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    Pathologic 2 is the coolest game you will never play

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    Catherine Le Nevez
    @catherinelenevez

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    What is Pathologic 2? A thorn in my side, worm in your head that haunts you until you listen to it, the experience paradoxically more rewarding and degrading than an entire playing career. Esoteric, hermetic and damn frustrating, Pathologic 2 it is the realization of the masochistic impulses of some of us who decide to test themselves by facing a world for which they are not prepared, by challenging fate trying to evade a death that then turns out to be a companion in adventure. Born as a reinterpretation of the homonymous title published in 2005 by the Russian studio Ice-Pick Lodge, the team at the time had to deal with enormous economic and technical limits so as to be an incredible mess of polygons and bugs with exhausting gameplay that tried to unite survival elements and a fictional plot in the guise of a shooter, giving life to an extremely interesting work but full of thorns that had to be done justice.



    Labeling Pathologic is complex for various reasons, there are so many components that contribute to the evolution of events that it is easy to get lost in its meanders and it would be wrong to evaluate in watertight compartments without taking into account the overall design. The first thing to note is the unconventional approach to the story, given that the player is immersed in a theatrical representation that acts as a setting for the events experienced in the role of Artemy Burakh, the son of the only doctor in town. The entire gameplay is structured as a staging whose purpose is to play the role of the haruspex, one of the three pivotal figures in the world of Pathologic, whose premise now as then is the following: the city is dying, you have twelve days to save it.


    Or not. 

    The final act is only the beginning

    The prologue immediately clarifies to the player the nihilistic soul of the work, a scenic work first of all that lays its foundations on choices that do not follow convenient labels such as "right" or "wrong" but only ask to face the consequences. When Mark Immortell, owner of the theater, welcomes us on stage he is not speaking to Artemy Burakh but to the player, or rather the actor who plays him in an attempt to recreate a drama with already written lines giving rise to a series of misunderstandings that make Pathologic a metaphysical work to say the least. When I say that the lines are already written, you don't even dream of thinking that the game puts you on a track and expects you to continue on that course, at all.


    Il prologue, or rather the epilogue, it is something incredibly dense and intriguing, one of the strongest experiences a player can have above all thanks to the choice of catapulting us to the end of the story. The first moments of the game take place behind the scenes of the theater, full of a gloomy air. On stage, waiting for us, Mark Immortell refers to us as Burakh noting how our performance was a fiasco, again, however after demonstrating our iron will to fix things he grants us the possibility of a new staging. Once we cross the threshold of the theater, we are finally in the presence of the city-on-Garkhon, a pre-revolutionary Russian settlement at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made land of death by the notorious plague that envelops the buildings with miasma benches. This mephitic context generates a short circuit of infected and hungry thieves who can't wait to sink their dagger into our back forcing the authorities to field an army equipped with revolvers and flamethrowers ready to kill anyone who only gives the impression of being sick. .


    After starting to wander through the alleys, the game notifies the stroke of midnight and the beginning of the twelfth day - the final one - “in which the haruspex ends with a semicolon” ​​anticipating that what appears to be the end will be followed by a new beginning. The choice to start from the epilogue proves to be of enormous impact because it puts the player in front of the consequences of his work and of the catastrophe that has hit (or will hit) the city, immersing him in a reality that lives regardless of the player who could even just survive for all twelve days without investigating anything. After meeting many of the main characters along the way we arrive at the cathedral, where Immortell is waiting for us once again, ready to give us the long-awaited second chance.


    As in the eternal return of the same end and beginning they chase each other and in the same way where the old Burakh's adventure ends, a new one begins. After talking with Mark, the real prologue marked by Artemy's return home begins, recalled by a letter from his father, who after years spent studying medicine in the capital and sharing the hold with a mysterious passenger begins a train journey full of hallucinations. linked to the cult of the steppe, a population that rejects the values ​​of the city. The route runs from tutorial and shows the rudiments of survival mechanics: hand-to-hand combat, how to get food and water and how to protect yourself from the plague. After having had a taste of the world of Pathologic 2 Artemy is finally ready to face the many challenges that the city offers him, a city that no longer recognizes him and that immediately proves violent towards him although the threat of the plague is still unknown.


    Storytelling by thoughts

    Getting lost in the maze of Pathologic 2's history is anything but difficult, and to discover all the secrets that lurk in the city, you probably need more than a playthrough. Being a thriller with multiple mysteries, the player is constantly asked to choose how to spend his time, favoring one strand of the plot rather than another, sacrificing precious time to accumulate useful resources for one's survival or exploring areas that at first sight are negligible but capable of hiding important secrets. To facilitate identification with the game world, the developers have thought up a totally new model of quest based on pensieri, that is, a mind map composed of Nodi which appear as a consequence of certain events, fights, dialogues and reading descriptions of objects that represent Artemy's thinking about it.


    This model eliminates the division between main and secondary missions that often distract the player by deciding for him what is more or less important, instead putting at the center of the reflection a series of ideas that encourage us to think about what is more important at the moment based on which mystery we want to solve at that juncture. Nodes are aggregates of thoughts connected to each other that gradually show a larger picture leaving the player to choose which dots are worth joining first by creating a more plausible and satisfying narrative than the much more passive imperative command accompanied by the marker on the map, challenging the player to a race against time in trying to find out as much information as possible by the end of the day, which will inevitably close some possibilities opening new ones. To learn more about the concept, don't miss this very interesting Game World Observer interview with developer Alexandra “Alphyna” Golubeva.

    The mind map in all its beauty: nothing "do this" or "kill three geese" but thoughts and questions that
    they spring naturally and give an extremely engaging sensation to the narration

    The mind map is only one of the four screens available in the menu, the others show the map of the city, inventory and the screen of characters. The map of the city is particularly interactive and provides the player with information about the various neighborhoods of the city such as reputation and status of infection - as well as useful for highlighting the grocery stores, pharmacies and tailors from which to buy clothing against the pestilence. to indicate places of interest and icons associated with thoughts, as well as special events that will appear from time to time. The inventory is the classic one consisting of grids in which to try to get as many objects and consumables as possible, having the possibility to expand it further at a later time.

    Burakh will have to play the "little chemist" in order not to let those around him die

    The page of the characters keeps track of the people we will meet over the twelve days without giving any news but reporting only them health state. Well yes, the people who flock to the city-on-the-Garkhon are just as mortal as we are and in case of illness (or sometimes more concrete threats) they will be treated with ointments that only Burakh is able to mix thanks to the recipes handed down to him by his father. Infusions, panaceas, antibiotics, painkillers and magic powders are Artemy's best friend in what is an unequal struggle between him and an invisible enemy that cuts down thousands of lives every day, remedies whose effectiveness is not always certain because at the end of the day the case will decide whether the care provided was sufficient to save patients from death.

    Intentionally frustrating gameplay

    Death is not the end (sadly)

    Pathologic 2 is basically a game of balances in which we must ensure that the indicators of hunger, thirst, fatigue and immunity do not sink, causing health to drop to zero, but even if this happens, do not despair because dying does not imply the end. One of the characteristic and founding elements of the experience is that theto death is only a step, often necessary, after all we are actors and in our place a new tradesman will put on the stage clothes, picking up where we left off. If dying is part of the game process, why is Ice-Pick Lodge considered a survival bordering on the prohibitive? In fact there is the trick: at each death we will return to the theater in the presence of Mark Immortell who will give us a malus to one of the indicators, making the experience from time to time more and more complicated and exhausting.

    If the first few days seem placid to you, things will change with the upper hand of the pandemic. Districts infested and therefore quarantined, an increase in deaths and poverty that will lead more and more cutthroats to haunt the nights made hot by the fires on which the infected are burned; try to get ready because the game will become damn difficult and will sometimes force you to have to restart an entire game. There is no right approach, we simply have to experiment with the numerous approaches available to us to be able to bring our investigations home without risking dying in an ambush or hardship - a very difficult request to fulfill because we have to keep an eye on so many factors that we go crazy - having to pay attention not to only to ourselves but often also to our neighbor.

    Choices say who we are

    Choices determine who we are, and play makes this mantra the backbone of experience. The first day we are offered by a rascal a revolver in exchange for two thousand coins, an exorbitant outlay for what is such a disturbing but peaceful city, a deal that ordinary citizens of the city-on-Garkhon might refuse with disdain and fear but not us who already know the ominous epilogue of history and want to keep ourselves ready for events. The sandbox nature of Pathologic 2 means that there is no single way, that those two thousand coins can be used to stock up on food or buy drugs, hoping for a stroke of luck perhaps by stealing a weapon from some unguarded house.

    The choices in Pathologic do not boil down to good or bad, but ask the player to adapt based on the historical moment
    A constantly changing economy

    Let's say you have recovered the money needed for the revolver, now you are armed but you find yourself without food and you are forced to rummage in the garbage, remaining dry-mouthed. Around you find only molds, buttons and empty bottles, what to do with them? Obviously, they are exchanged with citizens each with their own preferences and business acumen. The economy in Pathologic 2 is layered, it is not enough to accumulate coins to be able to survive but most of the objects will be obtainable through the barter of herbs, weapons, food and ointments for citizens, coins and subsequently coupons for shopkeepers while the so-called "worms", creatures of the steppes that provide a comfortable quick trip, they go crazy for fingernails. All this also overlaps inflation which is likely to affect the prices of increasingly rare products as the pandemic progresses.

    The soft hook surgeon

    Unfortunately for Artemy, not everything can be solved with diplomacy or by running away, because the fights in Pathologic 2 are simply excruciating. Whether it is hand-to-hand, white weapon or guns, the combat system will make you regret having installed the game due to many factors such as the excessive woodiness of Burakh, the very short range of the weapons and the incredible inaccuracy of the guns and rifles, which in a couple of shots fired they will lose effectiveness, jamming the weapon for an interminable amount of seconds making us easy prey for the enemy on duty. Nonetheless, killing criminals and thugs will help ours reputation in the various districts, a factor that affects the possibility of being able to barter with the inhabitants of that district by bringing home essential items to survive the day, being careful not to attack unarmed citizens or steal from inhabited houses otherwise you will find yourself hunted by the city guards.

    On the one hand, the enormous shyness of the protagonist during the fights is understandable by reflecting on the character who in the end he is a simple surgeon and not a martial arts fighter, so even the poor physical shape that comes out during the sprints and translates into a few hits before having to rest are part of that same perspective for which we forgave James Sunderland for the woodiness of Silent Hill 2. Despite this the idea of ​​a unfinished work on the part of the team remains, undoubtedly they could have done much more to clean up such an important aspect of the game which unfortunately is not the only one left unfinished.

    The world seen from the Polyhedron

    Cross and delight of experience, the technical sector reaches remarkable peaks with equally sensational falls. Made in Unity the level of detail of buildings and characters is absolutely satisfactory despite the obsessive repetitions of the NPCs, in particular of those armed (vigilantes, military and criminals) with a single model per type which creates an alienating effect whereby a roadblock or a battle between thugs often results in a jumble of clones stabbing themselves. Diametrically opposite speech for the many primary characters differentiated by features and clothing in an unequivocal way, creating a profound social and cultural separation between the two factions that live along the Garkhon, the citizens and the Kin.

    This differentiation gives life to very strong architectural contrasts that are reflected on the one hand in splendid monuments devoted to human greatness such as the Polyhedron, a majestic construction that climbs towards the sky as a testimony to man's ambition by challenging the laws of physics, while from the other monuments are contrasted with the grotesque such as the slaughterhouse, a residue of the steppe culture which bases its existence on the link with the Earth. The world of Pathologic 2 is constantly changing and allows drastic changes of scenery from hour to hour thanks to the advance of the plague in the various neighborhoods and the arrival of the night, which is the worst time to venture through the alleys full of miasma, crazy murders and the worst nightmares the mind can give birth.

    The polyhedron is one of the most majestic and sublime structures you will ever see in a video game, but there are many others that will capture your attention as you wander the City-on-Garkhon.
    Feel the steppe

    What does not disappoint expectations are undoubtedly the music that makes up a disturbing and nervous soundtrack that never stops putting the player to attention, urging him to stay alert. Tribal, electronic sounds (go and have a sip at the Broken Heart pub just for this track), piano e industrial noises and croaking give an unrepeatable atmosphere to each scene in this magical, esoteric and scary world that vibrates harmoniously with the music of Theodore Bastard and Vasily Kashnikov.

    Too bad all the beauty and tension are interrupted by frequent stuttering phenomena e loading times well beyond the threshold of the bearable, accompanied by very frequent frame drops that make the experience even more of an ordeal than was originally thought by the development team. Nono are infrequent freezes and anomalies that prevent you from leaving a theatrical performance, making it necessary to reload the last save, hoping that it is not too distant in time.

    You can't save them all, but at least give them a chance

    Pathologic 2 is, as I said at the beginning, "a thorn in your side, the worm in your head that haunts you until you listen to it, the paradoxically most rewarding and degrading experience of an entire career as a gamer" because he is not satisfied with just telling a story and making it as accessible as possible, he wants difficulties to be part of the narrative, he wants the player to weigh every choice by the milligram, whether it's selling a gun to buy bread and being able to get through the night or deciding whether to use the latest panacea to save a child, he wants us to feel helpless actors in a narrative that for large parts we do not know where it is going, wants to feel lost for the city and for the steppe, wants us to enjoy every moment of this experience feeling an integral part of the story. And it does not refer to Artemy but to ourselves, so that we prepare our tools to succeed our father as menkhu trying to eradicate (and understand) the terrible plague that is decimating the city-on-Garkhon. Not because a categorical imperative tells us to do so but because we ourselves have become part of the tragedy.

    The history of Ice-Pick Lodge teaches us that passion goes beyond obstacles, but however hard they are (and trust me, they did) the Russian developers had to clash with a mocking reality that partially compromised their work. Suffice it to say that already in 2006 the original Pathologic had obtained excellent reviews in its homeland but severe rejections in the West due to the bad localization in English, and after the Kickstarter campaign with which they had raised $ 333.000, eighty thousand more than the sum requested, the most it seemed done but years of slippage and increasing costs have jeopardized not only the technical finishing but also the full realization of the studio plans that in addition to the story of Artemy he would have liked to include the two alternative runs of the Bachelor and the Changeling, present in the original title.

    USEFUL INFO

    I tackled the pandemic by leveraging my Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription on a machine equipped with a Sapphire RX580 8Gb Nitro + video card and Ryzen 5 1500 processor, all topped off with 8Gb of RAM.

    Duration
    • Approximately thirty hours per game (each day lasts for two real hours).
    Structure
    • Thriller with survival elements in which the antidote to a deadly disease that is exterminating the inhabitants of the city must be found in just twelve days.
    Game Card
    • Game Name: Pathologic 2
    • Release date: May 23, 2019
    • Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
    • Dubbing language: English
    • Texts language: English

    In short, Pathologic 2 is a sensational work for script and freedom of choice in a living world that responds to our actions but does not stop waiting for us, telling us an intricate and increasingly dense plot that deserves to be experienced despite the many critical gameplay. which unfortunately will push many not to play it. Be smart and have the courage to face a non-canonical work that engages the player, but leaves an aftertaste that very few works can return both in the videogame field. that filmic or theatrical, a game available among other things on Game Pass or € 14,99 on Steam during the sales. Do not pay attention to the final grade but look at the picture as a whole and do not trust those who make sterile comparisons with the difficulty of Dark Souls, Pathologic 2 deserves to be part of your collection and it deserves your time, don't let works like the one from Ice-Pick Lodge become more and more rare.

    Videogamingallday.com review
    Graphics

    The glance is captivating. The dark atmospheres and the extraordinary architecture of the city leave their mark despite Ice-Pick Lodge does not seem to have made the most of Unity, but the quality of the landscapes and characters (at least the main ones) is not poor at all. A point against the atmosphere is the obsessive repetition of the NPC models that partially spoils the exploration, giving in the long run the impression of being in a city of clones, while the animations of the characters are appreciable especially in the very scenic close-ups. some dialogues.

    75
    SOUNDTRACK AND DOUBLE ROOM

    Very few dubbed dialogues, but impactful, while the soundtrack has the only defect of being reduced to the bone and not very varied, repeating itself too often during the days. The fact remains that the music helps to create an incomparable atmosphere and the nocturnal exploration, perhaps with a thread of life and some criminals in the neighborhood, is heart-pounding thanks to the treacherous sound effects that will make you jump more than once. The background music of clubs such as the Broken Heart Pub deserve a separate mention.

    85
    GAMEPLAY

    The hardest grade to assign in this review. Here to weigh are the many bugs, stuttering phenomena and often very long loading times that weigh down an already clumsy gameplay. The race against time in order not to die from thirst, hunger, sleep and illness alone represent a challenge, if then we put up a fight to say the least wood and the slowness of the character we have a series of limitations that exhaust the player, elements that, however, have a sense in the perspective of making the experience devastating, as only a race against time to fight a deadly plague can be.

    59
    Total Rating scale
    77
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