Horror games are not easy to get right, what scares one person may certainly not scare another. Some people love jump scares, while others like psychological horror more. No matter which genre you like however, a horror game is usually at it’s best when you play it without knowing anything about it beforehand. So when my editor asked me to review a game called Pathologic Classic HD, a game that I did not know anything about, I was to intrigued to say no.
Pathologic Classic HD is a survival horror game of the psychological kind. This is apparent from the get go, as the first thing you will experience is a conversation between three people that seems nonsensical at first. After this you walk through a door that lets you choose the main character to play as. There are a total of three characters to choose from: the Bachelor, the Haruspex, and the Changeling, but only the former two are available at first. A small story snippet is given about the two available characters, and as the Haruspex sounded more interesting, I choose him. Little did I know that this was a huge mistake. The Haruspex’s storyline takes the survival part of the game very seriously. Without spoiling the story, some events occur that leave the character wounded and hated by the townspeople at the start of the game. Two NPCs explain that I need to trade rations with children, avoid the adults since they will try to kill me, and leave vague hints on what do next.
While this makes for a great creepy atmosphere it also made me feel like a lost child, as I quickly got confused about where to go to advance the main quest and how to even survive in Pathologic‘s harsh world. After dying several times, I decided to start a new game and play as the Bachelor instead. This was a wise decision, as his adventure explains more about the in-game mechanics while starting the player of on a more linear path at first. This makes it easier to learn how Pathologic Classic HD works mechanically, letting you get into the game’s pace in a more calm manner.
Time moves forward at all times in Pathologic. The player has a unique main quest to tackle each in-game day, and failing to do just that may kill off an NPC who is important in helping the player unravel the mysteries of the game. This, in combination with some neat visual design, helps to create an atmosphere that few horror games manage to muster. Trying to survive through all of the 12 days in the game, while managing resources such as food and trying to figure out the riddles that the townsfolks throw at you, is a task that can be downright creepy at times. The game also doesn’t hold the player’s hand in any way; It forces you to explore at your own whim to make progress. To me, that is a nice thing, since I think that too many modern games don’t allow the player explore the game world by themselves, pointing the them in the right directions at all times.
Pathologic Classic HD is a remaster of a game released in 2005–This shows in more ways that one. Both the environments and characters look ugly at times. The gameplay is also much slower paced than that of modern games, and it often feels like your character is crawling forward instead of walking. On a more positive note, there aren’t that many HUD elements on the screen at one time, and when you browse your inventory or check your quest logs the menus makes sense. The most important thing that Pathologic brings to the table, however, is the storytelling. It sports a story that really challenges your mind with every major dialogue in the game. It is deep and well told, despite some awkward translation issues from the original Russian script.
Many of the things that I have mentioned in the previous paragraph are usually viewed as flaws in most modern video games. The older look of the game, combined with a unique visual design, help to empower the creepy atmosphere at times, and the translation errors make the plot even more cryptic than it already is. It works well, since Pathologic‘s world feesl like an alternate reality of some kind. The controls in the game are also very simple to grasp, as it follows standard mouse + keyboard controls that have been around for many years.
Not everyone will like Pathologic Classic HD. It feels like a game geared towards people that want that old school psychological horror experience. If you accept the way it tells its story, the dated graphics, and don’t mind doing a lot of exploring to find the right path, then you will probably love it. But if all of that is not your cup of tea, you’ll probably hate it. I personally ended up enjoying it, since it challenged my psyche in a way that few games can today, while also making me feel very vulnerable at the same time. It might not have aged all that well in some aspects, but it can be a rewarding experience if you like its unique style. It is very Twin Peaks or Twilight Zone-like, and you really have to enjoy that kind of stuff to enjoy Pathologic Classic HD.
A PC code for Pathologic Classic HD was provided by Gambitious Digital Entertainment for the purpose of this review