There are many different variations in the myriad of horror games lining the Xbox game library. There is the jumpscare horror where everything from evil birds, zombie dogs or demented clowns suddenly appear in front of you; disappearing and reappearing as they see fit. Then there are the psychological horror experiences; journeys through the mind of a host, and huge monsters becoming the symbols of your anxieties. Then there is Pathologic 2. I haven’t played the first game, and to be honest with you I don’t think I’ve played anything else that is ever like it before.
The original Pathologic received a cult reputation in 2005 for being a bit broken, in amongst being highly original and utterly compelling. And I think the second game does much of the same. To try to get a grip on the narrative is like trying to remember and describe one of those dreams that are similar to living in a David Lynch movie. You play as a doctor who is on his way back to his hometown after many years away. Straight away the game introduces you to nightmare characters and twisty turns in the tale. You walk into a room and a row of masked characters lay frozen in a tableau, you walk outside and some scary crow-like beings stare at you in huddles. The game starts as it means to go on too, telling a tale full of intrigue, despair and human suffering.
When you arrive in your hometown you discover two things: that your father has been murdered and you need to follow the leads to work out why. And secondly, you have murdered three individuals lying at your feet as you leave the train. How and why are the two big questions you will be asking. Quite possibly for a long, long time.
Pathologic 2 is played in the first person and you venture out into the town in search of answers. You have a map of the area and on that are quest markers with hints on where to go. You meet several characters on the way; mysterious, flamboyant and intriguing all at once. The writing itself is really very interesting and densely descriptive in its style and tone. You have dialogue trees and choices that are again so complex and obtuse, particularly in comparison with other games that might just give you a choice of playing the good or evil aspect of a character. There are several NPCs you meet and these provide some of the game’s highlights. The characters, writing and atmosphere are all very creative, as is the world. However it’s the gameplay mechanics that I have a bit of a problem with.
You see, with Pathologic 2 it’s the old marmite question that keeps raising its head – whether you like survival mechanics in games or not. I personally hate worrying about whether I’m hungry, thirsty or cold in games, as it’s hard enough to not be concerned about the same problems in real life. In Pathologic 2 the game uses this mechanic because the whole world is in despair, ravaged by disease and famine. You soon find that you will be searching constantly for health, food and water as you progress through the experience, and as the days roll on the resources become more scarce and the effects of the horror situation worsen. Did I say it becomes difficult? Well, think of difficult plus gruelling and you’re coming close to the experience on offer. You have 12 days to complete the game and after each day you might lose the chance to complete certain strands of the story, or the decisions you made put you on a different path. It’s a hard mechanic which knows exactly what it’s doing in its difficulty, however like I said some will love and relish this, whilst others will grow weary quite early on.
There is a riddle to the language of the game, and a riddle to how you play – which soon becomes like a fuddled nightmare. You partake in operations to sell organs, you save the game only at grandfather clocks dotted around town, and you have many threads of stories to follow up in your journal. But due to the relentless nature of the game you are probably going to leave many tales unfinished. I do however think this madness is part of the design master plan of the developers.
Pathologic 2’s visuals are particularly good, especially in regards to the character design and creatures. The world and the city you walk about in does get a bit too bleak after a while, and it’s a good idea not to play the game for too long in a sitting, if only so you can go outside into the real world to see some sun. The soundtrack and effects are scary and forbidding in the same breath, and the voiceover used by the characters is excellently performed.
Things in Pathologic 2 on Xbox One come together to create a game that deserves to be tried – but only really because it’s unlike anything you will have ever played before. These are the types of games that were only ever played by those preferring keyboard and mouse, talking about it with hallowed whispers. The game is long and relentless, and at times the survival mechanics will make you want to give everything up and burn your console. This is especially so as it always feels that it doesn’t want you to win; instead it wants you to fail like the town you’re exploring, one that is falling apart and dying with its residents. It’s a game that will divide, and some will give up with it within the first hour or at the first pang of hunger. But if you persevere you will be rewarded by the strange events that take place and the weird story it’s trying to tell with this intriguing, and at times brilliant, game.