In gaming circles, the mentioning of Peter Molyneux’s name alone will cue plenty of associations. The Brit gained industry fame at the helm of projects such as Black & White or Fable, inextricably linking his name to figments of fantastical worlds, deep characters and far-reaching decisions on virtue and morality. In 2012, Molyneux founded 22Cans and branched out to mobile gaming. So far, remarkably little has come off it on iPhone.
In view of the latest product out of 22Cans’ think tank, the rules might however just have changed. Their latest adventure goes by the name The Trail and revolves around the ostensibly quiet premise of wandering nature. Contrary to some notions inherent to hiking though, it is remarkably entertaining, oddly social and distinctly Molyneux. Oh, and it is a visual treat for your eyes.
Find out if the game with the curious premise is cut out for you in our review.
Going off the beaten track – almost
If I tried to summarize The Trail’s core gaming proposition in as few words as possible, it would read something like this: you set out on a linear hike (you cannot deviate from your path) that requires you to interact with your environment in order to firstly survive your travails, and secondly collect enough materials to craft clothes and gear to further facilitate your journey. The environment is alive and pulsating, that is to say objects can be picked up along the trail, animals hunted, wood be chopped and so on, all of which is implemented in beautifully realized mini games. Passing mountains, forests, snowy and rainy landscapes (yes, both weather and day and night cycle are dynamic), your trail is interrupted by campfire places, which serve as hubs for you and other players to recharge your energy and take part in the wheeling and dealing of items.
Hearing ‘linear’ might dampen your enthusiasm a notch, but your in-game focus is going to quickly shift anyway, away from the enchanting scenery and more towards hunting wildlife for energy boosts, or the collection of loot for warm clothing. Craftjobs will become increasingly vital, a hat for example can increase your perseverance, shoes make you run fast or clothes decrease your stamina drain. If you nonetheless succumb to the elements before reaching the next camp site, your character will momentarily pass out and lose its loot – an opportunity for passing travelers to either thieve your gear or leave it untouched: a question of character that screams Molyneux.
Another trademark feature is a heartwarming letter correspondence between your character and the family. It’s pretty hilarious to compile wonky mail to them and receive response letters actually engaging with your wordsmith skills. This is just one of many instances where you feel the developers really buckled down to create a lovely experience.
Your endgame is the town, but it comes at a price
Naturally, this is a condensed break down equating to the mere basics of the game. The mechanics are engulfed in a wealth of other features that this review will not be able to fully cover. What matters is that after warming up to the hike and attuning to the prospect of soon reaching town to settle and contribute to a community of other players, you will hit a considerable roadblock. A greedy old ferry man is going to press you for in-game currency worth days of looting and selling, but not without offering you the convenient $4.99 in-app purchase for immediate access.
This will be the only (metaphorical) fork in the road the game has waiting for you. If you commit to the game, like I did, the investment is going to open up a new world of construction and collaboration amongst town folk. It carries a whole new social dimension in that residents of the same town will now jointly hike for loot in order to pay for new town buildings. These include a town hall to enable the town chat function, a mayor’s residence for town elections and much more. The residents’ contributions are publicly listed in a warehouse, which again makes for an intriguing social experiment: will people put their own houses first or deposit materials for the town’s benefit?
With the introduction of this extra layer, The Trail takes on a lot at once and some might say it bites off a little more than it can chew. On account of this the game is bound to polarize, but I for one have travelled way past my village by now and still feel very favorable towards it. Remember the app is free, so if you’re tempted to put your virtual hiking boots on today do not overthink and go check it out.
The Trail is compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and requires iOS 8.0 or later. Find The Trail now for free in the App Store.