While everyone else is playing Shadowlands for some reason, I just got a game called Pathologic 2. It’s been on my wish list for over a year and I just saw it was on sale for $20 last week.
I first heard about this game when I saw a YouTuber mention it while playing Death Stranding. They suggested it was, like Death Stranding itself, one of those atypical experimental sorts of games that more people should play, so I put it on my wish list.
Back in January, Pathologic Classic HD, a remaster of the original 2005 game, went on sale on Steam for $1.29, so I tried it out. It’s old. It’s weird. It’s really, really weird. After 40 minutes gawking at the old graphics and cut scenes, I left a warehouse filled with creepy orphans, then got assaulted by a hooligan who proceeded to punch me to death because I couldn’t run away and I didn’t know how to fight back. The game ended and went back to the main menu. Harsh but fair, since I never found a way to save the game. I intended to try it again but I never got back to it.
Armed with that experience, I noticed Pathologic 2 was on sale last week on Steam, so I went ahead and got it. It’s not so much a sequel as it is a “reimagining” of the 2005 original. It’s a very significant graphical update over the original, but remains a first-person game. The graphics chug a bit on my 2016 PC, but it’s not supposed to be a fast-paced action game.
It’s basically an RPG, although it’s billed as an “adventure” game. Mainly you walk around a lot and talk to people. The narrative choices are interesting and meaningful (I think). The writing is not boring. There’s some fisticuffs combat and apparently you can get some guns and shoot things eventually, but it’s not a shooter. There’s inventory management like a typical RPG. There’s some crafting of tinctures and there are minigames of sorts to diagnose and treat people, and perform autopsies and surgery.
You play a surgeon, a “haruspex” to be precise, but it’s more of the Victorian-era style of doctor where you’re not quite sure whether you’re helping or hurting people. The setting is so strange and unfamiliar that I can’t do it justice. It takes place in a little industrialized town. Take a little piece of Middle Ages London suffering from bubonic plague, add in Dickensian street urchins, World War I-style soldiers with creepy gas masks, fantastical golems and nymphs, and, of course, aliens. I have no idea where this game’s story is going. It’s like a China Mieville novel come to life.
The interesting thing about the game’s mechanics is that time passes while you play. As you walk around, you find and talk to people in the town, and a story plays out. But there’s a limited window of time to talk to certain people. You have to wrestle with hunger and exhaustion as well, so you have to make constant decisions about finding food versus sleeping to regain health versus seeking out NPCs to advance the story. You could decide to go talk to that NPC across town, but it might take too long to walk over there, so you can’t get to them before the end of the day, or you might starve to death or collapse in exhaustion before you get there. There’s also a reputation system in each area of town so you might end up offending people in certain places enough that they attack you on sight, so you might not be able to walk straight from Point A to Point B. Once time ticks over to “day two” and “day three” and so on, you lose access to certain story paths.
Not to mention that death has pretty severe consequences. You can’t just re-load your last save if you mess something up (update: turns out you can load previous saves). You have to live with the consequences of all your actions going forward. Save points are only used as a starting point if you die or when continuing the game.
There are three difficulty settings, but the “Imago” difficulty-the hardest one, the “intended” difficulty-is a deliciously evil system. It adds a lot of tension and tough choices to a game that might otherwise be a glorified walking simulator of little note. I don’t know what changes with the two easier settings but I haven’t run into any “difficulty walls” after about six hours so I don’t yet feel any need to change it (update: I slammed into the difficulty wall at twelve hours).
Anyway, it’s fun, immersive, and engaging. If you like to see games that are not just boring clones of games you’ve already played a hundred times in your way-too-many decades of gaming, and not designed to be mindless repetitious grinds requiring you to turn on Netflix just to tolerate the tedium, this is a rare example to check out.