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by John Szczepaniak - January 2013

Pathologic - PC (2005)
Мор. Утопия
(Pestilence. Utopia)

Russian Cover

English Cover

German Cover

Despite visuals that would turn many players away, a complete lack of presence on Metacritic, a Game Rankings score of only 66%, and a generally pervasive feeling of being unplayable, Pathologic by Ice-Pick Lodge has received a lot of praise in some circles. I've already discussed it on HG101's own blog, Gamasutra has championed its eccentricities alongside Deadly Premonition, and Rock Paper Shotgun ran an exhaustive three part feature on it. In fact, the RPS feature is what motivated me to buy the game in the first place, leading to the HG101 blog coverage. Not to mention all the awards and GOTY recommendations it received in its native Russia. Even so, it's still a comparatively obscure Windows based game, and one that's likely to grow increasingly so as the Windows OS makes older software obsolete. Furthermore, most places that cover Pathologic tend to give away massive spoilers, notably the RPS feature. This is why I'm not providing any links.

If you've not yet had the pleasure of experiencing Patholigic, try to avoid anything which details the surprises it holds. Also, don't be put off by exaggerated claims of it being obtusely difficult, unbearably archaic, or having a translation which makes it unintelligible. It has flaws, undeniably, but in a similar situation to Deadly Premonition, many of its bizarre quirks are what make it so wonderful. It's also not particularly difficult, if you stay calm and think. Ultimately, the game let's you correct any mistakes you've made via a rather ingenious system, so even if you fail some tasks it's still possible to see the best ending. Persevere and you will be rewarded with a genuinely unique gaming experience.

Set in a remote cattle farming town on the Russian Steppe, accessible from only one direction via train, the game takes place over 12 days at some point in the early 1900s. A precise date is never mentioned, but given the presence of an enormous Soviet railway gun at one point, it obviously occurs between the two great wars. One military character even mentions being pulled away from the front, implying perhaps one of the conflicts Russia was involved with just prior to World War II. Regardless, the entire town is gripped by the "sand plague", which threatens to become a country ravaging epidemic if not dealt with. Players take on the role of either the Bachelor, a doctor from the capitol; the Haruspicus, a returning folk healer; or the Devotress, a mysterious young woman thought to have magic powers and feared by the townsfolk. The main challenge, whoever you choose, is simply to survive for 12 days - actually stopping the plague, and dealing with various characters subplots, is secondary. It's also easier said than done.

Pathologic is a "survival game" in its purest and most intense form. You need to eat, sleep, avoid injury and, most importantly, avoid infection by the sand plague. It's actually fairly easy to avoid infection, especially if you abuse the quick save/load options, but getting infected adds an incredible new dimension to proceedings – the regular need to medicate yourself. This entire system meanwhile is facilitated by a constantly fluctuating economy, based around currency and bartering. At first medicine, food, and clothing will be plentiful, but as panic sets in prices will rise, money becomes worthless, and the authorities will start imposing draconian measures to maintain order. You may well find yourself trading in your only handgun for some bread and antibiotics, while outside the store arsonists set fire to anyone they think has the disease.

The beleaguered town is split into a number of named areas (Bridge Square, Tanners, Damp District, etc), divided into three main sections adjacent the Gorkhon River (the river doesn’t actually exist, though is named similarly to the Orkhon River). In the West of the town is the Polyhedron tower, an unnatural almost Luvcraftian structure, floating above the ground and seemingly constructed from the paper upon which its plans were drawn. To the South is swampland and the closed train station. To the East is the enormous Abattoir and Apiary which houses the workers, both locked to prevent spread of the disease. Amidst this hell are 27 key characters known as Adherents, who are distinct from regular NPCs, each with their own agenda. You must deal with all of them in order to survive and bring about a conclusion - though be careful, since in an apocalyptic situation such as this, you can't really trust anyone. The town is ruled by three opposing dynasties, a triumvirate which balances itself: the Kain family, acting as spiritual leaders; the Subarov family, who deal with law and order; and the Olgimskiy family, who are the financial providers.

It's a nightmarish story about the struggle between religious beliefs and scientific advancement, between technological progress and ancient traditions. While a plague turns the blood to a consistency like cottage cheese, the devout turn to their gods while the godless turn to experimentation. As the supernatural visage of the demon Shabnak-adyr looms out of the mist, desperate men resort to the trusted technology of gunpowder and lead. The world and its characters exude an aura distinctly East European, surrounded by grim overcast skies, foreboding plains, and cold rust. The indigenous religion of bull worshipping and sacrifice, of rivers of blood kept warm beneath the earth, permeate everything.

Player Characters



The town within which Pathologic takes place...

Quick Info:

Developer:

Ice-Pick Lodge

Publisher:

Buka Entertainment

Designer:

Sanan Ushanov
Daniella Klimashevskaya

Genre:

Adventure: First Person
Survival Horror

Themes:

Survival
Going Through Hell
Post-Apocalypse


Pathologic (PC)

Pathologic (PC)

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Pathologic (PC)


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