How Pathologic 2 Sets a New Standard for Psychological Horror Games

How Pathologic 2 Sets a New Standard for Psychological Horror Games

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror
that attempts to mess with your mental and emotional well-being. It aims to scare you by getting in your head
as opposed to showing a monster or some other tangible threat that you can vaguely understand. Psychological horror isn’t an easy genre
to get right, be it in movies, games, or books, but when a piece of media does successfully
mess with your head, the results can stick with you for a long time, regardless of whether
you want them to or not. For movies, I’d say The Silence of the Lambs
best represents psychological horror. Hannibal Lecter spends much of the movie in
a prison cell and yet he is so unbelievably creepy that he gets in your head even when
he poses no possible physical threat. I don’t tend to read many horror books these
days. I used to, and I remember Stephen King’s
IT being incredibly scary, although I was about 12 or 13 when I read it, and was also
scared of getting changed in the locker room and talking to girls, so it’s not an especially
useful opinion. One piece of Stephen King fiction that really
got in my head was a short story of his called The Jaunt that was initially published back
in 1981, although I read it later in a collection called Skeleton Crew. On the face of it, The Jaunt is a simple story
about a teenage boy traveling with his family from New York City to Mars via teleportation
technology. Teleportation is fairly safe, certainly safer
than standard space travel, but it does require you to be knocked out before the trip. The boy is a bit of a rebel and is determined
to find out what happens if you remain conscious so he doesn’t inhale the knockout gas. I won’t say anymore in case you want to
read it. Somehow, this short story stayed with me for
over 20 years, and this is coming from someone who can’t remember books I read last month. Anyway, I should focus on video games, where
I’m inclined to use Silent Hill as a good example, and more recently there’s SOMA. I might also include The Evil Within and perhaps
FEAR, although I didn’t find that one especially effective as psychological horror. It’s not that I didn’t like the story
or find it scary at times, it’s just it didn’t get in my head in the same way as
the ending of SOMA which hit hard. I don’t consider the mere inclusion of “weird
trippy sh!t” to necessarily mean a game is psychological horror. I think the distinction lies in how much the
game focuses on some other traditional mechanic. Playing FEAR, it’s hard not to be consumed
by the first-person shooter part of it, with the other stuff just a nice way to break up
the pace. In September, I had an itch to play some horror
games, because why do it in October like a normal person, and I ended playing two games
that were tagged as psychological horror in Steam: Pathologic 2 and Blair Witch. While Steam tags aren’t always that reliable,
I do agree that both games fit into the psychological horror category. The developers of Pathologic 2, Ice Pick Lodge,
might not have been aiming for psychological horror first and foremost, but that’s certainly
how the game ended up feeling for me, whereas Blair Witch wanted to fit in that category,
but ended up failing miserably. Regardless of the developer’s intentions,
Pathologic 2 ended up being one of the best representations of psychological horror in
a video game that I’ve ever seen. The game has significant flaws that hold it
being an unequivocally great game, but it’s definitely a very good one. It’s a tricky game to recommend because
even if you consider yourself a fan of horror, you might not be a fan of this particular
approach to horror. Still, I recommend you try it out, especially
if you’re a touch fatigured with all the cookie-cutter AAA open worlds. Whatever its niggles, Pathologic 2 makes a
strong emotional impact. You won’t forget it quickly. Blair Witch, on the other hand, feels exactly
like a cookie-cutter walking simulator, or first-person narrative experience if you prefer,
and not even one of the good ones. The only scary part of Blair Witch ended up
being the thought that I might have spent $30 for it had it not been part of GamePass. Blair Witch is a different type of game from
Pathologic 2, most notably because it’s far more on rails and lacks any notable challenge. That said, Blair Witch and any other game
that really wants to get inside a player’s head and completely mess it up, could stand
to learn some lessons from Pathologic 2. This video will be relatively spoiler-free,
a lot closer to an in-depth review than a critique. That said, Blair Witch is a fairly short game,
and some of its more interesting parts come in at the end, so I can’t leave out late
game stuff entirely. For Pathologic 2, I’ll keep most of the
footage to the first half of my playthrough, although it really is the type of game that
benefits from you going in as blind as possible. Changes to the environment and even basic
game mechanics could be considered spoilers in themselves, and I’m not one of those
guys who is usually that bothered by spoilers. I won’t watch a Dark Souls video review
and then complain in the comments that the video includes footage of Dark Souls. If at any point, Pathologic 2 sounds like
a game you want to play, then stop watching the video and go play it. I received a review copy of Pathologic 2 back
in around May or June and fully intended to play it, but the Witcher videos consumed most
of my time and with every week that passed it looked more and more likely that Pathologic
2 would join my backlog of doom. The game crept back into my consciousness
when I heard talk about how it hadn’t done too well sales-wise and that the DLC of two
new playable characters with their own stories might not get released. This had me tempted to jump in, although I
have to credit Lord Mandalore with the final push I needed to finally boot it up. You probably already know who Mandalore is,
but in case you don’t, he’s a YouTuber with a channel a bit like this one in that
he generally focuses on old games, except his videos are concise and entertaining unlike
whatever the hell mine are. Mandalore has a video on Pathalogic 2 which
I watched a bit of before deciding that I clearly needed to play the game myself. The biggest hurdle when it comes to playing
Pathologic 2 is the name. Despite the 2 in the title, Pathologic 2 is
not a sequel to the first Pathologic or indeed the HD remaster. Instead, it’s kind of a remake of the first
game with some nods back to it for fans of the original, but it does work as a completely
stand-alone product. Naming your remake of a relatively unknown
niche game from 16 years ago as if it’s a sequel seems like a really bad idea from
a marketing perspective, but the game deserves to overcome its odd naming convention. You play as Artemy Burakh, who is returning
to his childhood hometown after receiving a letter from his father, the town doctor,
requesting help. Instead of a hero’s welcome, where you’re
reunited with long-lost friends who ask you to regale them with tales of your scholastic
adventures in faraway lands, the second you step off the train, three people attack you
and you’re forced to kill them in self-defense. It’s basically what happens when I return
to England every Christmas. Those three strangers were after you because
you look a lot like the guy who killed your father, which is how you find out that someone
just killed your father. You’re too late and there won’t be a family
reunion. Although Artemy used to live in this town,
he often feels like just as much a stranger to the town as the player. The layout of the town is described as being
deliberately confusing to navigate so there’s no disconnect between the player’s uncertainty
and the character’s. All in all, it’s easy to settle into the
role of Artemy with little in the way of disconnect. Your first goal is to clear your own name,
or at least put a seed of doubt in people’s minds so that they stop trying to kill you
or imprison you, and then find out who did kill your father. Artemy meets up with a couple of old friends
but they don’t have a lot to say and in the time he’s been away the town has undergone
a few issues to say the least. Your return to town isn’t the focus of everyone’s
attention and for good reason. Once you’ve cleared your name, your focus
becomes figuring out a cure for the plague that is spreading throughout the town, killing
hundreds of people a day. Well, I say that’s the focus, and narratively,
it certainly is. The major missions encourage you to talk to
people who might be able to help with a cure and you’re strongly encouraged to treat
dying patients, even if all you can do is delay the inevitable. However, realistically, your own focus is
on the narrower goal of just trying to stay alive because Pathologic 2 is brutally difficult. At no point during my 30 or so hours with
the game did I ever feel like Ice Pick Lodge actually wanted me to reach the end. The challenge doesn’t have much to do with
combat or reflexes. It’s more akin to a strategy game like Frostpunk
where you constantly manage a limited number of resources and even success feels like failure,
just a slightly lesser degree of failure than there could have been. With one exception that I’ll talk about
later, the challenge in Pathologic 2 is simply maintaining four meters–hunger, thirst, exhaustion,
and immunity–to ensure you stay alive. If you’re tired, you need to sleep, although
beware that while you’re sleeping, you will get increasingly hungry. If you’re hungry, you should eat, but many
foods contain salt, so you’ll get more thirsty by eating them. Thirst is fairly straightforward, although
it’s also linked to stamina, so the thirstier you are the less stamina you have to boost
that painfully slow walking speed. Immunity doesn’t become a thing to worry
about until a few hours have passed, but essentially you must keep your immunity levels topped
up by resting, using immunity boosters, and staying out of infected areas. If the immunity bar reaches zero then you
have a chance of getting infected which in turn starts to eat away at your health. You really don’t want to get infected. Survival meters are in so many games now that
the chances are you’re already familiar with them, but I’ve yet to play a game that
implemented them as well as Pathologic 2. In theory, at least, I can see why games want
to include survival elements through a system of meters. Making the player character do small things
like eat, drink, and sleep, can help with that all-important immersion factor that people
love to bang on about so much, as I did in my video on Metro 2033 actually. However, these systems rarely add much because
the meters become busywork; a distraction from the main game that becomes less and less
relevant the more you play. I can think of way too many games that include
tutorials emphasizing how you must eat, drink, and rest at regular intervals, and sure enough,
those first few hours are a struggle as you scrape up the required gold to pay for a night
in an inn or buy a couple of apples for the road. But then the hours pass and you start collecting
huge amounts of gold to buy fancy new swords and armor, by which point the amounts required
for food, drink, and rest become irrelevant. Fast travel is probably an option, so even
if you do get caught short without food it isn’t a problem. And let’s not forget the almost inevitable
skill tree that provides abilities like greater benefit from eating food or needing less rest
each day. The game that started as a slow-paced, and
hopefully immersive, survival game, soon ends up feeling a lot like another generic open-world
game with nothing to set it apart. The survival mechanics become a chore that
you occasionally remember to deal with. Pathologic 2 takes survival seriously throughout
the entire game. Food is always a scarce resource. Early on, you’re lucky if you can afford
an egg and you will seriously consider eating rotten food. Just as you start to build up a decent amount
of cash, the entire economy gets pulled out from under you and replaced with food stamps,
leaving you feeling like you’re starting from scratch. Water is relatively plentiful early on with
fountains everywhere you look, but you need to keep thirst as low as possible because
of the link to your stamina bar. This means you don’t want to save water
until the meter is nearly full because it hinders your ability to get across town. Once the infection spreads across the town,
the water supply becomes infected and pumps need repairing, which in turn requires a heap
of resources, so before you know it, the once plentiful supply has become rare. Exhaustion is rarely a direct threat. Even though places to sleep are limited, you’re
usually in range of a bed. It’s unlikely you’ll collapse in the street
due to exhaustion. However, managing exhaustion is still crucial
because any time you spend sleeping is time you’re not curing the local residents from
a deadly disease or investigating all the strange goings on that demand your attention. In similar games with survival aspects, the
relevant meters move ridiculously quickly, likely because the game’s own day-night
cycle moves quickly too. Trying to keep on top of all the meters demanding
your attention becomes a plate spinning exercise because the second you’ve made it through
the list once, you have to start from the top again. This obviously becomes tiresome, which is
likely why those survival meters are subtly disregarded the more you play. Pathologic 2 takes place over just 12 days
which will take you at least 25 hours to play through, and as a result, the survival meters
move slowly, largely replicating an actual day-night cycle. You don’t need to eat, drink, or sleep that
often, and when you do, there’s a mild feeling of accomplishment. You can’t relax mind you because Pathologic
2 never lets up. Sure, you don’t have to worry about hunger
for thirty minutes or so but there’s still thirst. And exhaustion. And immunity. And maybe you didn’t acquire that piece
of apple through entirely legitimate means which is going to have consequences and so
on. Pathologic 2’s survival system isn’t just
engaging because it’s hard. I’m sure there are plenty of survival games
that are hard if you up the difficulty enough. Difficulty alone is not what I love about
this game’s take on feeding meters. What’s special about Pathologic 2 is how
well intertwined all the systems are and how, even though it does occasionally offer feelings
of accomplishment, it rarely offers feelings of relief. Pathologic 2’s atmosphere is so oppressive
that even when you’re doing well by most objective measures you’re still punished. If I tried to offer tips to new players they
would all be structured as “you can do x, but this means y will happen.” That might be why I enjoy the sense of discovery
here more than in many other games. Take something obvious like the Father Gascoigne
fight in Bloodborne. If you don’t use the music box, the fight
is much tougher so the obvious tip is to use that box and save yourself the hassle. It’s hard to give tips like that for Pathologic
2 because all options are equally problematic. Normally when given a choice between spending
your hard-earned money to buy what you need or just stealing it, the obvious good choice
is to buy it. Except if you do that you might not be able
to afford an immunity booster to save a young child’s life. Maybe it would have been better to steal what
you needed instead of handing over money to the shop owner. Let’s focus on hunger as an example of how
it can all spiral out of control. The most obvious way to get food would be
to buy it, but you probably won’t have enough money to buy whatever you need from shops. You can find scraps of rotten food in bins,
but that won’t last you long and it deals a slight hit to health when you eat it. You could steal food from someone’s house,
but the residents will know and your reputation in that district will go down. Reputation is a major problem beyond the usual
good and bad ending dilemma. For starters, if people don’t trust you,
they won’t let you into their home in the first place, so you’ll need to break-in,
which means you need lockpicks to even get in the house. Lockpicks are rare and break easily and even
if you do get in, you’ll just become more hated and so on. A low reputation means townsfold won’t trade
with you, which rules out another significant way of getting food and that’s through the
barter system. Most people you speak to have a random scattering
of supplies and things they need, with a specific value attached to each. Children can be a great source of resources
because they place a high value on things like marbles and don’t seem to recognize
the value of painkillers. Children also aren’t allowed sharp metal
objects, so they will usually let them go on the cheap. On the even more niche end of the spectrum,
there are the special merchants who only pop up at night and only take human organs as
payment. As a surgeon, you can perform autopsies on
the dead bodies you find on the streets, but you’ll need a scalpel and they aren’t
cheap. The locals also frown upon the whole illegal
autopsy thing, especially if you have to get creative with the ways in which dead bodies
appear in the first place. This all leads to more damage to your reputation,
which in turn means you’ll become more reliant on that illegal organ market for food because
no one else will trade with you. Low reputation also means you’re more likely
to get attacked on sight, and as I’ll discuss later, this is something you really want to
avoid. So what is the best way to get food? I honestly don’t know. Ripping off kids was generally a good bet,
although I wouldn’t put it beyond the game to have that impact their survival rate without
telling you. All I know is you really don’t want your
reputation to go down and that is genuinely challenging. Even if you do figure out some solid tactics,
the second you settle into a bit of a rhythm, the entire town changes. The spread of the infection makes many resources
scarcer, while also offering new opportunities. For example, you can loot houses in infected
areas without taking a hit to your reputation, although you aren’t the only opportunist
with the same idea. And of course, spending time in infected areas
reduces your immunity and increases your own risk of infection. This constant battle to get everything you
need where every success comes with a least a minor element of failure makes Pathologic
2 an unbelievably tense and suffocating experience and that’s before you worry about the whole
keeping other people alive thing. One of the less satisfying, but still effective,
ways in which Pathologic 2 keeps you on edge is by limiting your ability to save. There’s nothing like the thought of losing
progress, and with it thirty minutes of your time, to keep you on edge. If you’ve watched a lot of my content, you’ll
probably know that this kind of tension isn’t one I’m especially keen on and it typically
feels cheap. There’s a reason most people prefer putting
the clock backs in autumn instead of putting them forward in spring; losing an hour of
your time feels like [email protected] and it’s not how I like to entertain myself. If I really wanted to waste my time doing
the same thing over and over again, I’d talk about Epic Games Store on twitter and
watch the angry replies roll in. Pathologic 2 nearly convinced me of the error
of my ways regarding save points. In fact, at one stage, it did have me convinced. There are just enough save locations that
you can go and save whenever you want, so long as you have the patience and resources
to do so. When I did die, it didn’t bother me all
that much. I could repeat my previous steps and maybe
do things a little more efficiently next time. Each death is an event in itself because when
you die you are kicked back to the theater director who has a few words to say on your
recent performance. Much of the game is framed like a play and
there are even special performances each night that you can watch if you have time. The theater director sends you back to your
most recent save but not before punishing you. In my case, he took a tiny part of my max
health each time. There were threats of more substantial punishments
such as losing my voice or use of my hands, but I strongly suspect most people get the
same treatment. Later on, you can opt to remove these smaller
punishments in exchange for a single more significant one. Death is a big deal and something would be
lost if players just booted up a quick save on each death. The save system also lends more weight to
your choices by eliminating save-scumming, although I have to say, I’ve never felt
less inclined to save scum than I did here. Not only is it a case of “all your options
are terrible,” you also can’t properly understand the consequences of most of your
weird and cryptic decisions until later in the game. It would be like getting a do-over on your
choice of lottery numbers, but the draw hasn’t been made yet. This all might sound like a ringing endorsement
of Pathologic 2’s save system, but unfortunately, I ended up swinging back around to something
closer to my original stance by the end of the game. I think for the first ten hours or so, the
save system Ice Pick Lodge implemented worked rather well, but after that, it did more harm
than good. The reason for this is that in Pathologic
2 you will die one of two types of death; a good death or a bad death. I’m tempted to refer to them as fair and
unfair deaths, but some people get really pissy about that kind of thing, considering
any death that is in some way avoidable to be fair, no matter how bullsh!t. To avoid that nonsense, let’s stick to good
deaths and bad deaths. Good deaths are the ones where you die because
you didn’t have enough food to eat, water to drink, or immunity boosters to keep the
infection away. You can see those deaths coming a mile off
and it’s your job to plan for them. The fact that this is difficult does not make
it unfair. Not being able to quicksave isn’t a huge
deal for these types of deaths because you probably want to replay a decent chunk of
time to ensure you don’t just die again immediately. If you died because you got infected and couldn’t
get a cure in time, the solution is to stay out of infected areas and get an immunity
booster. You can’t rely on getting an immunity booster
from any one particular place, so you need to hunt around for it a bit. You also might not have enough money or have
the goods required to barter for it. The save system works pretty well here. Then there are the bad deaths. These involve a meter that I’ve not discussed
yet; the health meter. Health is affected by, for example, eating
rotten food, being infected, or taking fall damage. It can be boosted with bandages and the like,
or by resting. So far, so simple. The most significant threat to your health
doesn’t come from one of those sources. Instead, it’s from fighting with muggers
and this is the worst part of the entire game. As you wander the streets, certain miscreants
will attack you. Early on, this only happens in the districts
where your reputation is low, but as people become increasingly desperate and the infection
spreads, you’re chances of being attacked go up drastically. Fights also break out between random NPCs
and you can decide whether or not to help. The problem stems from the combat system itself. Regardless of whether you are fistfighting,
using a knife, or a gun, the system is absolutely terrible. There’s a basic block and attack system,
and one on one fights are generally manageable, however, the system falls apart when more
than one enemy is involved. You have no way of knowing where the damage
is coming from or who you will hit, so blocking and attacking start to feel completely random. Early on, this was just an annoyance that
stopped me from enjoying one minor part of the game’s survival system. I’d sometimes take more damage than I liked
from fistfights, but I could get that back by sleeping. You can also run away so long as you have
the stamina, which is just another incentive to not be thirsty all the time. There’s even a way to cheese the fights
a bit by running into another building because no-one ever follows you inside. This also serves as a good motivation for
maintaining a high reputation because it effectively means you have more places to hide. However, once you hit the roughly halfway
mark, the terrible combat system goes from being a boring nuisance to an outright frustration
that can have you ending a play session. As time progresses, you’ll get access to
knives and even guns, although ammo is so rare that you might be reluctant to use them. The enemies have knives too, and with them,
they can slash away your entire health bar in a second. It’s not difficult to get surrounded by
three enemies and die before you’ve even had a chance to draw your own knife. The speed at which you can die is insane,
and this is a game where for the most part, death comes hauntingly slowly. Pathologic 2 is scary when death is an ever-present
threat that you have to struggle against with every passing second. It’s not scary because it kills you without
warning if you happen to walk around the wrong corner at the wrong time. The game might as well crash; it would be
just as satisfying. The problems with the combat system really
hit home for me when I lost about twenty minutes of playtime after I’d headed off to a distant
part of the map that didn’t have a save point, or if it did, I didn’t find it. I hadn’t done anything special or challenging
in that time and it wasn’t possible to have been more efficient with saves, so in that
regard, I’d done everything right. I wandered over to this new region which took
a long time because this game is slow. While over there, I had a bunch of conversations
and then walked back, heading straight for my home base which happened to be the closest
save point. I wasn’t far off when someone ran up with
a knife. Perhaps foolishly, I decided to take them
on because I wasn’t sure I’d make it to a building before getting stabbed in the back. Unfortunately, the shotgun was set up as my
default weapon and it wasn’t loaded. I died before I had a chance to react. Obviously, this death was my fault in the
sense that it was technically avoidable. I could have run or remembered that I didn’t
have any shotgun ammo. But that doesn’t make you feel any better
when you have to repeat the trek across the wasteland there and back, plus go through
all the same conversations again. It’s wasted time with no benefit. This sort of thing happened a lot in the second
half of the game, by which point I had fortunately taken the deal to remove the death penalty. A few weeks after release, Ice Pick Lodge
added in a couple of difficulty modes to make things slightly easier if you want, plus a
bunch of sliders so you can get specific with which aspects of the game you want to be challenging
and which you don’t. Ice Pick Lodge even goes the extra mile and
tells you how important each slider is to the intended experience, so if you like you
can only tweak the less important parts. This is one the best implementations of difficulty
options I’ve ever seen, with one slight exception. No matter what you adjust, Pathologic 2 is
never all that easy. You can’t take away the challenge even if
you want to and it’s clear Ice Pick Lodge wants you to play on the default setting. You even get a round of applause when you
revert back to the default difficulty. When a developer expresses a preferred difficulty
option, my recommendation is usually to go with that one and I’m sticking with that
recommendation here. The suffocating sense of hopelessness is absolutely
crucial to the experience, so you should start with the intended difficulty and only change
it if you can’t progress at that level. The danger of making changes is that it’s
all too easy to keep making things easier and easier every time you get stuck, so it
should be a last resort. You’ll know you’ve found the right difficulty
level when you absolutely dread booting up the game again. If you look forward to playing Pathologic
2, you’re doing something horribly wrong. I did try adjusting the sliders at around
the halfway point to see what difference it would make and I have to admit, I didn’t
notice any huge changes. Perhaps that’s because my gameplay style
had already adjusted for the harder settings so I just kept playing the same way I already
was. Maybe if you start at this lower level, you
don’t develop the same knowledge or skill set, but it’s hard to say for sure. Either way, you can’t make Pathologic 2
into a risk-free walking simulator, and at risk of becoming one of “those people,”
this probably isn’t a bad thing. I’ll talk about the story more soon, but
the summary is that I really enjoyed it, if enjoyed is the right word for a story like
this one. Perhaps “I’m glad I endured it” is more
appropriate. And that’s kind of the point. For me, the story wouldn’t be interesting
without the struggle and the sense that you are enduring suffering. It’s not a story I want to read or passively
experience. The writing can be a little intense at times
and one of the reasons it works is because you often go long stretches of time without
engaging in any important new conversations. If I had just moved from one quest marker
to another the entire game I would have gotten bored quickly. And, after all, Pathologic 2 is a strategy
game of sorts, so the difficulty discussion is different to that with action games which
can favor those who simply have quicker reflexes than those of us who are closer to 40 than
30 and fondly look back on the days where we could… Where was I? Oh yeah, there are difficulty options, but
none of them make the game easy, and that’s probably a good thing, although of course,
if they devs want to remove the challenge entirely then that’s fine with me so long
as it’s optional. Pathologic 2’s difficulty is crucial to
bringing out the psychological horror element because it forces you to watch on helplessly
as everything falls apart around you. I was far more scared by the spread of the
infection and my failure to save innocent people, including many children, than I was
of losing some progress and trying again. I was constantly faced with choosing one person’s
life over another, like doing triage in an emergency room. You can’t save them all, and trying to do
so means sacrificing your own health. Many games let you choose between giving medicine
to an NPC or keeping it for yourself, but let’s be honest, how often do you really
need that medicine? It’s basically free XP. In Pathologic 2, I always kept a couple of
immunity boosters for myself instead of giving them to the townsfolk, again, including children. I wanted a safety net. At the end of each day, you’re shown who
got infected and whether those who were infected managed to survive. More than once, I watched someone get infected
when an immunity booster would have almost certainly saved them had I not kept it for
myself. The one exception to my cruel streak involved
babies. Saving babies from infected houses brings
in generous rewards, but I wasn’t doing it for the reward. Well, not completely. It was mainly to stop the noise of their crying. You can hear it from outside the house and
it’s almost impossible not to go inside to try and save the baby, even though you’re
risking your life doing so. When I did try to ignore the crying, I would
often imagine I could still hear it even when far from the house, as if the game was haunting
me for being so callous. The sound design often torments you like this,
but the crying babies were by far the most extreme method. The music also follows you around like a bad
smell. The soundtrack is good in that it completely
fits the aesthetic; not necessarily good in that you ever want to listen to it again and
with this game that’s probably completely intentional
While we’re on audio, a quick note on the voice acting, which is generally really good. The only weird thing is that they don’t
voice the lines you see on screen. Instead they say completely random things
when you first enter a conversation. It takes a bit of getting used to. I kept reading one thing while listening to
another and ended up not properly taking in either. You get used to it though. Storywise, you need to find your father’s
killer, although as you might expect this does often take a back seat to the plague
that’s killing hundreds every day. And then there’s the weird stuff that you’ve
probably seen a fair bit of on-screen by now. Artemy takes most of this in his stride. You’re not here to understand exactly what’s
going on, explain the supernatural occurrences, or marvel at the non-human creatures. They are there as the backdrop to a bewildering
experience that develops in a town where each district is named and sometimes designed after
the body of a bull. You spend half your time wondering whether
it’s all a dream or a performance piece and the other half wondering whether you care
if it is or not. This is a town where children are the only
ones who have their sh!t together and risk their lives to enter infection areas, creating
maps to help you navigate the deliberately confusing town. There are the nightly theater performances,
where you’re outright told that you’re just part of a performance, and a gravity-defying
tower looming over the town. The weird stuff, like a girl who talks to
the dead, if they are even dead at all, sits alongside the normal stuff, such as employees
on strike at the local factory, as if the game is daring you to question the logic behind
it all. The journal plays a big role in this. There’s no rigid quest structure with missions
divided into mandatory and side quests. Instead, your journal is a series of thought
bubbles, that link together as you get more of the answers, or result in dead ends if
you don’t. While some thoughts are given more prominence
on the screen than others, the seemingly insignificant stuff can end up being crucial. It’s tough to know what you should do at
any given moment and you can’t do it all because of time constraints. Many quests expire if you don’t do them
within a strict time limit that you’re often not told about. You can even miss out on quest rewards if
you don’t collect them promptly. For example, at one point you are given daily
quests to complete at the hospital, like curing a certain number of patients or gathering
organs from local organ donors. A city fund provides rewards if you complete
your duties, but if you don’t swing by to pick up the reward before the end of the day,
it’s assumed that you want your reward distributed amongst the townsfolk. Whatever it is you choose to focus on, the
game rarely assumes you’ve completed or even started other questlines, with most of
the stories operating relatively independently. I was worried that such a bizarre storytelling
structure would result in the game tripping all over itself by the end, but the conclusion
managed to be surprisingly satisfying, even as someone who didn’t understand half of
what was going on or why. I don’t have all the answers or even really
care. Strangely, it doesn’t feel all that important. I’m sure the two DLC storylines will clear
some things up, but they’ll likely introduce their own set of questions too. Pathologic 2 isn’t a game where you’re
ever supposed to have a complete understanding. Characters have a degree of independence which
leads them to lie to you if it suits their own interests instead of just being there
to serve the player. Even if you think you know, you might not
actually know. It’s hard to overstate just how effectively
Pathologic 2 puts you on the edge of despair and keeps you there for hours at a time. Perhaps the best example of how soul-consuming
the survival aspect is can be seen in the things you don’t focus on. There’s a huge tower in the northwest part
of the town. You can’t miss it. It’s weird and alien-looking and is absolutely
the most fascinating part of the environment. I had over 10 hours in the game before I wandered
over there to take a look. I even ignored a couple of optional quests
that would have taken me there. I was so focused on other priorities like
saving the kid who was dying of the plague or trying to keep myself alive that I never
bothered to check out the most fascinating part of the town. You develop a sort of tunnel vision where
instead of being overwhelmed by the number of things you can do like in a typical open-world
game, you just focus on one thing at a time and take a modicum of pleasure from any win
you get, even if it’s as small as eating some bread or diagnosing an illness. And yes, that’s diagnosing an illness, not
curing it, because while you might have the right resources to correctly diagnose the
location of the illness in the patient, you might not have the right treatment on hand. Even if you do have the treatment, all it
does is reduce the chance of the infection killing the patient; it doesn’t cure them. Still, one small step at a time, even if most
of them are backwards. Labeling Pathologic 2 as a psychological horror
game might sound a little odd given that I’ve spent most of this video discussing how important
the survival elements are and there is a sub-genre of horror already devoted to this called,
not surprisingly, survival horror. This could just be a consequence of the games
I’ve chosen to play over the years, but I typically associate survival horror more
with the likes of Resident Evil where the survival aspect is more about a tangible threat
like zombies than the more subtle impact of starving to death. The weird stuff like the reflection creatures
and the strange buildings aren’t enough to make something a psychological horror game,
or at least not a good one, as we’ll see when we look at Blair Witch. Pathologic 2 fits so well into this category
because the survival elements get into your head and bury their way in deep, impacting
your mental and emotional state in a slightly creepy way. Like the protagonist, you start taking the
weirdness in your stride and don’t question the absurd. The daily death toll update forces you to
confront your failures on a regular basis while never celebrating your successes. Just because that immunity booster you gave
little Timmy helped him avoid infection on day four, doesn’t mean he won’t still
get it on day five or six. There’s no such thing as victory and defeat;
just defeat and delayed defeat. Keeping that in mind for 30 or so hours takes
a significant toll. Pathologic 2 didn’t achieve this just by
including survival mechanics and having them be harsh. It’s the way the survival mechanics link
together and continuously affect the story that gives them so much impact. This is perhaps best illustrated by looking
at an example of a game with similar mechanics that doesn’t quite work, and that’s We
Happy Few. First a quick disclosure. I haven’t finished We Happy Few. I’m not reviewing it, just going from what
I have played of it. It didn’t love what I played, but it’s
not beyond redemption either. If someone swore blind that it gets better
after ten hours, I’d have no reason not to believe them. It still runs like sh!t though. Anyway, despite the very different visual
style, We Happy Few has a lot in common with Pathologic 2 and I believe it’s going for
a similar creepy psychological horror vibe. Most notably, We Happy Few has many of the
same survival elements and it wants to elicit that vibe. Right from the start, you’re a wanted man,
much like in Pathologic 2, and there are zones of the town that are dangerous to enter. We Happy Few wants you to feel like you’re
fighting against the odds, trying to survive, while also figuring out what the hell is going
on and maybe helping out the locals as well. The difference is that We Happy Few doesn’t
succeed in pulling this off and too often feels like any old open-world game. You never really feel scared by the challenge
to survive. It might be hard at times, but it’s not
the kind of difficulty that eats away at your soul. Most notably, the survival meters are a bit
of a joke. Keeping those meters full is very much a chore
that you just keep an eye on alongside the main event which is the story, assuming you
play story mode at least. Resources are everywhere. I guess it is possible to be caught short
without a lockpick or crowbar, but even if you do, you know there’s going to be one
nearby, or the resources to make one. Likewise with food and drink. Watching your meter get low is scary in Pathologic
2 because you never know when you’ll next get something to eat. In We Happy Few, you’re never far from food. There’s simply a complete lack of any tension
when it comes to surviving and without that tension, you don’t feel scared. In terms of quest structure, We Happy Few
follows the typical mold of a bunch of mandatory and optional side quests, few of which seem
to be missable. It doesn’t matter if you run low on food
and need to go on a hunting expedition because that NPC will be right there waiting for you
when you return. There also isn’t any doubt or ambiguity
about where to go or what to do. I don’t mind a gentle introduction to crafting
mechanics and things like that, but We Happy Few goes way beyond that. In addition to the ever-present waypoint markers,
the protagonist even speaks out loud and not-so-subtly describes what you should be doing. Both games divide the playspaces into districts
with each having NPCs that react differently to the protagonist based on various factors. In Pathologic 2, those factors are relatively
basic. If you are generous in your trades, run from
fights, and don’t perform autopsies in the street, the citizens react warmly to you. As discussed, it’s not necessarily easy
to balance all this against the other demands the game places on you, but it is relatively
easy to understand and fairly mechanical. It’s video-gamey, if you like. We Happy Few manages to be even more simplistic
than this, merely requiring the player to change clothes to fit in with the locals. You could have the whole town after you, disappear
into a house, rub a stone over your suit to make it look a little worn and then walk out
to see everyone mutter about how you’re just one of them. While you do need certain crafting resources
to pull this off, it isn’t that taxing and once again fits into that category of an annoying
chore, rather than a crucial game mechanic. And then there’s the skill tree, with the
distinction here being that We Happy Few has one and Pathologic 2 doesn’t. I expect the inclusion of a skill tree in
We Happy Few was by default as it’s such a common feature nowadays. The skill tree provides benefits such as more
effective healing items, better buffs, and slower item degradation, so the more you play
the more powerful you become. Power fantasies are fine for many games, but
I’m not convinced it’s a good fit here where there is, at least on the surface, a
focus on survival and horror. That part is obvious, but We Happy Few’s
skill tree and general system of XP and rewards encourage you to take your time and tackle
all the side content. Again, that’s pretty much standard practice. Many games encourage you to engage with the
side content through XP rewards, achievements, and the like, but is it a good fit for a game
with heavy survival aspects? In Pathologic 2, you try to complete side
quests for the good of the town, not for rewards. Best, or perhaps worst, of all, you probably
won’t complete most of the ones you want to do because you’re too busy prioritizing
your own well-being. I’m willing to bet that watching a child
die of a disease you could have cured but opted not to because you desperately needed
some sleep, inflicts a much deeper sense of horror than any of the messed up things you
come across in We Happy Few. Finally, Pathologic 2 does a better job having
both the player and the protagonist on the same level when it comes to knowledge of the
story. Even though the protagonist in Pathologic
2 is familiar with the town, it’s changed a lot from when he lived here, he doesn’t
know many people and he certainly has no clue what’s going on. In We Happy Few, the protagonist has to withhold
a lot of information from the player and it gets slowly drip-fed out over the course of
the story. He knows, he just choose not to share it with
you. Of course We Happy Few isn’t trying to be
exactly the sort of game Pathologic 2 is. It’s clearly not going for the soul-destroying
feeling and that’s fine, but maybe it should. As it stands, We Happy Few just feels like
another game with survival elements tacked on. It’s not brutal enough to be a good survival
game, the combat isn’t engaging enough for an action game, and the story isn’t interesting
enough to push you forward. Ice Pick Lodge deserves a hell of a lot of
credit for understanding how difficulty can enhance the intended experience instead of
being the intended experience or trying to target a particular group of gamers. Unfortunately, being as hard as it is, comes
with the cost of limiting the potential audience and that does seem to have been an issue here
given the rumors of low sales. It’s a shame because Pathologic 2’s difficulty
isn’t designed to frustrate or cause short-term feelings of euphoria when you overcome certain
sections. With Bloodborne, I used to get frustrated
with tough sections and then feel a huge sense of relief, joy, and god only knows what else,
when I overcame those moments. It was a rollercoaster. Pathologic 2 is more like one steep climb
up a mountain with no easy moments and when you get to the top you realize there’s no
cool view to see and you might as well have not bothered. Pathologic 2 didn’t review especially well,
not with mainstream critics at least, and while it’s tempting to see this as a failure
of mainstream games criticism, I think the issue lies a little deeper. First of all, I would only give Pathologic
2 a four out of five myself. It doesn’t run all that well, with slowdown
a regular occurrence when you enter new areas, especially if those areas are infected and
therefore have a bunch of particle effects on screen. There’s also the terrible fighting system
and character animations are pretty laughable. I also found the pacing to be way off in the
final third which dragged on far too long for my tastes. I was ready for the game to be over about
ten hours before it actually was. Pathologic 2 doesn’t earn 5 stars in my
book, but it does earn a bunch of other labels such as interesting and original. Yes, there are a lot of games demanding our
time these days, but how many of them really do anything like Pathologic 2? The problem with the review scores might lie
in how we demand reviewers complete games before reviewing them because I’d argue
that Pathologic 2 isn’t a game that needs to be finished to review. During my playthrough, I got myself into a
complete mess around day 7. I stupidly saved my game while low on health
and infected and there was no way to cure the infection or get more health before I
died. I tried reloading a couple of older saves
but found that I’d dug myself into the hole quite a bit before the actual death and if
I wanted to continue playing I’d have to go back at least two hours of game time. I considered quitting; not necessarily in
frustration or anger, but just because I’d had enough. Pathologic 2 had hit me hard and I’d played
for something like 15 hours already. I had no regrets about playing it and could
have written nearly this entire script without any changes. In the end, I obviously did continue, but
nothing in the rest of the game changed my opinion. If anything, it might have dragged it down
slightly because the first half or two-thirds feel denser and more rewarding. I’m fortunate enough that I can take my
time with reviews, but reviewers are often given the game a week or so before the embargo
and are therefore on a time crunch. Up to the point where it all went wrong, I
would have looked favorably on the game and given a positive review, but if I then had
to restart from an old save and force my way through to the end in a rush to hit a silly
deadline, then yeah, I would have grown to hate the game a bit. Conversely, if I’d been allowed to stop
and review the game after 15 hours, which is a perfectly acceptable runtime for a $35
game, I would have been encouraging everyone to give it a shot with even less hesitation. Because here’s the thing: maybe you don’t
need to complete Pathologic 2. You could just buy it, play it, and stop playing
it when you’ve had enough. There are many games, especially rogue-likes,
where I never make it to the end, but have a great time regardless. Pathologic 2 is a game where nearly every
NPC you meet ends up either dying or getting perilously close to it. Why should the protagonist be any different? How much of a game a reviewer needs to play
has been on my mind a lot lately and I expect to see the line move over the next five years
because the concept of completing a game is starting to become meaningless with so many
games focusing on live service models. Half the time, reviews are out of date the
day a game is released. Anyway, I would encourage you not to be too
put off by the low critical reviews, but also don’t get angry about them, which to be
fair you never really should. It’s more down to a flaw in the review process,
especially at the mainstream publications, than it is any one reviewer. GameSpot might have given Pathologic 2 a five
out of ten, which I can completely understand, but at least it reviewed it which is more
than I can say for many of the big places. I’d be willing to bet the lack of attention
hurt Pathologic 2’s sales more than any average review scores. Then there’s the other horror game I played
this month. As you can tell, I’m not going to talk about
this one for anywhere near as long, because it isn’t anywhere near as interesting. Blair Witch is much more analogous to a walking
simulator or first-person narrative experience if you like, but we know from games like SOMA
that it is still possible to create a psychological horror experience while on a tight leash. You sacrifice a lot of the tension and stakes
in games like this but the story can still haunt you, which should be obvious given that
there is such a thing as horror in film, TV, and books, which require no interaction. Blair Witch fails to do anything interesting
with the structure to add tension, but really the problem is that the story is dull and
certainly not scary. Blair Witch takes place in 1996, two years
after the events of the first movie. I’ve only seen the first one, so to the
extent that there are cool references to the sequels in here, they will be completely lost
on me. Actually, come to think of it, I watched the
original 20 years ago and don’t remember much of it, beyond the whole shaky cam thing. You play as Ellis who goes into the woods
to search for a missing nine-year-old boy with the help of his trusty dog Bullet. There’s already a full search team in there,
but Ellis is desperate to help, having nothing much else to do since he left the police force,
or was maybe put on long-term leave, I’m not too sure. Right from the start, it’s clear that Ellis
is dealing with a few issues of his own, which become evident via tense conversations with
his girlfriend and the sheriff who reluctantly accepts his help on the search so long as
he doesn’t get in the way. If you are a Blair Witch fan, then it’s
worth knowing there isn’t much witch in here. If fact, it’s impossible to escape the feeling
that the license was added to an existing title relatively late in development because
this is largely just a horror story in the woods, with some symbols and a familiar-looking
house. Blair Witch starts strong. The first hour or so consists of light exploration
where you look for clues about the boy’s disappearance. There isn’t a lot to do, but you’d expect
that. It’s setting the scene. The game looks pretty and traipsing around
the woods at night is suitably creepy. Even using the radio and an all-too-familiar
mobile phone feels appropriate and helped pull me into the setting. You command Bullet to look for clues and follow
trails, and of course, you can pet him if you like. When Bullet first got freaked out and refused
to move any further due to the infamous symbol hanging from the trees, I got my hopes up
thinking we might be in for something special. There were no threats at this point or the
potential for failure, but that didn’t matter, I assumed it would ramp up to that, and well,
it does, but in a truly disappointing way. Of course, having the player follow an adorable
dog through the woods is the easy part. The challenge comes in the payoff. Unfortunately, the more Blair Witch tries
to keep the player engaged through gameplay mechanics, the more it fails to do so. It’s a shame because Blair Witch does have
some cool mechanics, it just fails to do anything interesting with them. Take the video camera for example. You find tapes around the environment and
can watch them on the camcorder. If the tape has a red stripe on it, which
is most of them, then watching the tape changes the surrounding environment. For example, let’s say your path forward
is blocked by a fallen tree. Somewhere nearby there’s probably a tape
which shows that tree falling down. If you watch the tape while near the fallen
tree you can watch it fall in real-time or rewind and watch it rise back up. Pausing the tape before the tree has fallen
means the tree is out of your way and you can walk down the path. I love this concept. It’s a cool puzzle idea for a start, and
it also fits in perfectly with the franchise and the game. I suspect most people’s prominent memories
of the Blair Witch films were camcorders so this is a nice way to bring them in. It’s also great for a horror game where
weird sh!t is supposed to be going down anyway. In another example, you watch someone run
through a door, close it behind them and lock it. The door is locked when you first arrive,
but if you stop the tape while the door is still open you can now go through it. The bad news is that this is about the extent
of these puzzles. The door trick is repeated multiple times
and the absolute toughest challenge is when you have to pause the video twice to make
it past obstacles. Even that couldn’t be much simpler because
the obstacles in question are right next to each other. I’m not crying out for really difficult
puzzles as such–that would interrupt the flow–but couldn’t they at least be a little
more involved, like having to search for clues in the videos instead of just pausing them
in the correct place. Just combining tricks across multiple videos
would be a good idea. As things stand, when you pick up a tape,
you’re likely already in the correct place to use it and then discard it immediately
after. Other interesting touches include sections
where you can’t look directly at the enemies and must use markers on the floor to navigate
around which you can only see when you look through the video camera. It’s another neat idea, but you end up just
following a white line around which ironically makes navigation easier and less tense because
you always know where you’re going and there won’t be jump scares because you’re just
looking at a black and white image in the camera. Even some cheap tricks like having the camera
battery get low and the display flicker might have added a bit of tension. I’m also a little sad to say that your relationship
with Bullet is another one of those things that feels underbaked. I liked sending him off to find clues or giving
him a pet or treat as a reward, but it seems like he was supposed to play a bigger role. Early on, Ellis has a panic attack of sorts
when Bullet gets too far away and the game tells you to stay close to Bullet at all times. One of the commands has you order Bullet to
stay close, so it seemed like this would be a feature, except I never used it. There’s also a cheap attempt at emotional
manipulation around Bullet which is too obvious for my tastes. Graphics wise, Blair Witch is a bit all over
the place. The environments look decent enough although
there is a lot of aliasing. There’s an excellent visual effect near
the end as the house repairs itself in front of your eyes which is absolutely stunning. On the other hand, one of the major enemy
types is a big ball of leaves which looks like this. As you can tell, I can’t even talk about
what Blair Witch does right without picking on all the problems, and we haven’t even
gotten into the really bad stuff yet. The main one has to be the story and particularly
the ending which is a complete mess. It doesn’t take long to work out what happened
in Ellis’s past to torment him so much, which leads you to think perhaps the rest
of the game will be about overcoming those mental demons, but instead we’re the details
slowing come out until we have the whole picture. There’s no satisfying resolution to any
of it; it just ends. There are multiple different endings, but
I’ll be damned if I can figure out how your actions affect them. I decided to look it up online and apparently
it’s to do with how you look after your dog and whether you defeat the monsters you
come across, and knowing that is actually worse than not knowing. I’m going to have to bring up Pathologic
2 again, but looking at that game, we can consistently see throughout the game the consequences
of our actions and the endings don’t come out of the blue. Not only are Blair Witch’s endings bad and
unsatisfying in their own right, they aren’t a natural conclusion to what came before. The other major problem is the lack of any
tension during the game. You can die in a couple of places, but if
you do the checkpoint system brings you back right before the place where you died, which
really is more of a symptom than a problem. It’s not like I’d rather sludge through
the last ten minutes of walking all over again just for the sake of added tension. A walking simulator with poor checkpointing
is a bad combination. The problem comes in the lack of any other
consequences. Hell, for all I know, the number of times
you die is somehow tied into the ending you get, but that doesn’t add a lot to the experience
if you don’t know about it. Locking the player into the typical walking
simulator experience nearly always leads to these kinds of limitations. It’s why that genre tends to focus on storytelling
over anything more action-oriented. This doesn’t have to be the case of course;
I’ve argued before that What Remains of Edith Finch is an excellent example of the
genre, managing to incorporate gameplay in a way that enhanced the story. However, not every game can meet that high
standard and that’s fine. The most appropriate comparison that comes
to mind for Blair Witch is SOMA. SOMA is an absolutely brilliant game and I
highly recommend you play it. I’m pretty sure it’s been given away free
on a bunch of different platforms so there’s a good chance you already own it. With that in mind, there will be SOMA spoilers
from here on out. Please stop watching the video here if there
is any chance you’ll play SOMA in the future because that game is something special and
its best experienced going in blind. With that out of the way, SOMA is, like Blair
Witch, a walking simulator with a psychological horror spin. Both games ease you into things, starting
off nice and bright and relaxed, before throwing you into darkened environments, with mysterious
beasts to avoid and some light puzzles to solve. The puzzles in SOMA are a little stronger
than those in Blair Witch although they still aren’t a selling point as such. As in Blair Witch, SOMA’s enemies and attempts
at imposing a typical video-game challenge were by far its weakest feature. There were rudimentary stealth sections dotted
around all over the place and, in another similarity with Blair Witch, you had to look
away from enemies to recover. You could die relatively quickly and easily
although you never lost a lot of progress. Perhaps more than in Blair Witch, but not
enough that the act of avoiding enemies was anything more than an annoyance. I reviewed SOMA and gave it four stars, with
probably the main thing holding it back from five stars being the presence of the enemies. I felt that removing them completely, and
leaving the player free to explore the otherwise interesting locations and read all the journal
entries and the like, would have made it a better experience. Just a couple of weeks after reviewing SOMA,
Frictional Games announced that it was patching in a new mode that removed enemies completely,
which just goes to show that I have terrible timing when it comes to playing games from
my backlog. Regardless, you can imagine Frictional Games
went through many of the same discussions as Bloober Team when it came to trying to
add in a threat to a game that didn’t have a combat system of note, or at least not one
that was fun in its own right. Neither game needed one; Frictional Games
realized that and patched it out. It’s a shame Bloober Team didn’t pick
up on this and abandon its own attempts at enemies and fail states. That said, SOMA succeeded spectacularly when
it came to the story which kept me engaged all the way through. Often horror stories, whether they be in a
movie, tv, book, or game form, tend to be less scary the more time passes. You learn more about what’s going on and
start to uncover the main threat. The gradual removal of mystery around the
big bad or whatever the threat is, tends to lessen the stakes somewhat, at least as far
as the horror aspect for the viewer or reader is concerned. SOMA flips that on its head by becoming increasingly
horrifying the more you play and the more you uncover. I would say the scariest reveal comes at the
end, but you can figure it out before that. Still, the tension only increases and the
consequences of your actions become darker and darker. In SOMA, you play as Simon who suffers from
brain damage agrees to undergo an experimental brain operation. He has the brain scan in a somewhat sketchy
looking facility and the next thing he knows, he’s waking up nearly 100 years in the future
in an underwater base as one of the last surviving members of the human race. Most of your time with the game is spent trying
to leave the sub for the Ark to preserve the future of humanity. However, Simon isn’t really Simon, or at
least he’s not the Simon you played as in the intro. His brain scan was downloaded into a new body
and during the course of the game his brain is transferred once again. Of course, to the player, this all happens
instantaneously, and it’s all presented as one continuous story, which in a way it
is. Other brain scans are used when you download
them into robotic bodies to question former members of the crew, although they never last
all that long before dying. At some point, either right at the end, or
shortly before, it dawns on you what the real consequence of all this body-hopping is. Simon isn’t moving from one body to another. His brain scan is copied from one body to
another. You play as the new copy each time and get
to continue the story, but there’s always the previous version who has to live on in
whatever precarious situation you left them in. That also means every time you copied a brain
scan over to a robotic body to ask questions that would help you with a puzzle, you were
bringing someone to life and then killing them. Worst of all, at the end, the game finally
treats you not as the new copy, but as the existing version, leaving you in the sub with
no hope for the future, while a copy of yourself gets to go and live a new life on the Ark. Everything Simon went through was for nothing,
for him at least, as in for that specific version of him. He succeeded in his mission but doesn’t
get to reap any of the benefits. This obviously doesn’t do it justice, you
really need to play the game, but the point is it’s a story that generates discussion
around the nature of these brain scans and what happens to the version that isn’t copied
over. Imagine you were in Simon’s position and
needed a new body. Would you agree to be scanned? A version of you would go off and live in
another body, but you would stay in your own one. You’d be saving a person who doesn’t technically
exist yet. Just the fact that there is something to think
about means SOMA goes far beyond Blair Witch when it comes to the psychological impact
of its story, and it shows that a game can still be scary without jump scares or the
threat of losing progression. SOMA gets into your head and stays there. There isn’t much else to say about Blair
Witch. It isn’t offensively bad; everything works
and for the most part it is coherent, but it doesn’t say or do anything remotely interesting. Pathalogic 2 and Blair Witch were released
for roughly the same price at $35 and $30 respectively, but they offer two very different
experiences. Pathologic 2 is huge the first time around,
and that’s not including the upcoming DLC that will presumably offer at least one major
new experience. Blair Witch is a disappointing 5-hour walk
through the woods; I would have been better off just watching the trilogy, or even going
on a walk through the woods. I wish I could give Pathologic 2 a glowing
review and a whole-hearted recommendation because it is one of those games you want
other people to play, but it is a little held back by its problems such as a slow final
third, poor combat, and shoddy performance. Pathologic 2 doesn’t do much new on the
face of it. Survival mechanics are everywhere now, however,
it’s the way these mechanics fit together and intertwine that helps create a masterful
psychological horror experience that not many games can match. My review comes with some heavy caveats, but
if you can get through the problems, Pathologic 2 should be a memorable experience. With any luck, Pathologic 2 will become an
inspiration for the genre going forward and not a promptly forgotten sidenote in gaming
history. Blair Witch on the other hand, well, that
won’t stick in the memory for long. Okay, I hope you enjoyed this video. If you did, please consider hitting like,
sharing the video, and subscribing if you haven’t already. Hopefully, this video will bring a little
more attention to a game that seems destined to get the hidden gem label stuck on it in
a few years. If there are any similar games that you think
have crept under the radar then feel free to let me know in the comments. As always, for the dedicated among you, I
have a Patreon where you can sign up for a dollar a month which gets you your name in
the credits and a special patreon role in my discord server. The next video won’t be the Witcher 3, but
I’m not exactly sure what it will be. I have a few ideas in mind, so just watch
this space. Alright, until next time. Cheers.

46 thoughts on “How Pathologic 2 Sets a New Standard for Psychological Horror Games

  • I keep seeing Pathologic 2 and thinking, "hmmmmmm ……" , but it also seems like one of those games that's a lot of work and I'm a lazy gamer. Well let's see if I'm convinced after watching.
    P.S. looking forward to that Witcher 3 video too 👍😀

  • Chris, your channel is one of my absolute favorites on Youtube at the moment, and seeing you've uploaded a fuckin 58 minute video about probably the best, most important, and also most overlooked and underappreciated game of our time just filled me with an amazing amount of joy on an otherwise honestly terrible day.

    Thank you for making this (even though I haven't seen it yet), you magnificent bastard. 🙂

  • I played pathologic 1 (HD) and I couldn't stand that downtimes of walking house to house, way too slow of a walking pace. I don't mind a slow paced game but its frustrating. Was I doing something wrong, in the wrong mindframe? Really want to finish it before this game

  • Blair witch got me. Mabey it's because I've been lost in the woods before, so I could relate to it, but it was one of the only games that scared me in a long time.

  • I did try this game but I give up because I felt like it had two layers one of which being the translation which I just could get past I felt like I was missing obvious and basic things

  • I litteraly started playing it yesterday, no way i'm watching this now. But thanks for sharing the love, this game needs it.

  • For a walking simulator, >Observer_ was also quite enjoyable , mostly because of the really strong world-building and oppressive atmosphere that permeates every environment, every person you meet, and every part of the story. The primary gimmick of jacking into people's memories also had some really interesting and surreal sequences associated with it. The big draw for me, though, was the protagonist, Daniel Lazarski, played by Rutger Hauer who comes off as the most affable old man detective. Much like Soma, it could have dialed back on the horror sequences which, while thematic, were also the weakest part of the game, but they were generally pretty short and there were only three to speak of. Either way, I had a lovely time playing it with that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach present throughout the entire game. Only problem being the game was crushed under its own weight at times and froze up for me.

  • "You can buy it, play it and stop when you've had enough."

    I've been telling people to do this with EVERY game for years now. Gamers are so weird with their OCD complex about "finishing" games. Most games have bad endings and are only worth finishing if you're still having a good time. If a game no longer demands your time by being so damned engaging, and you have to force yourself to continue… just don't continue! It's okay! There's no real benefit to beating most games, and in fact most endings drag good games down by how bad they are!

  • Chris I've got to say you are one of the hardest working YouTubers out there. You put out amazing work on a ridiculous schedule.

    Keep up the good work, you deserve loads more subscribers!

  • Soma's "safe mode" doesn't remove enemies, just makes them unable to kill the player. And it wasn't a patch, it's an alternative game mode. Having player sneak by monsters without having a way of fighting them is something that Frictional were doing for years (although there was a combat system in their first game — Penumbra: Overture).
    A quote about "safe mode" from developer's official blog (In the Games of Madness):
    "Why release it now?
    We actually considered releasing something similar at launch, but chose not to because we felt it would make the core intent of the game too unfocused. As people started to say that they really wanted to play the game and experience the philosophical sci-fi narrative, but couldn’t because of the monsters, we started considering doing something about it. People liking the “Wuss Mode” mod was a good sign that we could solve this. However going back to a game you have already completed is not tempting so we put it off.
    What eventually tipped the scales was the Xbox release where we wanted an extra feature to make the launch more interesting. Adding some sort of no-monster mode felt like the best option, and so Safe Mode was born! It also felt like it had been long enough since the original release, and the intended version of the game had been played and evaluated enough. Adding a new play mode wouldn’t be a problem."

  • Good video. I would like to say some things about the "bad" deaths. The combat in Pathologic 2, is really simplistic in mechanical nature, as you stated, and the outcome in terms of how much damage you take and etc. could practically be called random. The thing with a lot of the things in Pathologic 2 is that they are all random to an extent. What you are actually doing in the game using your strategy is manipulating the odds. In a normal playthrough, you are gonna encounter those random elements enough times that you would practically get what is statistically expected of your strategy in the long run, with extremely low odds of being screwed by rng. It is the same with the combat as I stated, if we were to add "skilled" (as in mechanical skill, not strategical) to the fighting, we can add too little and it will just be simplistic and negligible, and if we add too much, then we are adding focus on mechanical skill in a game where such focus doesn't exist anywhere else.
    Now as I said it is like the other systems in the game, and what I mean is that fighting is a trade-off with many different options for manipulating your meters. Health is the obvious meter that goes down in fighting however, there are others that should be taken into consideration as well, which are time, thirst, reputation and even positioning, which isn't a meter, but still important. One important aspect of the fights in pathologic is that they all can be avoided, however, to avoid a fight without taking any damage at all, would take more time. You will need to move through less optimal paths timewise through a district and sometimes even wait for an enemy to pass through a chokepoint. Another important aspect is the stamina and thirst management, you want to have enough stamina when going thought those districts to be able to run away from fights, towards the location you want to get, you can perfectly outrun anyone, with good stamina management, but that again takes more time, and resources in this case. You might want to go for more optimal timewise routes where you sacrifice a bit of health to run past enemies.
    Of course, you can take on the fight itself, but even then you have a lot of different strategical options with different trade-offs. One of the things you can use is the infighting between townsfolk and the criminals themselves, especially if they are militia or military. This can again be used for running away by letting the criminal attack someone else, or even bring the criminal to someone who will help you and let them fight instead. The guards on the infected district areas are perfect for that, which makes it pretty useful to move between infected and abounded districts as you can use the guards for that strategy.
    The last strategy you can use is fighting them head-on, and even now you have trade-offs. You can tank hits using the durability of your clothing, or you might use a weapon instead, costing durability of the weapon and ammo in some cases, and sometimes you can be taking a big risk if the durability of the gun is low, because it is more likely to jam or miss. All of this is connected with the bartering system, and what resources you have available and what you would want to use for the fights if you wanna fight at all. Another important factor is still picking your fights if you are in a rather deserted area with no enemies around using guns is very efficient, however, they create a lot of noise and are likely to attract more criminals. Fighting itself is a trade, where you trade time, health, the durability of items and maybe even ammo for loot, and again time. If you want to loot them, you most likely would want to take their organs as well, which means now you are also trading with your reputation and the durability of your tools. And using your reputation is something you would likely want to do, as reputations go back to normal to each district, as time passes, so you would want to use the bonus reputation you have in time, by either stealing from houses or harvesting organs.
    I want to also make a short note that health is important resource outside of fights as well, as it is the connecting point of all meters. Maxing out the negative meters doesn't kill you, but rather drains your health over time. Because of this, the most efficient strategies are also risky, where you don't always try to keep your meters below maximum, but rather use up your health, as you can regain it later though sleeping. Again this connects to fighting as having less health bears the bigger risk of death, and not only immediate death in a fight, but it may screw your plans, by forcing you to go to sleep earlier than expected, because you lost the resource you were currently using because of the exhausting – health.
    I hope I gave a detailed enough analysis to why fights actually serve a very good system combined with the rest, with interesting trade-offs and choices to play with. I will be happy to elaborate on any of the points given if needed. For anyone who read the whole thing, thanks.

  • Ice-Pick Lodge are my favourite development team, who've made my favourite art of all time. Support them, they deserve all the support in the world!

  • Please review Stygian reign of the old ones, It came out last Thursday, and I’m really enjoying the story, the skill checks, and the atmosphere. It’s turn based but there’s not a ton of combat, and I love the hand drawn world, so far excellent.

  • I disagree that the fighting system is terrible. It's supposed to be almost impossible to win 1 vs 2 fist fights. The enemies must be dangerous to matter, or else they become just nice treasure chests to loot like in many other games. Post plague districts should be more dangerous to cross and loot. The mechanic where enemies topple you is also good because it makes ignoring them harder. Although it's still too easy to avoid and run past them on the street imo. If you're often killed on the street you must be trying to fight too much or be unobservant. Just run past the enemies. Killing them in 1v1 with a good knife/menkhu's finger is not that hard either.

    Also, you can save everybody except Aglaya, you have enough time to complete every quest, the game is not that hard and save scumming is very easy even without quick saves. Bam! 😀

  • If you dont have the nerves and patience for the gameplay design I recommend to at least watch a let's play. It is worth it.

  • Pathologic 2 has quickly become my favourite game of all time (for now at least) and I'm really glad that it's getting more and more attention. I think it's outstanding and incredibly unique. The game truly deserves more recognition and it would be a real shame if the other characters won't be added. Though as it is right now it's still an incredible experience.
    While playing it for the first time I was actually looking forward to launching it each evening and had a lot of "fun". It's incredibly immersive and gripping, I often played far longer than I intended to. And that's a feat very few games managed to pull off over the past few years. Those intense feelings of stress, anxiety and misery are something that I've never experienced in any other game.

    I guess it also somewhat challenges the idea of fun. Being constantly stressed out and feeling like fighting an uphill battle is certainly not fun. But it's also not boring or unengaging. It is incredibly stimulating and keeps you interested. Not fun doesn't mean it's boring, it's just a different kind of stimulation. One where the emotional aspect is different. One can make a similar argument for horror movies/games in general. Most people would agree that terror and fear are not good, positive or desirable emotions. Yet people seek them out and enjoy it.

    I'd also argue that the appeal of Pathologic 2 is not too different from the appeal of films like, let's say, "Schindlers List", "Son of Saul" or "Come and See". Such films are not fun and enjoyable in the common sense, yet people seek them out and appreciate them. "Schindlers List" especially is well known, highly praised and most people who've seen it think it's fantastic. I'd imagine that many people recommend experiencing it and don't regret doing so themselves, even though it makes you feel miserable. I like to think that there's a huge potential audience for this game, people who like films like "Enter the Void", "The Hunt", "Requiem for a Dream" as well as most films by David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier etc. would certainly appreciate what Pathologic 2 does.

    What I also really like about this game is it's implementation of consequences, hard decisions and time as a resource. A lot of games really fail to create urgency and have actual in-game consequences for your actions/inactions. Sometimes you have to make a decision that may have consequences for the narrative, but those are often fairly binary choices with predictable outcomes. And generally those events are unavoidable, you have to make a decision at that point or else the game won't progress. Think of Telltales The Walking Dead. And regarding urgency, often times a games narrative wants you to believe that a situation must be adressed immediately or the world will end. But you can spend the next 50 hours dicking around and picking flowers. Sometimes a situation like this is unavoidable and it also isn't an universally bad thing. But it's pleasantly refreshing to play a game where this actually matters.

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