Title: Pathologic Classic HD
Version Tested: PC
Available On: PC
Developer: General Arcade
Publishers: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
Genre: Open World Psychological Horror/FP Macabre Adventure-Mystery
Official Site: https://www.gambitious.com/games/pathologic-classic-hd
Release Date: October 29, 2015
Pathologic Classic HD is a remastered version of the cult classic psychological horror game Pathologic which was released to PCs in 2005. To some, the original Pathologic was a very important game, one that delivered an experience quite unlike anything else available at that time. With its dark story full of the macabre, mysticism and intrigue, set in a twistedly surreal city on the edge of a long, slow death the experience that this game attempts to give you is unlike most other games available. Even today, insofar as its story, the world, and setting are concerned there is still not much else like it.
Pathologic Classic HD is just the sort of thing that I find myself interested in. It is a horror game with few of the common genre trappings as it instead focuses more on attempting to immerse you in its narrative, to slowly envelop you in the madness that inhabits its world. In various ways it attempts to draw you deep within the dizzying spiral that leads to the unsolved mystery at the center of this delusional narrative and it does so in the hopes that by the time you are well within the thick of things that you will be so thoroughly entranced that you will be unable to stop playing until the game is finally through.
Before I continue recounting my experience with this game there is something which I must clarify first. Pathologic Classic HD (which is a strange name. Why didn’t they simply call it Pathologic HD?) as stated above, is a re-master of the original 2005 title. What this means is that the game has been touched up in an attempt to bring it up to 2015 standards, and in this case what that means is that two particular areas of the game have been reworked. The first, which is the part that gets retouched in almost every single re-master, is the graphics, with the other part that was reworked for this re-master being the translation.
To get right to the point of it, what Pathologic needed to bring it into the modern age was a remake, not a remaster and since there is an official remake on the way, there is little need for this game. As I have already mentioned, this game sounded right up my alley, in fact, I had heard of it before and it was on my infinitely long list of games to get to…. one day. So when I booted this up for the first time I had very high hopes. But much like disease which slowly consumes the city I found my excitement for this game, my interest in its story, my intrigue towards its mystery, the novelty of its setting; all of those things slowly left me until all that remained was little else but the will to get this experience over with as fast as possible.
After the mysterious opening cut scene and some banter between our three potential playable characters we are allowed to choose between two of them, with the third one becoming unlockable only after having completed the game with one of the other characters first. And from there it diverges, each character has their own unique backstory and a very specific set of goals to accomplish. The man I chose came to the city to look for an ancient man who was supposedly immortal. My character was searching for a way to beat death and this old man was my last hope. Motivation in hand I was off.
Shortly after my character awoke in the game world I began to encounter problems. In addition to a fair deal of confusing and off-kilter dialogue mixed in with interesting bits of world building I received a request from the woman who had allowed me to spend the night at her home: She had been hearing strange noises outside. If I had a spare minute she wanted me to go check it out. I said sure.
Upon reaching the back of her property, I saw two men huddled by a fire. They explained that they were in dire straits and would just like to sleep here by the fire for the night. I decided then and there that I would play the good guy and allow them this little bit of respite, so I ended the conversation and went to go tell my hostess what was going on.
Upon speaking to her, I found that while there were some dialogue options I had previously left unexplored there was no way to talk to her about these men. So I returned to them. I tried one last time to explore every peaceful dialogue option, but I was only allowed two: end the conversation (resulting in the situation I had just encountered) or start a fight. It seemed pretty obvious, then that the only option I had to complete this “quest” was to kill these men. I had a scalpel with me so I whipped it out and started attacking.
The fight did not go well. I tried various approaches, but still the first half dozen times we fought I died after a few quick jabs. I considered leaving them be, but I persevered and eventually defeated them. I was badly injured, however, so I took some of the drugs I had. I hoped based on their description that they would heal me. They did heal me, but barely. At this point, I was aggravated and I went back inside to inform my hostess of the situation.
I was quite surprised to find that again there was nothing I could say to her. There were no new dialogue options, and thusly no way for me to communicate with her that I had gotten rid of the men in her yard. I decided to tell you about this particular fight because it is fairly indicative of my issues with the game as a whole.
Little is explained, and just when you think you understand something you are proven wrong. The combat is boring and imprecise. There was another instance where I was running behind someone trying to stab them and as soon as I would get the crosshairs lined up they would move and the small distance they had moved was enough to prevent me from stabbing them and so I ran about the town for several minutes continually missing them.
Other mechanics are equally difficult to understand. The game was designed to have survival mechanics be an important part of it. You have a Health, Immunity, Hunger, Exhaustion, and Infection scores which are poorly explained. And then there is the map.
During the game when you speak with someone they will occasionally mark on your map the location of another NPC. This is can be very helpful as while traveling across the town there may be several different objectives, many of which involve talking to different people in an attempt to ferret out bits of information about what is really happening here. But like everything else in this game the map works in some frustratingly unknowable way that cannot be understood. The info displayed on each of these markers will update at random, sometimes after talking to one person and sometimes after a half-day of traveling. This can make it extremely difficult to keep track of what you have done and where you have been.
What makes this all so frustrating is what ties it all together, the dialogue system. You are often running around (at least in my play through) attempting to get information out of people in order to complete your own goals and help save the city. All of the other issues are just a side effect of this. So it becomes extremely agitating when you spend an hour or more of gameplay running across the map from one person to another, attempting to weasel some small piece of information out of their riddle filled paragraphs of dialogue only to find yourself stumped and with no logical place to go next and with no help from any of the menus at your disposal.
Some games are designed to be a challenge. Pathologic Classic HD may want to give this impression but it ultimately feels like a game that was exciting and filled with promise once but is now held back by its aging design and it is now a poor implementation of those ideas. Remastering something does not make it applicable to a modern day audience and whatever intrigue this game may once have held is lost, today. I would only recommend this for people who are really into the original and have a great deal of nostalgia for it. For anyone else who thinks this looks interesting, I urge you, wait for the remake.
- Gameplay: It includes walking from one person to another clue finding, poor combat and stealth, and unexplained mechanics.
- Graphics: A decent enough remaster, it looks o.k. for a game from a decade ago but not good at all by modern standards.
- Sound: The music would be all right if it did not start a new track so abruptly every time it loads a new map, otherwise it is appropriate.
- Presentation: Overall an interesting world with a unique setup but the ancient and incomprehensible gameplay severely hold it back.
Pathologic Classic HD Review
- Macabre and surreal vision of a world wrapped up in madness and death is fairly original, even today.
- Trading children needles and jewelry for bullets is highly amusing.
- Gameplay is slow and plodding in all sectors with confusing and poorly explained mechanics.
- Combat is clumsy and imprecise.
- Objectives are extremely unclear.
- The way the NPC's speak is meant to be poetic but is ultimately confounding.