrinth of shocking ball torture and frankly who gives a [ __ ]. (shocking) All the graphics in the game are credited to a single dude. It's pretty cool just how much there actually is. What you're fighting can be a strange mashup, but they're colorful and appealing.
It is a dead god's dream so who am I to question. As for the music, there is no music. No ambient sound here either. You mainly hear things trying to murder you and the sound of you murdering them. It is the kind of thing you can just put your own music on for, but a lot of times you may not see an attack but you will hear an attack. You might stop for a moment and take a break when suddenly a bone explodes out of the darkness like a John Wilkes Booth Marowak is lurking there waiting for you. The ambushes are near constant, and the sound has aged poorly.
It gets better la- It gets better later but, the beginning will involve a lot of those things squealing. (Squealing) There are so many headless I thought this was the whole game at one point. (Squealing) It is weird going from just dead silence to pure chaos. It gets better later when you can drown them all out with your own gunfire, but in the beginning it can drive you crazy. SKELETON: I've got a bone to pick with you! SKELETON: I've got a bone to pick with you! SKELETON: I've got a bone to pick with you! There's really only one sound effect of note, which is the sound the elder god makes if you fail your mission and can't kill it in time. I think I've heard it before, but I'm not sure where. (roaring) It's mainly a bad compression-filled nightmare. I do like the sound of those exploding.
So here's how you play it. As far as dungeon crawlers go item management isn't too crazy here. Most of your equipment was damaged but you have a few things starting out. Thankfully you do have a map in Pathways. It's an auto map that fills out where you've been and even marks important locations like exits and corpses. This by itself saves a lot of headaches, though there are levels where it can reset to throw you off. Though these areas aren't the most convoluted ones so it's fine.
If you're paying attention it might even show you where a false wall is though it doesn't always do this. Still, many of these games gave you *no* map. You've also got your trusty watch since the entire game is timed. The manual says the nuke should be detonated before 2:00pm on Friday the 13th,
though strangely the god isn't actually awakened until a little bit after 6:00pm. It's progressing in real time too, so you have a little bit over five actual days to do this. The catch is that you heal by resting, and when you rest that'll speed things up. So you can take the watch off to not always have the clock staring at you, but it's always ticking down. Your flashlight will last the whole journey, but there are some times when you don't want to use it and you will miss that visibility. Finally you have your canvas bag - this is where some people can be thrown off. See in the vanilla game the weight of all your items was tracked in the UI,
so based on this and some other containers you find, you would think you have to do some item juggling. Well the Aleph One port doesn't track weight at all because the weight is meaningless. There may be a bag of holding, but the points don't matter and never did. This may have been something more at one point but was likely cut in development. They probably realized that deciding what items to keep from Aphoom-Zhah's increasingly cryptic garage sale wasn't worth that extra layer of torture. Knowing how to use a container is important for beating the game, but really you can grab everything you see and you *should*. Finding treasures and special items increases your maximum health. It won't heal you right on pickup, but after a good sleep you'll survive some more assassination attempts. As for
the weapons, there are a few to find but ammo is frequently scarce. Along with Hitler's LiveJournal one of the first items you find in the game is a Walther P4. Using Nazi technology is a long military tradition here, so of course you grab that. However you're not familiar with any of the weapons you come across, but the more you use a weapon the more experience you gain at it, which translates to dumping out more damage. This is about as far as actual RPG mechanics go.
There are wearable items like rings that can buff you . . . or maybe hurt you, but you're not rotating through new armor or equipment like that. You can experiment to figure some things out but a lot of it remains cryptic. At one point I found an equippable gas mask and I had no clue what it did. After beating
the game I looked up the official hint guide, which was also vague, and it turned out it's supposed to protect me from something I would not have guessed, and apparently it doesn't always work for everyone for reasons unknown. Oh, right, there's spell casting. Yeah, see, he's frozen forever. Magic mainly acts as your secondary weapon, mainly elemental effects like freezing, lightning, or fire. You gain a new spell by finding and equipping an appropriate crystal. As you'd expect there's still
an element of mystery here. When you cast the spell the crystal recharges through methods unknown. It'll then recharge slightly slower after each use. Eventually the crystal will shatter and that is the end of that spell for the rest of the game. The crystals don't have the same number of uses either. What ramps up the paranoia here is that there are some enemies that are immune to conventional weapons, so instead of obliterating every skeleton on sight you have to be more selective. This idea
makes sense by itself, but Pathways is a mishmash when it comes to combat and resources. For one, this is a very slow moving game. The Aleph One version does support mouse look, but it's even more hyper sensitive here than some other games. Some titles get vastly improved from mouse aim, but this isn't
one of those. Keyboard aiming is the way to go here and it's not like you can look up and down anyways. You can bind some numpad keys for panning and some quick turn buttons in the center. Otherwise you'll be turning a lot more quickly than the game thinks you should, and it'll be jittery and disorienting. It takes time getting used to this again but it's perfectly fine. Fighting has a very deliberate rhythm to it in the beginning. You're typically waiting for the enemy to make the attack, either dodging out of the way or blocking it off with an obstacle before going in for the kill.
It sounds simple, and it is. The thing is moving at the pace of a sloth with LifeAlert really changes up how you interact with the game. You're not playing on your feet reacting to high speed plays, you're reacting to a flying walrus slowly rolling around the corner. Dodging shots can only happen if you have room to do it and frequently you won't. More than anything your positioning is the key
to success. Checking for an escape is a constant and you need to be wondering what will happen if an enemy comes around. This makes advancing down a long barren hallway a death trap. If the enemy attacks first you're near guaranteed to take some damage, but your guns do less damage at long range, which means spending more ammo. Not to mention this is one of those magical games where enemy attacks can come through solid corners. Ah . . . I'll come back to you again one day, Kain. You can still get the enemy patterns figured out, and when you have room to move you can start going through them with ease.
At first it seems like the difficulty is coming from the claustrophobic tight spaces but as you get more resources and new enemies are introduced, the maps will begin to open up a little, more relying on distractions and surrounding you. You can see what they're trying to do and sometimes it does gel together, but I'd mainly call it awkward . . . inconsistent . . . kind of shitty. (Ghouls grunting) Now there is a turning point where this becomes a lot more fun.
Once again this is mainly due to our old friend Kalashnikov, the issue is it's possible to miss out on AK nirvana, and in fact it's possible to miss out on a lot of things. Some are fair expectations they expect you to investigate, others feel like failing a hidden test you didn't know you were taking. In other words, a 90s dungeon crawler. For example playing the first few levels you might swap between your pistol and your knife, not playing wastefully, but using your pistol like a fly swatter if an enemy is in an awkward position. You feel like you're playing conservatively, until you go up a ladder into the Bone Zone. SKELETONS: I've got a bone to pick with you! You might think this is the test for saving ammo, but it's not this floor. The floor above it is the real test. In a simple layout you face down hordes of enemies. I've encountered some silly clown car
spawning before, but this is starting to creep into Serious Sam territory. I can't help but wonder how the sequence actually ran back in the day. It might have been fine which could explain the simple level layout, but man, if you didn't stock up for this portion you might have to go a few saves back. Speaking of which saving is done on points, so no quick saving. It can be dangerously easy to miss an item you'll need to go back for later, or go back some saves because your current situation is wasted. This kind of thing is not uncommon at all for the genre. It's not the most egregious
I've played and I got through with relatively few headaches, but it's so easy to see where a player could have overlooked something. Like . . . was there someone out there who beat the game who didn't find the box that magically prints you ammo? Who are you? What is your destiny? You can switch out types of ammo, and this makes all of them. I truly hope you're theoretical and not watching this. Living in a world where you can't obliterate the earthquake skeletons on sight isn't one I want to be a part of. Once they're locked onto you, you're in for the shake and bake no matter how many walls you put between them. It never ends with them.
I haven't even gotten to the story the game is just so weird enough without it. I'm not sure what the elder god is really- (Sitar Music) Who the [ __ ] are you? I'm not sure what this is about but I cannot pass him. If anyone asks he ran at me with a weapon. I . . . oh this is perfect. No magic either. Well I- Oh my go- Oh this is like a tag team kind of deal.
You know what? He wins. I'm gonna take the hallway ou- (Sitar music grows stronger) One of the most important things you can do in figuring out how to progress is mastering the yellow crystal. Unlike the others this one isn't for combat and it has unlimited uses. This special rock lets you communicate with the dead. As long as their head is still attached anyways, I'm not sure how that works. Some corpses don't understand what's happening and others are more caught up. They always respond to asking their name and how they died, but going from there you'll need to use more context clues. You only need to put in simple one-word responses, so asking about places, people, events and objects allow you to dig further from there. This "guess the word" mechanic was in a lot of
games from this era and could be incredibly convoluted. This isn't one of those and it's actually very straightforward. You just need to keep asking about things brought up and sometimes go back to the beginning and find a new tangent. This is how most of the story is told in Pathways and it opens up a lot of mystery. There are a lot of corpses to talk to and some will outright lie to you. For example the remnants of the Nazi expedition had some soldiers who didn't know what
they were in for. They're confused or cooperative or outright hate their commanding officer. Talking to said officer he might try to get you killed. Even as a rotting bone pile he might still have his own skeletons to hide. Putting together the deeper details of the story and what really happened will mean that you'll have to thoroughly interview a bunch of dead guys and then piece it all together. Beyond that they can be more helpful in a surface level too. Yeah sometimes they spit out "try not to die" hints, but they can also reveal where extra ammo or useful items are hidden. Though most importantly they point you in the direction of what you need to do next.
The first German that you encounter in the game tells you that the expedition leader was named Muller. He tells you about how shitty Muller was, but also that the door next to him opened up after he played on a strange instrument. So now you know what to look for and what to do with it rather than aimlessly wandering the halls shanking noodle people. You still need to do that, it's just no longer aimless. Levels can mix up the challenges but these conversations will give you a load of insight. There can also be additional hints like the map name itself being a clue. The game does make earnest attempts to help you out, but a lot of it still remains obtuse or possibly meaningless so you can still end up stuck or lost or wanting to look up a guide. Pathways Into Darkness can be
incredibly dickish to you, but unlike some of its peers it doesn't feel like it's actively trying to be this way. Again if you're playing this kind of game you know the kind of pain to expect. Operating inside of that madhouse scale, this one is pretty generous. That said there are moments like the level where you need thermal goggles to see invisible enemies, which then make regularly visible enemies invisible. Times where you need to take poison, areas that drain all your ammo out, whatever the hell is happening in the cursed IED tomb, but beyond those specifics you're mainly kept concerned by the unknown. Iffy rests in a bad area an enemy can ambush you. I mean resting itself is something I kept avoiding. Any healing items I have I might need later. How
much time will I need and how far down do these pathways actually go? It does a good job keeping you anxious for what's next, making you stay on your toes and carefully manage your resources. The actual balance is all over the place and starting out you'll still probably die a lot. Looking back after having beaten the game it's not as cruel as I expected, it's just that the start of the game is the hardest part to get through. You've gotta be careful but you can figure it out. (scream) That leaves us with the details of the story. If you don't want spoilers, go to here:
So we start in 1938. A Nazi military expedition was sent to the pyramid because they're always looking for occult objects to give them an advantage. What they were told they were looking for and what they were actually looking for are pretty different, assuming the grunts even knew a fake reason. Those who thought they were in the loop believed it was a treasure hunt. They were
looking for artifacts and gold, which are here to be fair, but after enough info gathering you find he was looking for a box and a vial of immense power. The vial contains the essence of a demon that will help the Nazis win the upcoming war. How it's supposed to do this isn't clear, however the small cedar box has much more obvious power to it. Any object placed inside is duplicated after a few minutes. That could be a game changer, but it does tie into the gold somehow. Muller orders one of his soldiers to find the gold, because the box can duplicate anything you should only need one ingot, which is exactly what Muller says, but he's also adamant they'll need 12 to do something. It seems like it had a purpose beyond just finding loot, but what that could be I have no idea. Gameplay wise you do get a ton of health from it, but the game is basically over at
this point. I can only guess it was needed for some kind of puzzle that got cut, maybe involving the bag of holding. Lugging around a Minecraft amount of gold sounds like something that would make a weight system matter, so just add it to the pile of Nazi gold mysteries. Confronting Muller on what you know is no good since he can't stop lying. What he actually knew you have to put together from what the other characters tell you. Muller is clearly incompetent, but knows a startling
amount about how the pyramid functions. He knows exactly where a strange SCP object is buried, how to get it, and there is no trace of any other human entering the pyramid before. To top it off they mentioned another expedition coming through, and you later find out that it was decades later.
These guys were a lot more local than Germans, possibly Cuban. When you talk to one of them he reveals he got the information from his friend's grandfather, so the Germans had more intimate knowledge of the Yucatan pyramid than even the locals did. There are also the instruments that open doorways and they're called the "alien pipes". Muller already had one that he brought from Germany, so Nazi high command has intimate knowledge of the pyramid and an object that lets them break into it. They know exactly what they're looking for because they believe it'll
make them win the war. So the question is how do they know all this? It is possible they had passed on knowledge or some lone wolf came to them with it. At the same time there's definitely a group that knows way more and they briefed us on the mission. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and in military technology the United States was leading the way, but in 1938 the Jjaro might have thought the Nazis would be a good candidate for entering the pyramid, but now the elder god is waking up in a week and they've been silent about it for 60 years. Then was a week's notice really the best they could do? If they told the Germans do they want them to have the vial in the box or maybe they farm dead elder gods for the objects created through their delusions. Maybe there's a reason the
Jjaro don't want to go into the pyramid. You could have been briefed on finer details but you don't remember what your squad mates look like. Some are insulted, but maybe you hit your head really hard in the crash. Either way there's something that doesn't add up about everything. Oh yeah, there's
also the Nazi who said it was 12 days ago, or maybe hundreds, 16 Sundays. He's been counting, and don't worry about his name. He also won't tell HIM your name. You know HIM! He who rises with the tides, master of all things small and insignificant. No, no, not tides like that! It'll all make sense. This guy is not dead anyhow, he'll catch up with you soon. Pretty straightforward I think. (alien pipes play) Your squad mates are a lot more happy to see you. They don't have any deeper insight for you into what's happening, but they help you progress through the mission. For one you have to find out
where the nuke is and in an ancient DRM method the code to detonate it is inside of the manual. However by talking to your squad mates you also find out that part of the number has changed. You can also find out who has a radio beacon to call for extraction. When the mission is done the game can end in several different variations. If you don't have a beacon you can still escape on foot, but it'll take some hours. The bomb itself can only be set for a max 48 hour timer so you can
complete the mission, complete the mission and die in a few ways, forget to set the nuke, or the elder god wakes up. Again it's more stuff people might forget about on the way down or they don't have the new arming code. Either way you're going to be the only possible survivor. Your other buddies were picked off on the way down and the rest were murdered by a bizarre looking monster.
The enemy variety you face is really strange. Besides the monsters there are all kinds of flavors of undead. Most appear to be humans, but the phantoms are odd. The Germans can call them ghosts or phantasms, but Muller specifically calls them shades. That's a more specific ancient Greek term for an underworld spirit. While some manifestations
are based on humans in the world we know, others clearly are not, since this god has been around. They get deadlier the deeper you go and before you get to the detonation site you can speak to a Cuban explorer. In a mirror story they were also seeking the demon vial, being told it had great power. Unfortunately one of them opened the vial and the demon escaped. Well [ __ ]. Interestingly, the old man who had eavesdropped on the Germans calls it a "being" over a demon, Now this could be tomatoes and tomatoes, but that's a very different connotation. When you do face the demon down you have to go through rooms and rooms of monsters. You can't harm it, but it also can't
directly attack you, so your final battle isn't even directly against the elder god which isn't aware of you or actively even trying to fight you - it's whatever this shady bottle genie is. This is the part where I especially wonder how someone beats the game without the cedar box. You face a swarm of every enemy you've encountered, but after that it only takes one hit to banish the dude. Yeah that weird electric beep is the sound it makes. It leaves behind an alien gemstone which
is the only way to open up the door back upstairs. It also drains your health so unless you picked up a special box on the way down to store it in you're still out of luck. After that you can arm and leave the nuke, a copy of Mein Kampf if you want, and once you escape you're good to go. You get your score and not much of a debriefing. So did the elder god
create the demon vial? Could an eldritch being like that seed new life on accident? Its main power seems to be that it's able to control the god's creations. Does it understand CHIM? Having limited control or even understanding of a god's powers could be huge. That does give a good practical reason for seeking out the vial and could explain why the Jjaro would want it, but how feasible could that idea be? Well there was mention of someone who had weird and frightening monsters under their control, you know on the illuminati terminal . . . in Marathon. Welcome friends, welcome to hell.
It's one of Bungie's first games and it's still a loose prequel to Marathon. Destiny's reveal trailer was called Pathways Out of Darkness. This now obscure dungeon crawler has remained very important to a select few. So how does this tie into Marathon? Well for one, the Jjaro will become very significant, the being that's buried in the earth will also make more sense. It also establishes beyond speculation that in this setting there are elites who have made contact with aliens or at least aware of them. The fact the plan involved going to Tau Ceti specifically and that Durandal was even looking for aliens to contact might not have been so random.
Some of the pyramids creatures have strange similarities to the S'pht but the S'pht are mostly cybernetics now, so what happened in their history? It could be their visual designs Bungie liked or maybe there was something more. As for the player who escaped a reality bending pyramid with a bunch of valuable SCP objects it's not likely the government would ever allow that body to be properly buried. Those with a special interest might have had it preserved for study and in the far future, having you back alive at Tau Ceti just in case would make sense. Going in
alone with a pistol against some impossible odds and an alien threat did feel oddly familiar to you, but you can't quite remember it. Maybe you did become the cyborg, but then where are the Jjaro? Pathways itself leaves a lot unanswered but some future games might be more enlightening. It's just another page in this House of Leaves asylum. As for recommendations, it's free, not too brutal, and not having too much inventory to manage could be appealing. It is great to see how much an
FPS could be even this early on but a lot of the good gameplay ideas it has were expanded on and a lot of them not too late after this game came out. You could point to any gameplay element and someone else has done it better, some of them being done not too long after Marathon came out and some of them being done by Bungie themselves. When similar things came after I . . . can't . . . Sorry I think I was repeating myself a little. The actual premise and idea of this game is awesome. It's the kind of game that's in prime remake or successor material. The combined mechanics of shooting, adventuring,
and talking to the dead is really unique, and it absolutely could be done so much better nowadays. It also just goes to show how much just a little bit of interesting writing can elevate a game. This easily could have been you have to go blow up a haunted pyramid and mechanically it would remain largely the same. By having a premise that's interesting and strange it completely changes the
tone of the game. Sure the monsters are glorified Halloween decorations by today's standards but it's nice to have something more underneath it all. It's a neat little game, I'll see you next time. Silent hill 1, 2, or 3? Definitely 2. I also know that 4 doesn't have the best reputation and I don't think I finished it the first time I played it. I was able to go through it recently and there is good stuff in there. What pulled me down the Warhammer rabbit hole? One of my friends in school, she had a brother who was really into the tabletop game so that was my first exposure to it and then Dawn of War came out and that sealed it. What is my most
unpleasant video game experience? Thinking of a singular moment, what comes to mind is the game Ring. A guy starts talking at you while music keeps looping and it feels like you're going crazy. It is hard to describe but I might elaborate on it more one day. Did I learn any skills from the Boy Scouts that I still use? I did have a job where some rope skills came in handy but nowadays I can't remember how to even do a square knot. I think out of anything just having Eagle Scout
written down helped with a lot of applications for stuff. Like one early job outright told me that was why I got it. Other than that I mainly remember the trips over any lessons. Thoughts on Sins of a Solar Empire? More on that hopefully this year or early next. I still need to get to Arcanum and Deserts of Kharak. I've got an outline somewhere. Have I ever worked retail my voice sounds too jaded to not have.
Yeah I feel like I've said this before, but some countries have mandatory military service, a period of mandatory food or retail service would probably improve things for the better. The wages are generally a little better now, but interacting with customers will dramatically change how you interact with those places. Okay I'll see you next time. SKELETON: I've got a bone to pick with you! AUDIBLE GUARDSMAN: It's quiet.