While it's true that The Path eschews many of gaming's common attributes, it seems dangerous to suggest it has no problems outside of its assessment as a game. Even taken in the broader context of more ambiguous categorizations - say, as an interactive experience - The Path has difficulty articulating any substantial meaning in an engaging way.
This assessment of The Path appeared in the March 2009 issue of Edge Magazine, which arrived on newsstands during the first week of February. I'm no expert on print media deadlines, but I assume this means the piece was written in early January or so. If you know more about such things, feel free to correct my timetable.
The Path was officially released on March 18, and, according to creators Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, the game continued to be polished and improved until shortly before its launch.
I think Edge misses the point of the experience offered by The Path, but I'm not here to refute their assessment of the game. My concern is how this essay functions as a preview of an unfinished and unreleased game. The full-page piece appears in the "Hype" section devoted to game previews, but aside from placement it's difficult for me to see how it functions differently from a review. Nothing about the essay suggests the game is a work in progress; quite the contrary, actually. Aside from briefly mentioning Tale of Tales as "sanguine about potential review scores," the piece reads like a complete appraisal of the game with no apparent allowances for improvement or further development. Regardless of where it appears in the magazine, it functions as a review because it's written as such.
Even if the game we received is exactly the game Edge played, I'm not sure I understand the purpose of such a preview. Why not simply wait until the game is released to pass judgment on it? What is the function of an early, and in this case harsh, assessment? Is the developer meant to benefit from constructive criticism? If so, what purpose is served by publishing a negative early view for all to see when most of that audience will read the piece at roughly the same time the game appears? I understand timing published reviews to game releases, but what's the point of a preview appearing so close to the release of a game?
All of this raises the larger issue of game previews and their negative impact on journalism and the industry as a whole. I spoke to several freelance journalists at GDC who openly expressed relief at being free from the humiliation of appearing at publisher-organized preview events where reporters are prevented from even playing the games being shown. These freelance writers understand they're being asked to function as shills in a publicity machine, and they've opted out (when they can afford to). But they're aware that many of their colleagues don't enjoy such freedom. These poor souls must appear, sit through a hype-filled buzzword-mad presentation, and generate a preview story about that game. No one, it seems, likes it or thinks it's a good idea, but the practice continues.
Maybe it's time for publishers to handle their own publicity. With the wide reach of social networks and the rich content that specialized websites can deliver, why should media outlets continue to generate repackaged streams of pre-release fodder? I think I know the reason (it sells), but I wonder if a hard look at the practice of previews might actually reveal they do none of us much good; not journalists, not players, not developers, and maybe not even publishers.