I just finished my first playthrough of a game called Pathologic, and as it's a very obscure survival horror, I think it deserves its own thread here. Especially since it's fucking brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant.
Pathologic is an open-world game set in a small, isolated Russian town probably about a century ago whose only connection to the outside world is its involvement in the meat industry. As usual in a horror game, it gets struck by disaster, in this case in the form of a plague. Not as usual, though, Pathologic doesn't
place you there after everyone dies and make you uncover some mystery and set things right, like in virtually every other horror game. Instead it puts you in this town right as the plague shows its first signs and gives you the mission to stop it.
Thus, it forgoes most horror tropes we've all come to know and love. There are lots of characters; the town is populated like any normal town; the environment is wide open; there are few immediate threats; you can use weapons; etc. Your adversary is inevitability, and it instills fear much more passively. You're on a twelve-day timer until the game ends, each day lasting two to three hours, and you need to survive just like anyone else. You need food, sleep, medical supplies, drugs, clothing, weaponry, and so on, and since the town is normally isolated (and quarantined at this point anyway), it's not exactly a bustling monument to capitalism. A lot of the supplies you need are either rare or increasingly expensive, and getting your shit together is an absolutely distressing experience for most of the game.
And that's definitely a saving grace, because a lot of its gameplay elements are pretty bad when viewed in a vacuum. The combat is Bethesda-level crap, possibly even worse, where you just hit your steadfast pursuer and backpedal until he dies. A lot of the questing involves a whole lot of walking from location to location to location as well. But the truly oppressive survival element adds levels of depth that really make your job challenging. You're on an unstoppable timer and there are all sorts of things that can get in your way. Each day, new districts of the town become infected and get overrun with lawless hazards, and you need to be extremely careful in avoiding these dangers or treat yourself with what little medication you have.
But the challenge doesn't stop there. It becomes much more unconventional. This is a fully populated town, and like in reality, the lives of others really, really matter. There are probably thirty-something main characters connected to the narrative, some of whom you are advised to keep alive. But your alliances are never concrete, and everybody lies or has something to hide. The town has a meticulously detailed history and everyone has a connection that he or she wants to keep. There are artists, landlords, merchants, thieves, aristocrats, orphans, gangs of children and maybe a few others I've forgotten temporarily. Every once in a while, the time comes to make important decisions about how to combat the plague, and because everyone has a motivation and a side on certain issues, it's really, really fucking hard to determine what is best for the people you know. And this is on top of the already draining
survival element. By the final day, I had to make what I'd consider to be the hardest decision I've ever made in my life
. Because the town is alive, full of actual people with actual problems, and nothing good can happen in it without sacrifice.
It has its fair share of problems though. I've mentioned the combat and loads of walking already, but it's an indie game from 2005, which doesn't always help games that are this ambitious. It's got some bugs that make quicksaving absolutely vital. It's also a Russian game with a complex, nuanced writing style that basically got put into Google Translate. I'm not sure if there are other localizations of the game, but chances are that every language other than the original Russian got very poor treatment. There's a translation patch rumored by Ice-Pick Lodge, but all news of it stopped around two years ago (though they've also said that they might actually remake the game!). It takes a lot of effort to read everything correctly. It's also not too good at telling you shit, which is especially a problem in a game this complex. It leaves out a lot of nitty gritty details in the beginning, which is a problem for beginners because, well, they're nitty gritty, so sometimes you'll actually need to use a walkthrough to find out how to do certain basic things properly.
I'm currently making a full-on video review that I'll probably post in this thread so you can watch that eventually instead of reading my mostly unstructured ramblings. But mostly this post was intended to advertize the game more than anything else, because very few of you have likely heard of it. I'll probably copy some of this post verbatim in the final product though!
Bottom line is, though, Pathologic has its flaws, sometimes pretty major ones, but it's one of the most hardcore games ever made, with a strong dash of impending doom
. It's also an absolutely brilliant computer game storytelling experience with the absolute deepest story any game has ever told. I'm especially hoping that some of the Frictional guys read this, because it's unique and emotional and draining, and it proves a whole lot of concepts that other games overlook completely. It's something for anyone who claims to enjoy horror, dark stories and the like.
It can be found on GamersGate for $10, but it goes on sale for much lower on occasion, and it's undoubtedly worth the $3 I paid for it.