Pathologic has an odd history. Released in Russia in 2005, it was well regarded by press and players. Just one year later it came to Europe. Here opinion was not so kind, with many finding it slow and dated – a fact not helped by a poor translation.
But, with indie games on the rise, there’s a new patience from players keen for something different. So, if there was ever a time for an engrossing but flawed game with a steep barrier to entry, it’s now. And Pathologic Classic HD is worth the effort.
Three tales of a town
Pathologic Classic HD is a remake of the psychological horror game, Pathologic. It has up-resed visuals and an improved English translation, but little else is changed making it hard to trudge through at times. Despite that, I found myself appreciating much of what it was trying to do when it was released in 2005 - and what still feels modern.
You start by selecting one of three characters, the Bachelor, the Haruspex, or the Devotress – though this final member only unlocks after completing the game. The Bachelor is by far the easiest to begin with as he happily mixes with the town’s gentry, while the Haruspex is instantly at odds with the townsfolk after an altercation leaves a bandit dead. I can only imagine how difficult the Devotress gets.
Each character’s story plays out in the same town over the same period. But while everyone shares the same overarching goal - saving the people from a sickness that is slowly wiping them out - their experiences differ wildly depending on their relationship with the citizens. So, to get the full tale, you must play through the sizable tale three times – each time revealing more from the townsfolk.
It's a lot to take in, a fact not helped by the fact this HD overhaul has done little to improve the controls, pace, or interface.
Dig into the guts of the game
But it is an effort worth making, because every choice effects how events play out and the options available to you. This makes your interactions feel weighty, a dynamic that draws you into the world and forces you to pay attention, even when the verbose mystical dialogue becomes laborious.
Any missions you take erase at midnight, which when combined with the constant need to stay rested, fed, and healthy, keeps the pressure on. This makes ever decision a dilemma - do you kill a person for their milk? Steal it? Or find some way to trade for it? After all, people are of no help to you once they are dead.
The tapestry of the interactions available is incredible – as pulling on one thread can make the whole thing unravel. Pathologic Classic HD may be objectively obtuse, ugly, and clunky - but the systems at work are fascinating to watch.
Pathologic Classic HD fascinating, and I am happy to now be mature enough to overlook its flaws and appreciate its beautiful complexity. The only problem is, the work done on this HD version is fairly minimal and there is a more complete reimagining in development. This will feature completely new graphics, vocal work, and missions - which could correct the problems I have with HD Classic.
A slice of forgotten history
Pathologic is a game that you should play if you have an interest in gaming history. However, given its length – and the fact that you should play through it multiple times to get the full story - it could be worth waiting for the remake if you don't think you can face the interface and other issues.
If you can look past its problems - or if after the re-imagining you want more of the consequence driven gameplay - then you owe it to yourself to play Pathologic Classic HD.