Pathologic (Windows)

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Developed by
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Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (181570)
Written on  :  Dec 15, 2007
Rating  :  3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars

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Don't get scared if you see the Executor in front of your house

The Good

Pathologic (or Mor: Utopia, as it is called in its homeland Russia) is a hybrid game that defies categorization. It has elements of adventure, RPG, first-person shooter, and in a certain sense survival horror.

From the moment you start playing the game, you are enveloped in its unique atmosphere. The bizarre setting is different from anything else you've seen in a game before; it's very hard to describe it with words. Imagine a quiet Russian town with a certain early 20th century feel (though some elements indicate present time, the setting doesn't really strike you as "modern"). A desolate train station and a grim factory cast their shadows over the town. Not far from the house you start in there is a staircase leading into the heavens. You leave the beautifully decorated apartment (the words "decadent" and "gothic" come to mind for some reason) and venture outside.

It looks like eternal autumn. Lonely leaves are carried by the wind. You can't ever see sun or clear sky. The dominant color is grey, with brown-red old-style buildings. In front of you, you see two masked characters. Or maybe one of them isn't masked - he just looks like a bird with a human body? In a highly stylized, theatrical language, the Executor and the Tragedian tell you what has happened to the city. There is a terrible disease. Nobody knows what it is. Nobody knows who, or what, had caused it. Nobody knows how to cure it. It's up to the hero to find the cure... or maybe just to survive.

Scary, weird sounds accompany the experience. The chilling sound effects and the occasional dissonant music add so much to the atmosphere that the horror begins to creep into the player's soul. The designers knew how to craft masterful psychological horror - without throwing at the player hordes of zombies or revisiting the nightmares of mental patients.

There are no experience points or anything like that, and the game is absolutely not combat-oriented. Only a few quests involve violent confrontations, and even then we are talking about a handful of enemies at most. However, the player is free to attack anybody (except quest-giving characters and shop owners) at any time. It is possible simply to go on a killing spree, enter any apartment and attack its innocent owners, or hunt down criminals at night. If the player kills an innocent, a blood-chilling sound of a weeping child will remind him of what he is doing.

The game has an internal clock and is basically played completely in real time. The necessity to regulate hunger and sleep adds to the survival aspect of the game, which is so strong that the game can also be labeled as "survival horror". The combat is deliberately hard and uncomfortable; neither of the protagonists (yes, you can play the game as three different characters, each with his/her own scenario and quests) is a professional combatant, and it shows. However, the satisfaction you feel after having successfully eliminated two robbers with two precise shots from an old pistol is at least as rewarding as clearing out a whole room of monsters in a "normal" FPS.

Speaking of rewards: the game is a veritable "collector's paradise". You will constantly need items - food, healing, medicine, weapons, and especially ammunition, which is extremely scarce. There is a very interesting and rather complex trading system in the game. Certain types of people you see on the streets can trade different items to you. For example, little kids can give you valuable bullets or pills in exchange for some cheap jewelry you thought was useless. You can collect a lot of items by simply roaming the town and trading with people. Often you can even find valuable items in dumpsters!

An alternative to that is robbing; to satisfy your instincts of a virtual kleptomaniac, you can obtain lockpicks and break into any house you see. Houses usually contain a lot of items, including food you'll need so much; but of course, you can get caught and attacked; you can kill the attackers, but then your reputation will quickly plummet...

The Bad

Alas, it appears that, while the developers poured a lot of love into setting and details, they forgot the most important thing: core gameplay mechanics.

To put it simply, there is so such thing in the game. Since combat, collecting, and all the other interesting things are optional, the role of the "meat and potatoes" of the game has been delegated to... walking. That's right: the bulk of the game is occupied by annoyingly slow crawling through the same locations, over and over again.

The quests are for the most part very simple; it's just the ever-present time limit that makes them harder than they are supposed to be. Basically, almost every quest involves you going to some part of the town, talking to characters there, then visiting another house, then going back to the original quest-giving character, etc. Sometimes you can make decisions and say different things, but most of the time, it's just direct walking and talking. It's puzzling to encounter such terribly uninspired quest design in a game so rich on detail and interesting gameplay ideas.

I have to admit that the interminable walks - coupled with the lack of any exciting, adrenaline-releasing activity - ruined the game for me. The city is very big, and you'll have to visit many people to complete a day. You'll be going back and forth through the same streets. Sure, you can (and should) explore, search, and trade with people on the way, but it quickly becomes extremely monotonous. There is very little sense of progression, of advancement, in the game; each new day is just like the one before, and the differences are way too subtle. While playing Pathologic I constantly wanted to slap it on the back to speed things up. It's a game that lures you in with the details, but then leaves you at the mercy of emptiness.

The Bottom Line

Pathologic deserves attention and respect, and it has some very interesting ideas. However, I can only recommend it as an exotic curiosity. In the end, the lack of a satisfying gameplay concept, the terrible quest design, and the lethargic pace become a needless challenge to your patience.