In September of 2017 weather was as crappy as my mood. I was going to the other town to meet with my boyfriend, sky was grey, and the trip was long. He was talking about a game called Pathologic for a while, and I knew he wanted to show it. I didn't complain, of course. It seemed like an interesting game, a sort of a Russian Twin Peaks.
When he started playing it, I was intrigued. The game had a strong atmosphere, even if graphics were really dated even for 2005. Out of three characters he chose to play as Bachelor Daniil Dankovsky, a camplaign that many consider ideal for the first playthrough. The premise is simple: a city doctor comes to a small steppe town in search of a miracle. His dream is ambitious: defeating death itself, and the rumor goes that an immortal man lives in the Town. It's obviously not as simple. The man is dead, and the Town falls to a mysterious plague very soon. You have 12 days.
The game is an open world title with survival mechanics. You have to deal with hunger, exhaustion, and later, your immunity to the plague. It's not a forgiving game, but one that gives you freedom in how you approach your problems. You can be a good person and barter with people on the street, kill bandits at night and do every quest roleplaying as a kind doctor. Or you can steal, murder and only care about yourself. Of course the latter is punishable, and the game has a Reputation meter. If it gets too low, every man starts chasing you, and of course, killing normal civilians that just want to stop a murderer, is another blow to your Reputation.
The only meter that you can't do anything with is time. Aside from dialogue windows, time constantly moves forward. So what do you actually do with your time? What's the goal? Well, it's quite simple. Do quests for people, talk to them to unravel the mystery, and do some doctoring when they fall ill (and major NPCs CAN catch the plague and die)
Pathologic is an interesting game, but it's not fun to play (or watch). There are games that scare you, or put you under constant stress, games that make you feel miserable, and while Pathologic does all three, it's also a pretty junky game. Combat is deliberatly awful, walk speed is incredibly slow, some tutorials are non-existent, and HUD has some big issues. Combine that with everything else that makes the game hard, and you've got a pretty unpleasant experience for newcomers.
The story, however, is brilliant. All NPCs are strange in their own ways, and the premise itself is incredible. Unfortunately that wasn't enough. Somehow me and my boyfriend got through Bachelor's campaign, but after a few days into the second one (campaigns share events and happen at the same time, but are different storylines) I fell out. Doesn't help that the third campaign, unlocked after the first two, is rushed and repetitive.
I didn't feel too bad, since the remake has already been announced and been a while in development. Various screenshots looked promising, and blog posts from developers hinted that mistakes will be fixed.
Ok, let's actually talk about Pathologic 2.
You play as Artemiy Burakh. You were born in the Town and are familiar with all the strange rituals, rules, and creatures that inhabit it. You were away for about 5 years studying, so you still need to be re-introduced to all the weird things going on. Oh, and you're also wanted for murder right after you arrive. The plague will soon start consuming the town, and you will have to survive while trying to help others. You have 12 days.
I fell in love with the game almost immediately. While it's still a harsh experience, it's made so much more clear, that you no longer feel lost not knowing how to actually play the game.
As you progress through the story and fight off the same problems, you're actually given a quest log! And what a log it is. Pathologic 2 presents you with probably my favorite quest log of any game. It's a one-screen "map" of your thoughts with bubbles connecting to each other. Events that you've seen turn into bubbles with a picture and a desctiptions. The ones you didn't remain empty.
It's easy to see whether you've completed the quest, took one of several branches, and what path led where. Some bubbles become locked after you miss the timed event or choose a different path, with the game explaining the reason for locking out events.
The original had a pretty rough HUD, but it also wasn't an eventful game. There were a few things you could do every day, and that's it. Pathologic 2 is one of the games where multiple playthroughs will benefit you A LOT. There are so many missable events, that you feel like you're missing half the story when you beat the game. It adds a certain layer of stress the original couln't provide - an actual race against the clock as you choose what events to follow, and try to complete as many as you can.
The plot follows a pretty linear path. NPCs can die and some events can be bothced, but every day there's a Story Quest you have to complete (in the image above, as in with every other Map you get, it's the big circles right in the center), and overall you're working towards one goal: defeating the plague.
The path towards this goal, however, is something you choose. Want to turn down any event and try looting houses where everyone is dead? Go ahead. Want to let an NPC die from infection because you're saving medicine for someone else? Sure.
As for quests, you're given pretty standard dialogue options. The dialogue is absolutely fantastic and is the best part of the game hands down. Full of dry wit and unusual, at times somewhat theatrical delivery, it's a joy. The responces themselves remind me of Monkey Island a bit, because you can play your character as rude, sarcastic, or compassionate person. Of course, some choices actually matter. "Choices", however, might be the wrong word. You're not given a clearly "evil/good" options, and there is a reason for that. You choose what to say, but not what happens next.
Do you want to buy a bull for 200 steppe dollars? That's a choice you can make. Do you need a bull? Who knows.
NPCs have their own lives to live. They don't exist for your sake. They can lie, or not listen to you. Choosing what seems like a right option might actually fail a quest. As an example, in one of the quests you can promise to deal with a person who other characters want dead. You can go and find said person and warn them, but the they end up dead. You did a good thing, but you were followed. Your inaction would save the character.
Failure is a big part of the game, and it's as entertaining as success. There's a lot of content for what happens if you fail to do something, so it never feels like you were robbed of a significant chunk of the stoty. In the quest mentioned above, there is a lot of content if you "fail", so you still feel like you witnessed a story, and not just a glorified "Quest Failed" screen.
The gameplay itself is mostly the same. Walk (and this time you can run!) around, talk, and try not to die as you barter with NPCs for useful items, giving some of yours in exchange. It's all been streamlined, but not made easier. You just feel like you have more control in the game, which is a good thing.
Some people complain that this game is too hard and unfair, but honestly, if there's ever a "Dark Souls of..." metaphore that fit, that would be it. As in Dark Souls, you need to think ahead, both in combat, and in dialogue. Sometimes you will lead NPCs to unexpectedly die, but that's ok. The game likes to pull some pranks, but none of them feel overly mean or catastrophic. And unlike Dark Souls, there are difficulty sliders! If you're completely unfamiliar with the game, I recommend turning most of them to easier experience. There are even some notes from the developers about which difficult things they consider a crucial part of the experience.
As you progress through the game, you have to deal with more and more issues. As mentioned before, NPCs become sick, and the plague isn't just a story thing. Some districts become infected (and then boarded afterwards), so you have to plan your path ahead. Do you risk going through the smog that lowers your immunity, with infected people trying to grab you for help, or do you want a safer path that might cost you some time?
There's an opinion floating around that Pathologic 2 isn't a "fun" game. However, I disagree. The gameplay, once you get into it, is stressful, but also engaging. You're not bored when you're not talking to people, and you have plenty to do while just running around.
The combat is still a bit weird, but feels a lot more manageable, and getting into fights this time doesn't feel like a random chance.
Pathologic 2 is a great game, and comparisons to Twin Peaks don't just end on the strange town. The Lynchian atmosphere of dread and hope, surrounded by questions that will never be answered, strange characters, and things beyond your comprehension keep you on your toes throughout the game. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always weird and unique, Pathologic 2 is a blast. First game is dated and messy, but this remake/sequel I will recommend to everyone. You have to experience it.
I don't know if it's my game of the year. Or, rather, if it's JUST a game of the year for me. It's most likely a game of the decade, and might just be one of my favorite games of all time.