The Best Game You've Never Played
Is there a place in modern times for a game that hates you?
Pathologic 2 is a game I found on sale unexpectedly - and I fell in love. Or those heart palpatations were the sheer panic of the game's day system closing in from the word go; I couldn't tell you.
On the outside, it's an incredibly stylish game with some tense sound design. I promise you without reading this whole article that it is the most unique games you will ever play for what it offers stylistially and emotionally. I will go on to give some very, very minor details about the game and advice to those who do play it as it's at least a 30 hour trek.
Pathologic 2 is Dark Souls for the heart; you choose who lives, who dies and who you simply ignore. And in this sprawling Victorian-styled dystopia filled with choices, sometimes doing nothing is the best option.
By developer Ice-Pick Lodge and published by tinybuild - best known for publishing titles like Hello Neighbour, Streets of Rouge and Graveyard Keeper - the game has struggled to take lift-off even though the original Pathologic (2005) had reached cult popularity in Russia and even recieved a HD makeover in 2015 as Pathologic Classic HD. What's even more confusing is the way this game identifies as a sequel, but is actually a recreation of the original.
The game at it's core is a plague simulation game framed in theatrical terms of theatres, directors and tragedians. The town is being savaged by a plague coined the "Sand Pest" and there is no cure.
You are one of the only doctors left. And you only have 12 days.
You are a man of many titles and origins. You are part Kin (or native person), part city dweller. To the townsfolk, you are a ripper and a butcher. To your friends you are Cub. To the Kin from the Steppe, you are yargachin or emshen. To the children, you're a very uncool adult who keeps barging in on their schemes. Yet to every character in the game, you are all the stands between life and death.
This time mechanic is possibly the most stressful thing I have ever experienced. You need to sleep, eat and drink but every second you are caring for yourself the sick who need your help are dying. I often found myself sleeping for a single hour a day, almost completely exhausted all of the time by Day 6. I never saw those I wanted to as I focused on saving 'The List', who had been left in my care.
'The List' are a part of a large roster of side characters. All of them have their own stories in which they help tackle the Sand Pest and it's effects, making them of equal importance - therefore it is increasingly difficult to decide who gets some of your dwindling antibiotics and who you will let die when the plague comes knocking on their door.
And it will.
Starting the game, I picked a small handful of people I definitely wanted to save - 'The List' and your old friends Lara, Bad Grief and Stahk. This seemed like the way to get the best ending in video game logic. You save who the game tells you to and those closest to the main character, right?
Well Bad Grief was the first to die. Lara went soon after.
The way the game decides who becomes infected and who dies is a RNG (Random Number Generator) that triggers at midnight, but as it seems that saving a few minutes before the clock strikes 12 and reloading if you get an unsavoury outcome doesn't change the dice roll. The choice is probably made at the beginning of the day and all you can do is mitigate the damage with antibiotics, and if you're lucky a cure. The only way to really re-do it would be to restart the entire day which in the early game could take multiple hours.
Pathologic 2 became my enemy. Something I had to beat, something I was fighting against. It seemed intent on killing my friends, giving me too much to do on too short a timer and intent on killing me with somewhat clunky combat mechanics.
Early on, there is a choice to buy a revolver if you can obtain the money. I thought, "Well I know there is combat in this game and surely I'll need a revolver," so I slaved and slaved for that gun. I sold the revolver on Day 8, having only fired a single shot. My advice to you, if you do play Pathologic, is to avoid combat all together as much as physically possible. This game is not about stabbing everyone you can; you are a surgeon, not trained to fight. Many reviews cited these clunky combat mechanics as a negative, but as I struggled against it I realised that this is just realistic. If a mugger approached me, I wouldn't be able to slice him up like a bull in a beef factory so neither can my character. It takes patience, waiting and evaluating every move you make as dying carries heavy consequences.
Dying in this game will hinder you. Even if you reload, the game records the total deaths you accumulate and punishes you accordingly. Your death doesn't only affect you - but the town. You really have to consider every single fight you get into or infected zone you wander through. Sometimes, it is a slap on the wrist. Sometime it is something that effects the town. Sometimes it permanently caps one of your stats to make the game even harder than it already is.
This is the true crux of the game. The story explores the human race's industrialisation, leaving our roots behind - the fight between that which is alive and that which we have built. But for the player behind the screen, this story is about coming to terms with time.
As a huge RPG fan, I am so used to exploring every nook and cranny and finishing every sidequest to completion but this game actively boasts the opposite. You truly cannot do everything at once. If you spent the day doing sidequests, those who are ill might die. If you spent the day healing the sick, you might never find out the true details of the story. That's okay. Pathologic 2 shows you that time marches on no matter what you do and helps you come to terms with your choices in a way I struggle to put into words. By the end of the game, I now have a slightly different stance on things. Acceptance that things happen - and you just have to deal with the cards you are dealt.
Yes - this game hates you. But it does not coddle you, it allows you to play exactly how you want to in a way no game ever has before. If you chose to ignore the main story and just survive until the 12th Day, that is your choice. If you chose to play every story you can, save everyone on the list and create a cure, that's your choice too. There is no 'bad' ending - there is no 'good' ending, just like in life. There is just an end.