I am a sucker for games that are cruel. Who knows, maybe I am a sadists, but I like games that give you hard choices, and then actually deliver a punishment for that choice. I also really like games that give you too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Games that force you to pick and choose, while showing you there is way more you could be seeing create a realistic atmosphere I love.
Add that sense of meaningful choice to the black plague, with a hint of Neil Gaiman, and I’d say you’s have arrived pretty close to Ice-Pick Lodge’s Pathologic.
A mysterious and deadly disease breaks out in a remote town built upon old tanneries and butcheries. Whilst the disease can be identified by physical symptoms, its roots and origins remain mysterious. The disease is highly infectious and deadly. It affects the neural and the blood-circulating systems, crippling both body and mind.
To fight the epidemic the local authorities first send a learned doctor, then an inquisitor ordered to assess the situation, then a military commander. The first has to investigate the disease and find an optimal solution; the second has to save as many lives as possible while executing said solution; the third has the right to exterminate the whole Town should the others run out of options.
Along with the authorities’ agents two volunteers find their way through the Town along with the learned doctor, who goes by the name of The Bachelor. One of them, The Changeling, is a strange girl who believes she can heal with her hands, and the other, The Haruspex, is a talented amateur who’s fond of experimental surgery.
This is the setting for this RPG adventure that I can be sure is going to punish us for every call we make. There’s also something about the pseudo-tribal and yet strangely Victorian aesthetic present it what few bit of video or gameplay we’ve seen that really endears the game to me. It’s creepy enough to be unsettling, but not quite creepy enough to evoke horror right off the back. As said, very much like something you’d see in Neverwhere, Mirrormask, or even Zenoclash.
However, it is the idea of many arching and impactful choices, with significant consequences that really attracted me to Pathologic and convinced me word of this project needed to be spread.
I mean, look at this flow chart:
The plot of Pathologic is broken down into twelve days, each of them carrying new stories, quests, and events. Time flows mercilessly: if you fail to finish a task when it’s due, the opportunity is lost—as are human lives. You are completely free to roam and explore the Town, bartering, talking to strangers and generally surviving (which is hard enough to begin with and becomes harder and harder as time goes by and the Sand Plague becomes more and more deadly).
You’ll have to keep your body healthy. The hero needs to eat and sleep, to take care of their immune system—it’s the only thing that can preserve them from being infected with the Plague. To do all that, you’ll need resources (fresh water, bandages, bullets; even bread and coffee beans!), and procuring them in the Town torn apart by the epidemic is not an easy task: inflation and panic will try to strip you naked, making merchants greedy and townsfolk suspicious. You’ll have to be creative while bartering, try to avoid fights, even scavenge infected houses, and you’ll still feel hard-pressed for stuff.
But your scariest enemy is not a bandit armed to his teeth, but rather the disease itself. Man can kill man, but the Plague slowly kills the whole Town, devouring it district by district. So the sick will come to you begging you to save them… and exposing you to the infection. Is compassion still possible even when it puts you in direct danger?
After the district is ravaged by the disease, muggers and looters find their way there. They are searching for food, weapons, perhaps even clothing—in other words, for resources you desperately need to survive (or are you perhaps a marauder yourself?). And the Plague hides everywhere—in every man and woman, in every object—waiting to strike where it hurts most.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was damn intrigued, and it seems more than a few other people are as well: at the time of writing, Patholgic’s Kickstarter has raised $167,807: 67% of its funding goal, and the entire thing still has 28 days to go! It is undoubtedly an ambitious project, but it is one that I’ll be eagerly awaiting.