Review: Pathologic Classic HD – Plagued by Mediocrity

Today Pathologic Classic HD has launched, a pre-cursor to developer Ice Pick Lodge’s remake of the 2005 original. Its Kickstarter, which launched September 2014, was the first time I’d ever heard of the game, and my interest was instantly piqued.

I love mysterious diamond-in-the-rough games. Getting past the imperfect exterior and looking past the immediate surface flaws to get at what makes the game special is one of my favorite things. This was an experience I was looking forward to with Pathologic. The art is intriguingly creepy, the premise more so. Pathologic is a “plot-driven survival open-world adventure game” that gives you 12 days to unravel the truth behind a town’s plague outbreak. Along the way you must ensure the survival of a select group of people as well as manage your own basic needs, deciding each day who to help and thus, who lives and dies. The sickness spreads in real time, the town itself warps and shapes its response to you based on every decision you make. The depth of the game’s systems to me sounded like a Bethesda game, albeit a warped and scary one. I found that very appealing.

I came into Pathologic with no expectations and was told, “I’ve heard such good things!” by many people during the review process. Having now played Pathologic, I am baffled by this. In my history of reviewing games I’ve never come across one that I couldn’t find at least one good thing to say about, until I played this one.

Pathologic Classic HD is a remastered version of the 2005 original, and while remastered is a very impressive word, here it seems to mean nothing. During my time with the game I was never able to shake my disappointment with its appearance. The textures are primitive, the character models crude; combined with the monotone voice acting, the effect is shockingly bad. There is such little style or personality to the game, it feels as if it were built from the stock art included with the game engine. The general atmosphere is stark and barren, which is thematically appropriate but completely ruined by the abundance of identical NPCs and bizarre B movie grade music. Even the text was full of distracting errors: misspelled words, jokes that don’t land, and clumsy translation.

Pathologic is largely praised for its story and its “systems”, but with the bad impression it gives from the get-go, good luck finding enjoyment in either. The narrative, hidden as it is behind hostile NPCs, poor voice acting, and shoddy translation, is hard to take an interest in. The systems, built on monitoring your health needs like sleep and food, are primitive and unchallenging. They play so little into the difficulty of the game that they become easy to ignore.

The developers push the element of choice as if it is the most valuable and interesting aspect of the game. But at this point, multiple mission paths are a given feature of many AAA and blockbuster titles; the feature is no longer a novelty. They also place such an emphasis on the importance of every decision that you may find yourself second guessing everything you do until you get nothing done at all. For all the “freedom” you’re supposed to have in this open world environment, it seems you actually have very little.

What should I do next? What about tomorrow? The problem is, I don’t care, and the developers failed to make me care. Between the artificial time constraints, crude appearance, boring resource management systems, uncooperative NPCs, and lack of direction in mission objectives, there is no motivation to invest my interest. The Game Over screen I got on the first day was a relief, not a disappointment.

The game might be enchanting to those who don’t normally play the sort of rough fan-made horror PC mystery games that dominate Desura, as I do. I strongly recommend waiting until the “real” version, the fully remade Pathologic that promises to improve the game systems, NPC AI, and graphics, comes out next year. I will give the game another chance upon the remake’s release.

Pathlogic Classic HD was developed by Ice-Pick Lodge and General Arcade and published by Gambitious Digital Entertainment and released October 29 for PC and retails for $12.99. A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.