Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
Release Date: Q4 2005
If you've been paying close attention to the PC game industry recently, you've likely noticed a rise in the number of titles being developed and published in Russia. The Russian industry isn't stagnating at all; developers aren't afraid of taking risks and creating something new, and publishers are generally receptive to these new ideas and willing to put out a product that might never even be considered in the United States. Thankfully, some of these games are making their way to western shores, and one of the more interesting concepts is a game called Pathologic.
I guess if you could classify Pathologic and place it into a genre, you'd call it a First-Person Survival Horror Adventure. There's a lot going on here that isn't apparent from the screenshots. You might falsely dismiss this game as just another first-person shooter or first-person RPG. While it definitely contains elements of both, you can't pin just one of those labels to this unique game. Experiencing Pathologic is really the only way to be able to describe it, and I was fortunate enough to get to play this preview build.
The story follows the saga of one town, built on a Russian steppe around a gigantic slaughterhouse. The town had been flourishing, expanding, and continuing to prosper until the appearance of a mysterious illness. Around the same time, three outsiders arrive in the town: an educated man dispatched by the authorities known as the Bachelor, a surgeon of some renown searching for the heritage of his father known as the Ripper, and a girl who possesses powers and abilities outside of the realm of humans. In the preview build that we received, only the Ripper was playable. Each one of the characters is given several days to solve the mystery of this village and complete their personal quest. The characters that aren't chosen by the player will work independently against the player.
At the start of the game, you've been attacked after some townspeople falsely label you as a murderer. Your initial goals are to stop the bleeding and heal up, find some shelter, and begin searching for your father's heritage. Along the way, you'll stumble into the investigation for the cause of the mysterious illness that begins sweeping the city. Initially, I was a bit confused and wondering what I should do. Through the diary and letters that I'd receive over the course of the game, as well as by speaking to various people I met along the course of my adventure, I came to realize what my next steps should be.
Moving around and interacting with the environment is as easy as it is in any FPS game. The standard WASD controls move you around, while E interacts with doors, people, and other items. Your inventory is portioned into different categories, making things easy to find, and to equip an item or a weapon, it's as simple as clicking on it with the mouse. The city itself is incredibly large, with hundreds of buildings to travel around and explore. The city is teeming with life; people walk around and interact with each other, rob each other, and go about their daily lives. Occasionally you'll come across a fight in progress between several NPCs, which helps add a lot of realism to the title. Your character has several stats that need to be taken care of and maintained. Immunity, health, hunger, fatigue, and reputation are among the things you'll have to keep an eye on in order to operate in peak condition.
The only flaw in the actual gameplay that I noticed so far was the fact that certain conversation options with NPCs caused the conversation to end without explanation, and sometimes I wouldn't be able to start the conversation back up again. There were no goodbyes or parting words from the NPC; whether this is an issue of the preview build or an aspect of the gameplay, I'm not sure. It's also occasionally hard to figure out exactly what you're supposed to do, and the dialogue seems to be a bit convoluted. I'm sure this might be a result of the translation from Russian to English, and hopefully, this will be cleaned up in the final version.
The game has a unique graphical style. Leaves float around the town in the breeze, fires burn, and people wander the city. There are some incredible pieces of drawn artwork to be found on the walls of the houses and on the loading screens. I'd love to own some of those pieces in real life so I really have to complement the artist who came up with the hauntingly beautiful images that can be found throughout the game. The main characters all have a real person that they are modeled after, and the corresponding photograph is shown when you interact with them.
While the character models are generally well done, the average townspeople repeat far too often; you'll see many of the same generic characters walking the streets. As you encounter the sickness, or take damage in combat, your character's vision will blur, helping to make your character feel as vulnerable as a real person. The city is incredibly large and diverse, and it's obvious that there are different sections of town, populated by different types of people. The city will also change over the course of the game, as the town becomes infected more and more by the mysterious illness.
Sound in the game is also proceeding nicely. The voiceovers are done in the Russian language, which adds a lot of atmosphere to the game (at least for a western audience!). Hopefully, they'll retain Russian accents for the final version of the game, as it really helps to make the player feel a bit more isolated and alone in this strange world. The music is also very atmospheric, and changes in tune with the action. In a fight, it grows frantic, adding a sense of urgency to your actions. Dogs howl, wind blows, rain and thunder sound authentic, and so far, the game oozes atmosphere, both graphically and aurally.
I was certainly overwhelmed by my first experience with Pathologic, and I hope that it won't be my last. Ice-Pick Lodge has come up with a unique and mysterious game with a genuinely original concept, and I hope that they'll continue to polish the few rough spots. If they do, they'll have themselves a solid game that'll be a lot of fun to play. Pathologic will be releasing soon in the Motherland, and sometime in the fourth quarter here in the US.
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