November 2, 2012 1:00 AM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in the Halloween Bundle from IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]
Ok, let me be bluntly honest for a second. I had been dreading the moment when I sat down and started Ice-Pick Lodge's Pathologic, mostly due to the difficulty I had with doing my first Ice-Pick Lodge post about monstrous art game classic The Void. I was dreading it with good reason, as Pathologic is a nigh unplayable, unstable, unwieldy mess. The controls are sluggish and awkward. The mechanics are stubborn and unyielding. It's ugly. The English translation is literally incomprehensible. It's simply not fun.
The fact that it isn't fun is actually quite fascinating. When it comes to horror games, it's a genre entirely built on fun. Despite all the gut wrenching terror of an Amnesia, it's still a fun experience built on quick scary highs and the exhilaration that occurs as your mind settles down. The reason the horror genre is so beloved by many is that getting scared is really fun, in a twisted way. Pathologic, on the other hand, dispenses with such petty amusements. It's exhausting to play. The strict time limit makes it hopeless and scary. This is not the game to play for a fun and spooky Halloween, but rather an experience you force yourself to choke down because it's important, damn it. This is horror in a very real sense. Dirty, sad, plague-riddled horror.
A mysterious town is hit by an unknown plague. As one of three recent medically trained arrivals in the town, your character is tasked with tracking down clues to find the cause as well as protecting your allies and surviving yourself. The game uses an intense array of player stats to track things like hunger and infection, so pure day to day survival is constantly getting in the way of your overarching task. To make things worse, the town slowly descends into a form of anarchy and disorder where desperate people, yourself included, would stab an innocent for a vial of medicine or clean water. One of the most interesting parts is the fact that the other player characters are still in the town while you are, and playing each one offers a completely different story and string of goals. In a genre that relies so much on herding the player, the relative openness of Pathologic is bizarre and makes the futility that comes with the crushing time limit that much more despairing.
But honestly, that last paragraph is almost a joke when it comes to describing Pathologic. Merely recounting game mechanics and cool ideas does absolutely nothing compared to seeing the game world fall apart for yourself. It's a fundamentally flawed experience that I could never recommend to anyone as a solid piece of entertainment. Of course, this means you really must give it a try for yourself. By creating such a haunted world full of mysteries and then stomping all over it again and again, Ice-Pick Lodge has found what a true horror game would look like. It certainly makes me appreciate our feeble scary skeleton closets that much more.
[EvilQuest, MacGuffin's Curse, Home, Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse (full season) and Pathologic are available now in the Halloween Bundle on Indie Royale.]