Gaming is often infantilized when compared to its older siblings of cinema and music. It has long since been sitting in the kiln, ready for the next Casablanca or Citizen Kane to pull it from the furnace and shape it into something which stands as a testament to all it is capable of.
Pathologic 2 has been on my mind quite a lot. In fact, writing this alone is a daunting task because I don't have complete confidence in myself to find the right verbiage to adequately do this game justice — as if a measurable lack of prose or inability to convey my thoughts in a certain manner will do a disservice to and make a mockery of this almost transcendental gaming experience which I have struggled, scraped, and fought to get through over the nearly 30 hours I have invested into this bleak and enveloping world it brings to life.
Pathologic 2, at its most basic, is a game about sacrifice. Every decision, action, or inaction the player chooses (or doesn't choose) comes at a cost, some large and others comparatively smaller. It tasks one with combatting a ravenous and highly lethal plague which is quickly taking hold of a small, early 20th century village. As a native of the town and its extremely obtuse, almost alien culture, you are given a mere 12 days to effectively bring this pandemic to a close and to save as many as you possibly can. Moreover, its primary conflict is punctuated with smaller, but no less daunting trials like reacclimating yourself with the equally mysterious and tribalistic steppe culture that runs concurrent to the rapidly industrializing city, emboldening you with the task of succeeding your predecessor and protecting his proteges from this unknown threat which will soon plunge the town into ruin.
Even smaller still, every day is a trial: simply surviving is a conscious effort in resource management and rolling with the many punches the game throws your way. As the pandemic worsens, different areas will become far more treacherous to trek through. Vendors who you once relied upon as a means for food and medical supplies will find themselves subject to the ensuing hysteria, marking up goods dramatically day after day. There's a very real possibility that you will have to resort to unscrupulous actions like breaking into homes or even going so far as to kill the innocent so you can live to do it all over again tomorrow.
All of this is to say that Pathologic 2 is bleak, melancholic, and distressing in a way which few games ever have the courage to be. Many developers hold their punches: they'll depict a post-apocalyptic or ruined world yet make survival a non-issue, because they have divorced game mechanics from their story. I'll never be strapped for resources in Fallout: New Vegas unless I consciously make the decision to play on survival mode. As long as I continue to persevere through the enemies of Dark Souls, I will eventually be rewarded with a much-coveted victory. Failure in Pathologic 2 matters, and sometimes isn't even felt until hours after the fact. Situations can and will rapidly spiral from bad to worse, continually leaving you in a position where every action you take is done so you can "catch up." It marries the bleak atmosphere to the game design itself, and every element which make up its mechanics — from its survival elements to its bartering/buying system — are locked in a perpetual dance which players must continually acknowledge and navigate through.
This game is by no means for everyone; rather, I think this game might not be for MOST people. Some people will simply see its survival mechanics as too daunting or too insurmountable for their enjoyment. They may find themselves turned off by the flowery and dramatic diction of its many characters. They may see its theatrical trappings and seemingly malicious atmosphere as being too much to bear. And that's completely okay, because games like these which so boldly put their best foot forward and present an uncompromising vision are what make this medium so special. Pathologic 2 is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, a very respectable second-look at what was originally a captivating concept marred by technological and gameplay shortcomings (Pathologic Classic) and an art game which specifies the "game" portion just as much as it does the "art." And I will never forget it.
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