29 September, 2009

Pathologic - First Impressions

Preface: My good friend stumbled upon a review of a Russian action/adventure PC game titled Pathologic which intrigued him, I presume, due to the unique gameplay approach which strives for realism (you have to mind hunger/exhaustion etc. to stay alive), and for the fact that the decisions you make and the actions you take allegedly guide the story, and ultimately determine whether or not you survive and/or are victorious by the end. The game is also apparently horror-themed, and knowing my love of horror, plus my interest in games (or anything, really) that step outside of established paradigms to deliver a fresh and unique experience, my friend recommended the title to me. I was indeed also intrigued, and I decided to give it a try. Therefore, though I heard enough details to get me interested, I opted out of reading the review in order to avoid spoiling the plot/gaming experience. In other words, I'm not entirely sure what this game is about or just what it is I'm getting into. But that's what playing is for.

***From here on out, spoilers are inevitable.***

So, the game starts with a minimum of exposition. After a cryptic dialogue (which I presume - or at least hope - will make more sense later on when I know just what is going on) between what I presume to be the three main characters, you have a choice of which of those three you want to play as. The first is the Bachelor, which I guess is just a nickname. From what I've discovered, he's some kind of medical student interested in the study of death (or more specifically, how to defeat death). The second character is some kind of doctor, although he sounds more like a shaman of sorts. The third character is a mysterious girl who is not playable on the first run-through.

I made the mistake of trying to be "interesting" by picking the second character instead of the first, but quickly learned the error of my ways. In that scenario, you start the game just after getting beaten up, and thus at very low health, with wounds that will kill you if you don't heal them in a timely fashion, and a bad reputation, which means that most of the townsfolk will attack you on sight. Combined with having no clue of how the game works, and how to do simple things like, oh, put on a bandage, or hell, even throw a punch, it's little more than a death sentence. So I went back, and decided to be a good newbie, and picked the Bachelor.

The Bachelor arrives in town to study a man who, hailed as a sorceror by the locals, is said to be some kind of immortal. Unfortunately, this undying magician turns up dead the morning I arrive to meet him. So far, the game has consisted of me running around town getting to know the locals, and basically acting as an independent investigator trying to figure out just what happened. I don't know if it's the translation, or just the mystery of the game, but I'm having a slow time piecing things together. Like, how the town is supposed to be organized, what the hell the giant building is on the east edge of the map, what they mean when they refer to The Steppe (is that just like, a generic "wilderness beyond the outskirts of town", or is it a specific place?), etc. And I hear mention of certain things that get me wondering, like clay beasts, and child thieves, and who knows what all.

Well, I talked to one person, a clairvoyant, who explained to me about "adherents". In the town there's a certain number of Persons of Considerable Importance (as opposed to the nameless townsfolk wandering the streets), who will apparently live or die through the course of the game (and likely based on my actions). For those of them who are my "adherents", it is apparently in my best interest for them to live. Although, I have been warned that some of them may have objectives that conflict with my own, in which case their survival to the end may interfere with my victory. Yeah, I don't completely understand it, either, but I'm only getting started.

While I was off on a "side quest" of sorts which I sort of regret doing, for two reasons (1: the quiet girl who I was told works at the cemetery was 'in absentia', and 2: the graveyard diggers practically robbed me of the entirety of my pocket money (and then some, since I had to sell some stuff to meet their fee)), I noted with pleasure the change in weather. It started raining, then harder, and then lightning started, and later on, the rain stopped. That was pretty cool.

I have yet to really experience much change in the way of day/night, as the game starts in the morning, and where I left off was some time still in the evening (it wasn't yet dark, at least). I feel a little pressed for time, though, as a note in my "diary" mentions that it is imperative that I come face to face with the supposed "killer" (of the supposed immortal man I came to study) before the end of the day or else I myself will face death. So, I'm kinda rushing to put these pieces together so as not to find myself not waking up next morning. At any rate, the "killer", first presumed to be a murderer, then considered by the more rational to be poison, since the man was allegedly alone at the time of death, is now just beginning to shape up to be an infection, if I've read the clues right (then again, that's what this game is supposed to be about...I think).

I managed to get through the day without eating anything, and I didn't get hurt (except the one time I was playing in some ruins and slipped from a medium height...), seeing as I have a good reputation (thus nobody is attacking me). I started getting exhausted around the afternoon, so I took a one hour nap in a bed in a private residence (those are, I am told, the rules) which rested me up for some further sleuthing. I'm sure I'll have more to say about these interesting elements of the gameplay as I get to know them better.

More to come.

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