With the season of scares and candy having just passed us, what better way to further embrace it than delving into the newly remastered Russian horror favourite, Pathologic Classic HD. With nearly a grand old age of nearly ten years, are the new updates and tweaks good enough to disturb the hell out of an entirely new audience? Read on to find out…
Game: Pathologic Classic HD
Developer: Ice Pick Lodge
Publisher: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
Reviewed on: PC (Steam review code provided)
Classed as a narrative-based survival adventure title, Pathologic drops you into a bland town full of deadpan inhabitants who are attempting to deal with the outbreak of a fatal plague. For the most part you’ll find more of a psychological thriller type atmosphere rather than one full of cheap scares and gore as you guide one of three characters around the town, searching for answers and carefully managing your own basic needs. Each character has their own story to tell but ultimately play out the same singular narrative the game has in store, minus a few variations depending on how you play.
One of the most interesting aspects is the use of open-world gameplay. You’re essentially free to roam as you like, but you’ll need some purpose to your exploration as time is of the essence. You’ll only have twelve in-game days to solve mysteries and whilst their is a degree of choice on directions you take, you’ll need to make quick decisions to progress before the game throws failure in your face and kicks you back out to the main menu. Places of interest will be marked on your map to follow, so I only lost track of what needed to be done on a few rare occasions.
To be fair, Pathologic isn’t a complicated game across any of its facets. Even the inventory mechanics are simplistic by today’s standards, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it allows you to focus on the gameplay itself, which is largely narrative driven with touches of exploration and item gathering. There’s plenty of dialogue that just about holds up in spite of a few odd Russian to English translations. What’s perhaps more jarring is the game’s presentation which may be the most immersion-kicking aspect of the title.
It’s understandable being a game from 2005 that the town might not be overflowing with NPCs and the game world might feel empty and lack a bit of character. The problem is more to do with the characters that do reside in it, and the overly forced attempts the designers have made to create creepy and unnerving surroundings. Nearly every person you’ll cross paths with is void of personality and will constantly spit out monotone and sometimes pretentious drivel that is rarely actually helpful and not just more mouse-click fodder. It builds suspense well initially; thirty minutes in – not so much.
It’s a shame really, because the overall concept does beg play time and the narrative underneath all the garbled, dreary dialogue is actually quite fascinating. I enjoyed traversing the town and picking up random loot from crates and bins on my way to investigate new locations. The eating and sleeping necessities also keep you on your toes, although you’ll be able to purchase supplies from shops in town to aid you with the basic amenities.
This latest release of Pathologic is intended as a touch up from the original, and that’s really all it is. The visuals are quite horrible. Even with the slight makeover, textures remain eyesores and the lifeless character models manage to be the scariest thing about the game in their own special way. The audio does its best to recoup some of the atmosphere destroyed by the visuals, but even with that in mind it’s bizarrely difficult to differentiate between what is intended to be creepy and distracting, and what has simply just turned out that way through dated/poor game design.
Pathologic Classic HD is an interesting title that provides decent gameplay but is unfortunately hampered by some outdated visuals and cumbersome dialogue. If you can fight past the initial portion of the game without being deterred by those issues, there’s a wonderful concept and an overall narrative that’s definitely worth exploring. Still, I’d find it hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t known for their love of eerie adventures and those who might struggle to be patient with the game’s less-flattering features.