I’ve often wondered about the original Pathologic game and even gone so far as to try and play it. I didn’t get far, it is a cruel, cruel thing. But I adored it from a distance, this weird strange game. I saw Pathologic 2’s announcement of a Kickstarter a few years ago and forgot to back it. I spent days looking at it, again from a distance. And now I get to review Pathologic 2, the game that I’ve often thought was “The” game. A kind of thing which I would love to have made.
And I absolutely hate it.
Well. You are supposed to. This is a game where you are supposed to suffer and struggle. You are supposed to feel as if everything is collapsing around you, and the twisting maw of the plague is tightening its grip every second. Everything counts, and it is hellish. But it is wonderful. As an experience, this is in a class of its own. What Pathologic 2 pulls off is, I think, a perfect synergy of narrative and gameplay. You truly understand the Haruspex’ desperate situation and feel it. And over the twelve days of the narrative, it never lets up.
You aren’t the key player here, nor are you even particularly liked. I’m not an elegant surgeon, so I blundered my way through several accidental organ harvests. The rumoured body count I held was incorrect – it was actually somewhere in the 30s, not 3. God, I felt sick with nerves. I felt like whatever I did, I consistently made everything worse for everyone. It was depressing, harrowing. I felt hollow by the time I had gotten to the ending. And then that made it even worse. Spending these hours, strolling through a Steppe village, through a variety of architecture, loomed over by this glass hive oddity. I couldn’t save everyone, and it took me back to the first game I ever played.
When I was young, I bumbled my way through The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and I couldn’t save everyone then. Pathologic 2 took those feelings — intimate despair — and made it even more impactful. I got to know these villagers, their quirks and customs, and I wanted to save them. And man. That’s powerful, right?
I don’t fully know how to articulate this statement but: this is the best game I have experienced to date. Let me try and justify saying that about a game I also hate. The dialogue, characterisation — the brick and mortar of the narrative — are simply above and beyond. It is beautifully written, juggling multiple tones with grace and precision rarely seen in games. The staging of scenes is wonderful, with an interplay of shadow and colour adding depth and texture to every scene. In the very opening, it uses looming shadows with no origin to crowd the theatre, creating something immediately surreal and inviting. It feels like playing a Punch Drunk production – an excellent, interactive theatre experience.
And it needs the gameplay. There are many titles out there with increasingly good cinematic storytelling, but usually faltering in the actual gamey bit. Not here. You are never allowed the space to pull back, and autopilot. You constantly are drawn into something – always weighing up if you need that egg, or tourniquet, maybe someone else can use it in a later day. Maybe it can sell for a good price so you can get fresh bottles or ammo. A constant push and pull of stress and desperation fuels the game, and it is wonderful.
Horrifying, but wonderful. Pathologic 2 is singularly brilliant, and I think everyone should try it out. It’s the best game I’ve ever experienced.