THE PRIMROSE PATH


The Primrose Path has a striking opening. "My mother. Shot me." is a great line. The game is mostly well-written and solidly implemented, though lacking a certain polish. I think its greatest achievement is its setting: a claustrophobic hothouse of emotions, full of offbeat characters and weird and entirely implausible relationships -- it's a place I won't forget easily. My interest was engaged enough to play to the end, and then play again to try to make sense of the plot.

Sadly, I never could make sense of the plot. Perhaps the author has a good idea of the sequence of events, but I remain to be convinced. When did the shooting occur, for instance, and how did it happen in my front room? Was it while I was asleep, and if so, why didn't it wake me up? Who locked my door from the inside? Why all the damage to my front room when Leo enters the painting? Leo and his mum can make paintings that travel in time and space, but the waterfall painting can travel into my dreams? Before I've dreamed them?

There's just too much stuff in this game; it's wildly overwrought. There's the pictures gimmick, the stop time gimmick, the recalcitrant PC gimmick, the who-is-the-player gimmick, the time travel gimmick, the indecipherable plot gimmick.... It's just crammed with ideas, and I really wish some of them had been pruned away in the design stage. It would have made the game much more focused and coherent.

The first person narration, for example, is a good idea. The PC has loves and feelings which are not mine; her affection for Leo just wouldn't work in the second person. (The second-person narration of The Elysium Enigma made me spontaneously care about an NPC, but it's easier to do this when the NPC is a naked chick emerging from a riverbank, and not some 'artistic' weirdo who lives with his mother.) But having chosen first-person narration, the author of Primrose should have resisted the temptation to throw in a lot of meta stuff about player/PC identity as well. Judging from the opening quote, the author seems to think this is the meat of the game, but I think it's a rather tasteless and unnecessary garnish. On the few occasions the player/PC stuff appears, it's jarring and confusing; I think the author is trying to make some point about commitment and submitting to someone else's will rather than your own, but I've no idea what this has to do with time travel and magic paintings.

There are some memorable scenes here in rather confusing surroundings. The raindrops scene could have been truly beautiful (though why doesn't the air also freeze in time?), but it's marred by the parser struggles that precede it, the awkward mechanisms that get it to occur, and the poorly-hinted puzzle that follows. First, there's all that business with Leo and the ring; then I have to go into the shed, out of the rain, to stop time, so I never see the raindrops freeze in the air. And then on the roof of the shed I have to reach into an unmentioned hole to push the grandfather clock's pendulum (which I imagined as fairly close to the floor) to restart time again. All this made me so irritated that I barely noticed the beauty of the image.

I never really understood what the paintings did until too late in the game. First, I didn't realise that they could be used to travel to real places (such as the back garden); the first painting I entered (the beach) just seemed to be a painting come to life, an artificial landscape with brushstrokes clearly visible everywhere. Similarly, I didn't realise that the paintings travelled through time; the first picture I entered just seemed to be a continuation of the present, with Irene cheerfully admitting to having killed her son. I know the diaries go on to explain how the paintings work, but I would have preferred if this information had been shown to me, not told to me.

I found the multiple endings unsatisfactory -- few of them offered any resolution, some of them went off in insane directions, and all of them left plenty of loose ends. They left me with the impression that the author didn't know what he wanted to say with The Primrose Path, didn't really have a story to tell, and was hoping that I could fill it all in for him. Which isn't in my contract, I'm afraid.

So that's my impression of Primrose: well-written, memorable, a total mess. I don't think the latter is a fatal error, and I think this author is capable of writing good stuff in the future.

Rating: 6


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