Pathways into Darkness review
Posted By: Lion O CyborgDate: 6/18/15 2:50 a.m.

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Good day fellow Vidmasters. I was planning to do some write-ups at some point on Pathways into Darkness and I write this review in preparation for the task ahead. This is just a subjective viewpoint based on my experience with the game. All similarities to any other writing is purely coincidental. All screenshots I found on google images and I don’t know where they were sourced except for the death dialogs which I found on the PID story page.

With games in constant development hell and a lack of decent classic or indie games on XBLA I feel it’s time to reminisce the S’pht out of retro PC gaming. And it appears Bungie and Apple agree because they finally re-released Pathways into Darkness for OSX two years ago. Notice I said they re-released it for OSX. Not Windows, Linux and OSX. Just OSX, because they are too lazy to port the source code to Windows. I had to download an emulator and scan my PC offline a few days afterward as my anti-virus software freaked out and thought it was a Trojan. Still, I am looking forward to the Windows fan port complete with a port of the Torch engine.

And while we are still talking about Halo, Marathon, Destiny and Halo’s Destiny for Marathon; we have plenty of time to look back on how that all started. Well, the first 3D attempt at how that started anyway but Bungie wasn’t that well known before Minotaur: the labyrinths of Crete was made. Not only would I be hard pressed to find a copy for my emulator and others willing to get and play it with me if it even if I can get it to run, let alone allow modem play between proper Apple hardware and bootlegged firmware without eating up my RAM, but the only gameplay I saw of it was a Hanukah angel shifting its way around a stone marble-run doing an air traffic controller impression so personally I can’t count it. Looks awesome though, like a polished version of Ultima 1 through 4. (Windows Port for Minotaur anyone?)


In Pathways into Darkness, you play a random marine about whom all we know going in is that he knows his way around a gun or two, he is perfectly capable of speaking although we never hear him do so and when he is supposed to be, he is usually straight to the point; combinations of which would soon become the grand tradition of sci-fi FPS’s developed by Bungie.

The game’s backstory is rather simple at first glance: “a mysterious meteorite impacts Mexico” sums it up. In the present day, Bill Clinton is having an MJ12 tea party in the Pentagon with Princess Celestia and Wallace Breen when one of the Jjaro –yes the same Jjaro race from Marathon- appears and warns him that there’s a big ol’ god sleeping away under a pyramid built on the exact same meteor crater. He’s 9/10 of the way through REM and if we don’t go and baptise him in some Holy Chloroform, humanity’s more damned then they will be in 2013 and up.

We’re airlifted and para-dropped in to the site of the pyramid carrying a nuclear bomb but our chute fails and we wake up hours later to find most of our equipment either lost or pancaked in the crash and our squad gone on without us, believing us to be dead. Never the quitter, we track them down to the pyramid’s base and dive inside into the titular darkness after them at which point actual gameplay starts outside the manual text. Also the pyramid is infested with very accurate representations of the original Thundercats villains who got lost on the way to the MLP FIM maps because sprite-based graphics hadn’t quite shaven off their pixelated bum-fluff and epileptic goose-stepping just yet.




We set off to recover the nuke to continue our mission and look for our missing squad mates, all named after the Bungie development team at the time. Although you won’t find them alive (spoiler alert) because like many other games of its time, Pathways into Darkness was released on at least two or three floppy disks first and then one CD-ROM later. The main reason being that there wasn’t nearly enough room on floppies to have friendly NPCs outside really bad RPGs or mostly good point n click adventure games like Eternam or Day of the Tentacle. Even when Marathon introduced them the game had no way of stopping you from whimsically lighting them on fire with a flamethrower so they’d make their fire-death scream that I think is equal parts terrifying and very funny. Much like how I find the tree-tentacle porn scene in Evil Dead 1 both terrifying and hot. (Is it wrong to think that? I must be mad.)

Again, setting the tone for Marathon and Halo, there’s more behind the plot than the game itself and by extension, the developers can be arsed to tell you although one who hasn’t spoiled it by watching a let’s play and reading the PID story page months beforehand could have figured it out from Marathon Infinity’s story. “Hey.” It says. “There’s an evil godlike being trapped in the sun and if it gets free we’re all going to die. It can also alter the fabric of reality using nothing but the power of its own subconscious. Sound familiar, hmm, hmm?” To which I reply “No it does not sound familiar. Why did you bring it up?” “Erm… no reason. This game’s plot does not reference our past work in any way. Also if you have one of the really early builds of Aleph One and M1A1, try to ignore the dark tomb you start in with the red dude in the middle.”

And so the adventure begins. And stops 2 seconds later when you realise you have to rebind the controls, and finding you can’t and are stuck with the keys the game gives you at least in the OSX port which only lets you have Hi-res textures that I didn’t notice apart from the dramatic lag increase, and turning off floor and ceiling textures. The result of which makes the maps look like arse.

Left and right cursor keys to turn rather than strafe, with those functions mapped to Z and X? Space bar to fire instead of Left Mouse button? Windows/Command key+S to save instead of CTRL+S or F5 or F6? Are you taking the piss?

It isn’t Ultima Underworld bad because it’s still 100% playable with the defaults;

However, it’s a bad thing that Pathways was never ported to PC but on the other hand it’s a good thing it was never ported to a console. You’d probably have to fire weapons by tea-bagging the expansion slot. Then again, you can’t port Pathways into Darkness to a console unless someone invents a controller with a mouse attachment and more buttons than a microwave installed in Willy Wonka’s great glass elevator.

It’s very much biased toward the PC gamer audience, much like Looking Glass studios’ cheap DOS plagiarisms of this game and Marathon; Ultima Underworld and the Shock series. You either have to memorise 10000000 keyboard shortcuts which use the Windows or Command keys instead of CTRL, or you can needlessly hunt around for them in their respective dropdown menus or just use the game’s GUI interface arranged on your desktop in multiple windows. The windows all try to convey more information than a children’s “Apple visual design for dummies” textbook:

You’ve got your world view window, your inventory, your backpack contents, your health, your crystal power, your short-term memory, your clock, your calendar, your automap, your depth, your experience points, your money’s worth, your skills, your hopes, your dreams, your secret fantasies involving yourself and Cheetara 2011, (sorry. I’m projecting) and you getting blatted in the face by a ball of green butt lint spat at you by a pair of orange trousers with teeth in the flies while simultaneously getting whacked in the back in the head by a skeleton throwing its own bones at you.

Neither of whom you saw coming because your vision was covered in mostly useless crap like an ad infected YouTube video and you were taking a nap in the corner to heal yourself. And if you die, the game mocks you with humorous death messages instead of a standard “game over” screen, later done again by Brutal Doom and Rise of the Triad 2013 (as examples).


So Marathon fans can see clearly why that game toned down the gameplay in direct proportion to its level design and story depth but in all fairness it didn’t come down that much. If a shuttle adjusts its position from an outer orbit to a geosynchronous orbit, the houses on the ground don’t get evacuated quite yet.

The thing about Pathways is I know that plenty of people have played it and have fond memories of it, but virtually none of them can claim to have actually finished it. Or at least finished it and got the best ending the first time through. It’s the kind of RPG where you can’t even blow your nose without overturning every loose rock on the floor for boxes of Kleenex. But also remembering to hurry along because the entire game has a time limit of 5 days in real time.

It doesn’t sound very threatening but sleeping in-game uses up time faster and you’re going to need to do this very often to recover lost hit points because healing bottles of colloidal silver are rare and they are also the only way to cure poison from poo potions and the horny spider enemies. There’s even a puzzle late in the game that forces you to wait three hours by sleeping when using a specific piece of treasure to escape from a sealed room.

You also have six colored crystals that increase your XP and have various elemental powers, used for killing monsters and solving one or two puzzles.

There’s the element of Kindness that allows you to speak with the corpses you find on a few of the floors, the Element of Generosity which freezes monsters for a short time and deals a small amount of damage, the Element of Honesty which is an area of effect earthquake attack that you will almost never use because it takes about an hour to recharge, the Element of Laughter which lights monsters on fire, (i.e. colors them red and deals more damage than Generosity, due to the Torch Engine’s technical limitations) the Element of Loyalty that chains electrical arcs between a cone of monsters and the black petrification crystal where this analogy breaks down. All crystals except the yellow dead-talk crystal have a finite number of uses with the more powerful ones having less before they break and become from then on only useful as Lovecraftian coke.

Ammo for guns is rare to start with and it only grows fewer further down, meaning you have to rely on a special wooden box that duplicates whatever weapon rounds you place in it after a few minutes.

There is also treasure hidden in the pyramid; most of it useless but some of it has an effect on gameplay; such as the red velvet Forever Bag that holds an infinite amount of items, or the ruby ring that decreases crystal charge times. All treasure items give you XP only when finding them for the first time but they will always increase your money value AKA bonus multiplier that gives you extra points at the end of the game. You need all treasure you can get because every 4 experience points earned gives you 2 extra health points which you need to survive the later levels.

You also have weapon skill levels that increase the more you use them, increasing that weapon’s power, but you should never waste ammo on lesser monsters for the sake of levelling up. The knife, Colt.45 and M16 skills are always at maximum but the latter two skills are completely worthless because there is no ammo for the Colt pistol despite you’re having the gun itself and all M16s in the game are broken and can’t be used anyway.

In brief, you have to be very careful how long to take in any level, how much ammo you use and occasionally reloading your game after taking too many hits to avoid having to sleep because you can be as far as 1 quarter of the way through the game before you get to play Celestial Roulette and find out if you’ve been playing sensibly all along: “Oh no! Looks like you wasted all your toilet paper on arse-wiping practice to get past the typhoid poo monster section but not only do they never show up again; but they are completely invincible, the only way to get past them is to poison yourself by drinking a bottle of diarrhoea and since you wasted all your ammo and health potions in trying, you no longer have enough time to finish the game. Better luck next time!”

Still, it makes for a rare kind of tension. Doing the knife dance with an earthquake skeleton or flying electric koi is kind of hard but with the cedar box around halfway through alongside an assault rifle or grenade launcher, and the occasional save-game pentagrams on the floor; it’s more of a bouldering wall than a stumbling hurdle.



The real tension lies in knowing that once you’ve saved your game, any time you wasted groping the walls for secret teleporters or looking for shiny things is never coming back unless you have other saves. Oh, the paralysing agony of when you reach Tuesday morning and have only just found the randomised labyrinth level but if you just hold out a bit longer, you could find the game’s main Easter egg: literary a gold and chocolate Easter egg that not only gives you 2 XP when you find it, but also teleports you directly to the final level upon eating it. Wait, why would you want to do that for? You wouldn’t have half the necessary items to complete the game upon finding it without ludicrous backtracking so you might as well use the element of Cadence to inflate your scrotum and try to bounce your way to victory.

Not that the rest of the game isn’t tense with all the creeping slowly down dark catacombs, taking gambles on when it is and isn’t safe to cower in a hidden dead end and fall into a troubled sleep full of nightmares, or talking to the dead people using the yellow crystal with one of the best dialog systems I’ve ever seen in games; whose characters are either in despair from decades of torture from being trapped in their decaying bodies or have grown at least a little jaded and got a minor sense of dark humour.


No sound is more unnerving than none at all in this game. There is no music nor ambient sound other than doors opening, teleporters warping you to other levels, gunfire and monsters.
Monsters only make noises when attacking, getting hurt or dying; so you never know they’re there until you turn around and see a blue lightning koi floating down the passage to eat you. Snap decision: either dive round a corner to avoid its guided electric ball, or try to smash it with an HE grenade from a distance before it fires as anything else other than SABOT rounds or crystals won’t work, optionally while screaming “This is my Boomstick!”

So it’s a very tense game with great sound design. At least it is if you don’t play your own music over the game and thus, ruin the atmosphere; something that people who have done complete let’s plays of the game did and their quality suffered for it. As well as deliberately left out important tricks to decrease chances of losing, like finding hidden warp zones or the Easter egg. But isn’t that the beauty of playing it yourself or making your own let’s play? You can show everyone what you’ve found and the play the game as you usually do while teaching them how to beat it. Even Bungie or at least the guy who made the OSX port now know this.

For example, if you thought it was bad for the game to have to hunt around for a strategy guide in order to find your way around the repetitive levels, you’ll be pleased to hear that the OSX port has an in-game link to the story page to address that issue. And someone else is trying to make a fan-port of the game to Windows complete with a Windows version of the Torch engine. Although when I tried it a few years back, it was nowhere near finished as there was no interface and no collision detection.

The more of this I write, I think about why I like Pathways into Darkness better than some other RPGs. Maybe it’s because despite all the fiddleiness, the easy to make mistakes of unforgiving puzzles or going to the wrong level the first time through, the time limit and the weird movement physics that feel like you’re moving around in lead ice skates; it’s a game of dizzying depth in both gameplay and writing, especially as it’s the same universe as Marathon.
I could spend hours reading the flavour text on every new inventory item until a blue Baron of Hell toasts me by shooting dual fireballs out of its hands like a cross between a Hellknight and a Mancubus. But I would die content with knowledge that Bungie would write something really funny on my tombstone.


Hope to get started on the PID ToD in the not too distant future.

Lion O Cyborg.

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Pre-2004 Posts


Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 2:50 a.m.
     Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/18/15 6:04 a.m.
           Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 6:42 a.m.
                 Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 6:45 a.m.
                 Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewBob-B-Q 6/18/15 7:52 a.m.
                       Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 8:06 a.m.
                             Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/18/15 9:07 a.m.
                                   Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 9:21 a.m.
                                         Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 9:26 a.m.
                             Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewtreellama 6/18/15 10:10 a.m.
                                   Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/18/15 10:23 a.m.
                                   Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/18/15 4:09 p.m.
                                         Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewBob-B-Q 6/18/15 4:33 p.m.
                                               Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewMartin 6/18/15 5:02 p.m.
                                               Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewPhiltron 6/19/15 5:55 p.m.
                                                     Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/20/15 12:17 p.m.
                                                           Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewPhiltron 6/20/15 2:41 p.m.
                                                                 fine *NM*VikingBoyBilly 6/20/15 4:11 p.m.
                 Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/19/15 5:26 p.m.
     Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewxcalibur 6/18/15 10:59 a.m.
     Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/20/15 4:38 p.m.
           Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/21/15 8:19 a.m.
                 Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/21/15 9:19 a.m.
                       Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewLion O Cyborg 6/21/15 9:30 a.m.
                             Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/21/15 5:08 p.m.
                                   Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewMartin 6/21/15 6:11 p.m.
                                         Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/22/15 3:07 p.m.
                                               Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewMartin 6/22/15 4:40 p.m.
                                                     Re: Pathways into Darkness reviewVikingBoyBilly 6/23/15 12:03 a.m.

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Pre-2004 Posts



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