The stage is set and the audience awaits its performers.
Devloper Ice-Pick Lodge, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, began work on a remake of its award-winning title, Pathologic. The Russian developers promised backers a copy of the original title, but didn’t want to deliver a game unplayable by audiences around the world. So the studio, aside from their work on the remake title, resurrected its original game with new visual effects, voice overs and an authentic English translation for the entire game; Pathologic Classic HD is the mysterious gem birthed of Ice-Pick Lodge’s extra endeavors. It is a remastered version of the original psychological, open world horror adventure. Like before, it’s built of heavy lore, exhaustive survival and pages of long, rich text. Brave tragedians and adventurers of all kinds are welcome to join the strange and superb, plot-driven open-world venture, but those players must be wary of its extremely high-learning curve.
Newcomers to Pathologic must be warned as the game offers very little in tutorials and initial background. It literally drops players into the world with a goal, some warnings and not much else. Time after time, the game of survival can lull players into a a false sense of comfort only to have their playthrough cut short and their most recent save file ready to be loaded. Those players who brave the dark difficulty, however, are in for unique experience as their will and strengths shall be put to the test against a relentless enemy, a plague.
Pathologic Classic HD features three playable characters: the Bachelor, the Haruspex and the illusive Changeling. Each character differ in their playstyle and each provide a vastly different perspective of the town, its citizens and the narrative. These characters have their own personal goals to accomplish amidst the outbreak of the plague. But, how that is done changes from one character to the next. The journey in Pathologic is always evolving. What complicated mess the ominous town brews together becomes even more complex as the ruling bodies often clash in a windstorm of politics and self-gain; what established truth a character finds one day may be something completely different the next. Some of the important Non-playable characters will react in hostility or submission depending on which character a player chooses to use. The NPCs even go as far as to warn players to never truly believe what they are being told. The story already is a dense fog of confusion and unknown mythos and the ever-growing mystery greatly enthralls its players to piece together the broken and missing fragments of narrative.
The text-driven story is cultured extremely well and its themes are painted so vibrantly in the open world that it cannot be ignored. Pathologic takes place in a fictional Gothic town, however it sets its backdrop like a play. The open world is the stage and the players and town denizens are its performers, ready to fulfill their roles as harbingers of death, benevolent heroes or something in between. The town is filled with characters of all types and backgrounds such as Bad Grief the leader of a local criminal syndicate and Yulia, the only rationalist in a town of dreamers. There are also three distinct families who make up the tribunal of Pathologic. Those families, like all the citizens of the eerie town, are as cryptic as the game’s original mythos and players will feel like they have no clue what anyone is saying. This, weirdly enough, is normal for the first playthrough. The open world is a wheezing machine dependent upon its symbiotic pieces. The game’s esoteric lore thematically grounds Pathologic’s identity as that churning, yet extremely interesting machine. However, only the players who thoroughly delve through the heavy narrative will experience this first hand. To reach that satisfying pinnacle, though, a player must understand how the game works.
Pathologic’s gameplay is a mix of heavy exploration, text-based narrative, balancing resources and combat. Players must get accustomed to exploring the giant town as every main and side quest asks them to scurry back and forth countless of times. Each trek becomes as heavy and burdensome as the last, but the routine morphs into a tense race against time as each in-game day challenges the player’s survival more and more. Players have to keep track and balance their reputation, health, hunger, exhaustion, immunity and infection stats constantly. In the context of Pathologic’s relentless array of quests, balancing personal stats is a dread battle of risk and reward. Pathologic is a game of solutions and some quests have several of them. How a player deals with these quests could affect their reputation or reward. A single decision, especially later in the game, can determine whether a player has enough resources at their disposal to keep surviving. The combat, which may be the least used mechanic, is slightly choppy and erratic. Weapons are a rare thing in Pathologic, but knives and guns can be used. Enemies also always seem to have the advantage in a fight. It isn’t impossible to be victorious in these moments however. Pathologic is no doubt a difficult game. The game can be both mentally exhausting and fervently rewarding, but in either case it’s strangely satisfying.
The town, its people and the all-covering fog does set an eerie and thematic atmosphere, but for an HD re-release the graphics are very blocky and dated. Save for the important characters in the narrative, character models are rehashed into oblivion. Prepare to see the same citizens walking the street over and over again. Also, most residential buildings are square chunks of Gothic-architecture copied and pasted throughout the map. The voice work isn’t anything outstanding. Some performances from main characters are delivered stiffly and awkwardly. But juxtaposed to the breath of the entire adventure and its text-based foundations, the voice acting suffices. The soundtrack uses a similar premise to Pathologic’s character models, however it has an opposite effect. The weird, almost tribal tune that lingers in infected areas seems to disfigure and change pitch, almost taunting or hypnotizing players as they go deeper into the game. The soundtrack is quirky without being annoying, yet still mysterious enough to send a chill or two down spines.
Ice-Pick Lodge resurrected a great game with Pathologic Classic HD. The old-school text-based narrative works thoroughly in telling a rich, lore-heavy mystery involving an entire town, an unstoppable disease and three main characters. The atmosphere bleeds from the game, creating tense, unique moments throughout the adventure. New players may be initially burdened by the confusing story, dated graphics and voice acting and the extremely high learning curve, but Pathologic’s challenge gives players a one-of-a-kind experience in an era where video game linearity is a constant theme. Pathologic Classic HD is a rough masterpiece and well worth any adventurer’s endeavor.