With the common cold going around campus, it seems fitting to talk about a remastered/sequel to the cult-classic game “Pathologic,” created by Russian developers Ice-Pick Lodge.
“Pathologic 2” is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is harsh, unforgiving, and laden with cryptic dialogue. Not everyone wants to be on the verge of death throughout an entire game.
Despite the challenge, the game itself is a narrative masterpiece laden with fantastic visuals, neofolk music and an in-game timer that alters the world and events that play out.
The game centers around Artemy Burakh, a surgeon that also goes under the name “Haruspex,” who returns from the capital city to find his father, Isidor, that sent a cryptic letter stating something terrible would soon arrive.
On the journey back to Burakh’s hometown, called the Town-on-Gorkhon, several dream sequences foretell of the coming danger, but also leave cryptic hints and introduce some of the cast that makes up the town.
From there, the player arrives at their hometown and is attacked by three people who believe him to be the murderer of Isidor Burakh. After having killed all three of them, they must then begin the first day of twelve in this long, challenging game.
Each day is a unique experience and each changing hour brings new events that can be missed if players are not quick enough to resolve them. Sometimes missing events can even be a good thing for the fate of the town.
When it comes to the most challenging aspects of “Pathologic 2,” the survival mechanics are the most difficult of them to overcome. It is easy to succumb to starvation, dehydration, exhaustion, the plague or even be killed in janky combat. Thankfully, there are difficulty sliders if the experience is much too harsh, but the developers ask that players keep the game at its intended difficulty.
Outside of the difficulty, there is much to explore and experience. These two reasons are why I find “Pathologic 2” to be a unique and lovable game despite its difficulty.
First and foremost is the dialogue. It is both intentionally and possibly unintentionally cryptic. Originally, “Pathologic” was meant to be in Russian. Translating it from Russian to English may have changed the way dialogue was intended to be written, but even so, it remains jarring and exotic to read and unpack because the game itself is meant to be viewed as a play.
The reason behind the cryptic dialogue is that the entire game itself is a play put on by Mark Immortell, the owner of a theater within the game’s town. The player is then essentially just a puppet playing the role of the Haruspex. It creates layers upon layers of puppets controlling puppets and alludes to how even we have strings that are pulled by someone else.
The second part to discuss is the setting. It takes place in the Russian steppe and the town seems to be set around the year 1917 with both realistic and abstract architecture. Two buildings that stand out the most are the Abattoir and the Polyhedron.
The Abattoir is an industrial-looking building with cramped, uncomfortable living spaces for its workers. It is meant to be the factory that brings the town economic success and growth, but it’s now run down and filled with trapped plague-bearing workers. Later on, it is even revealed that they were shut-in and many have died due to poor working and living conditions.
The second building is the Polyhedron, which is run by children. The Polyhedron is an abstract, almost funnel-like, building that only children can use to harness their dreams and make them come true within it.
These two buildings, on separate ends of the town, mark two sides of reality and thought. The Polyhedron resembles innocence and childhood, while the Abattoir is grounded in reality and shows the stark nature of industrialism and adulthood.
Another part of the setting that plays a role in the Haruspex’s journey is the fact the distinction between traditionalism and modernism. Even the plot itself centers between sticking with old traditions or making way for a modern world.
The reason behind setting the fictional town in the Russian steppe is because it mixes both modernism and traditionalism. The town represents modern thoughts and beliefs, while there is a traditional religious group who worships the earth outside of the town. These two groups battle to prove who is right in beliefs and Haruspex gets caught up in the middle of them.
Altogether, the themes, setting, and the strange dialogue make “Pathologic 2” as good as it is. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I highly recommend it for people who enjoy complex games or even challenging ones.
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