In Depth: Pathologic Pt. 12
DAY 12: WE RISE AGAIN FROM ASHES, FROM THE GOOD WE’VE FAILED TO DO
It is Day 12 and the Sand Plague is defeated. OR IS IT? I have no goddamned clue. The town appears clean. Only the military remain at their posts. There are no townsfolk aside from The Adherents and shopkeepers, as the shops are curiously open.
Despite the apparent sterilization of the town, I and some of The Adherents are still infected, the military still stands poised to defend the town and Aglaja is still holding court from the Cathedral. Worst of all, time is not passing as it should. It sticks at times, and sometimes it moves. Why? Why has logic both internal and external to the game eroded to such a seemingly lazy and random extreme? This may be the first game I have played from Ice-Pick Lodge but it seems unlike them. If anything Pathologic feels too deliberate, not less, prior to the final days anyway.
Most of Day 12′s activity revolves around visiting all the Adherents in town – not just the Bachelor’s, but also the Haruspicus’ and the Devotress’. Essentially all the principle NPCs belong to one of the three playable characters as Adherents. Both Klara and Burakh send letters to speak to me and request I save their Adherents and invite one of the two to an impending meeting that I have later with Aglaja and General Bloc. In said letters they list their Adherents and it’s kind of funny because I have no frickin’ clue who some of these people are. Respectively Daniel, Burakh and Klara’s Adherents are called The Utopians, The Termites and The Humbles.
Naturally, I try to save all the Adherents that I can so I spend most of the day visiting everyone. Adherents who are still infected can be cured by using a panacea, of which I have a small handful as I never used them. Actually, there is a lot of shit I never used in the game. I presume playing the other two characters is more challenging and requires more aggressive use of inventory. Otherwise, the game ends up being surprisingly generous by the end, especially in light of the awe-inspiring brutal rigors of the early days. I assumed by Day 8 or so that by Day 12 I would be munching on my last loaf of bread and staggering half-dead and diseased with only my revolver with one or two bullets left in it.
All of my Adherents have something to say and much of it is not only understandable, it’s pretty satisfying and even somewhat bittersweet. Victor and George Kain are both grateful for my help despite the fact that they all feel they have to move to the Inner Sanctum, which essentially means die. Maria is ready to become the town’s new Mistress. Similarly, Vlad Jr. is also thankful and intends to serve as Maria’s counsel. Andrey and Peter have again become tightly bound and Andrey vows to see all of Peter’s designs brought to life. I try to stop by the Theater to speak to Mark Immortal (as he is one of my Adherents) but there is an Executor outside. I assume Mark has fallen sick and needs healing but the Executor says something surprising.
Visit the bottom of the Polyhedron. In doing so I will bear witness to the impossible.
I advise those of you who do not want the ending spoiled to stop reading after this paragraph. Suffice to say the game ends like no other game I have yet played and has more twists than the final episode of Lost, except nowhere near as brain-meltingly retarded. In fact pretend I didn’t even reference Lost, I don’t want its stupidity tarnishing Pathologic by proxy. The game is essentially a form of Russian Stockholm Syndrome mind control torture experiment but let’s not be cruel here.
I’ll preface this part by mentioning that I left key bits of my exposition from earlier days (Day 11 especially) in order to use them here and make the prior days’ entries less spoilery. By Day 12 all interested parties have tipped their hands as to what fate they desire for the town. Truthfully, and this is part of what makes the end of Pathologic so intriguing and brilliant, both make a strong case for their sides based on the evidence at hand.
Maria and the rest of the Kain family believe the town must be destroyed with everyone retreating into the Polyhedron for safety. The magic of the Polyhedron will be able to rebuild the town in a pristine state and (so the Kains say) in a manner much like an utopia. Aglaja feels the only way to save the town is to destroy the Polyhedron. Her reasoning is best illustrated but the final map composite given to me near the end of Day 11:
According to available information gathered on the Polyhedron, its scorpion tail-like foundation is soaked in poison in the form of the Sand Plague. In order for the Polyhedron to stand so seemingly impossible in defiance to gravity, its foundation must run deep into the ground. So deep, in fact, it has run straight into a vein of the Plague, stirring it to life and prompting it to seep upwards through the ground and into the town. The schematics would seem to indicate the foundation moves (or moved) like a giant drill bit. Thus, the town may only be saved through the Polyhedron’s destruction, as its mechanics and magic are the motive forces for the Plague.
Surprisingly, Burakh agrees with Aglaja and likewise feels the town’s only choice for redemption is if the Polyhedron is felled. Oddly, he cites mass production of the panacea as part of his plan, despite admitting he has run out of the ingredients necessary for its synthesis.
Klara has the most intriguing notion on the town’s fate – and least supported by any evidence, of course. She claims she knows how to arrange it so both the Polyhedron and the town may be left intact. Furthermore, she states in no uncertain terms that Aglaja is not to be trusted. In truth (according to Klara) Aglaja is Maria Kain’s sister. She hates and envies Maria because of her power, and seeks to destroy the Polyhedron and thus rob Maria of her main source of power and ability to become the town’s Mistress. She has been sentenced to die by execution when she returns from the town, and this would be her last act of contempt.
General Bloc believes that the town is beyond rescue and must be leveled in order to prevent the Sand Plague from possibly surviving in an inert state and then becoming active again at some point. No doubt that cleaves perfectly with his initial orders in dealing with the town. However, and I find this most curious of all actually, he pledges his full deference to my decision, whatever it may be – unless I refuse to render one, in which case he’ll destroy everything.
Back to the present. I visit the Polyhedron as instructed by the Executor outside the Theater and descend the winding stairs to the very bottom. A small boy and girl are standing here, looking at me in the same plaintive fashion all the town’s children do. I step on the teleportation glyph between them and
I’m standing in a yard. Playground? My perspective is odd. Everything is taller and larger than it ought to be, or I am much smaller. The two children tower over me now. They are playing with a sandcastle. It is Tanathica, the town, with the Polyhedron rendered in crystal looming over it. I turn to speak to the children and say goodbye to my sanity for the rest of the game.
And thusly it is revealed. I am a toy, a doll, brought to sudden life to try to help the town, itself a mere sandcastle. I am a child’s game. More than that, a child’s last game to play as a child. The harbinger of lost childhood.
Vainly, all this is in vain. He is a puppet saving silly dolls in a painted small town.
I depart the company of the Authorities, mere children as so many of the town’s powerful are mere children. I return to the Theater.
The original Executor and Tragedian are there. There words are less comprehensible than those of the Authorities but it’s clear enough. The game’s focus has shifted to beyond the fourth wall. I am addressed as not just the Bachelor, not just a doll, but me, playing the game as the Bachelor. I have to admit I’m more than a little taken aback by the abrupt shifts in scope, a little stunned really. When I first played this part of the game I didn’t really process it at first, because it’s pretty fuckin’ over the top if you don’t mind me saying.
The game’s opening cinematic makes sense now. It shows Klara watching Mishka (an Adherent of Klara’s whom I did not meet untl Day 12) carrying a small body accompanied by Taiya (Mother Order of the Abbatoir) and Spichka. They lay it to rest in a shallow grave (I went to the spot the scene appears to take place in but found nothing). If I had to guess I’d say that was the doll that would become the Bachelor (and/or the Haruspex).
I move on to the Cathedral undaunted. The Bachelor’s dialogue rings true to my own inner voice as it ever has. Whatever artifice the game is or would have me think, I am still going to see it through and save this Godforsaken hamlet if it’s the last thing I do.
Later in the day I am beckoned to appear before Bloc and Aglaja in the Cathedral around 7:00pm and render my decision. My four options as I see them are to save only the town, only the Polyhedron, save both or save neither. By this point of the day I am uncertain. Saving the Polyhedron seems like a safe bet since clearly Aglaja’s wishes are highly suspect…yet it was not her who proved to me that the Polyhedron awoke the Sand Plague. And razing the town seems brutally harsh and not remotely agreeable with what I, a doctor, would wish. Saving both seems impossible but Klara is certain of it, and if I have seen anything from her hands it is strong evidence if not outright proof of her ability to do the impossible. I enter the Cathedral and see something I thought I’d never see, but that will have to wait a moment.
Curiously, both Burakh and Klara are present along with Aglaja, Bloc and Maria. It seems saving all the Adherents grants the ability to have all the principle players present at the climax. Klara confirms that Bloc will only act based on my decision. She says that this is a defiance of the will of the Authorities (the children). He will die for it, but in the end he should be thought of as a noble man. Burakh says no less than that about Aglaja as well. He reminds me all of her critical information regarding the town was discovered by me. Her hatred is simply a facet of the will of the Authorities and not her own, so he claims. Clearly he is in full agreement with her regarding the destruction of the Polyhedron to save the town. Aglaja reiterates the things she has said before. The Polyhedron is a miracle meant to help create a utopia out of the town. But the miracles and utopias cannot persist indefinitely, thus the motion is doomed to failure. Maria is ready and insists the only way to settle matters is to retreat into the Polyhedron and destroy the town. In her eyes it is all part of her rite of ascension to Mistress. In truth, her words ring more convincingly than any others’.
Bloc needs an answer. A decision. I am still unsure of it all. Confounded by the most important decision of the game I wander around the Cathedral. I ascend up the winding staircase to the high balustrade overlooking the Cathedral’s main hall to find another impossible sight.
Eve. Standing near where she must have leapt to her death. A ghost? Maybe, my conversation with her is frustratingly obtuse on this account. She speaks of her death as a miracle, or a miracle as a result of her death. Could it be her death was not “blood sacrifice” as Aglaja so brutally put it, but a critical and brave step in the eventual salvation of the town? Not suicide as such, not murder, but a noble surrender of her physical form to assist in the Kain’s efforts to prepare the town to survive within the Polyhedron. Indeed all the Kains speak of leaving their corporeal form behind them. Perhaps this was a gift to Eve. Access to the Inner Chamber as the Kains refer to it.
Eve’s words ring truer to me than anyone’s. I say my goodbye (I haven’t the heart to say a permanent farewell although I feel it is so) to Eve and return to the tribunal.
The town dies so the miracle, and perhaps even utopia, may persist and flourish. I give my decision to Bloc and he swears to honor it. He will raze the town to its foundation with not so much as a single bullet aimed at the Polyhedron. I return to my familiar bed at Eve’s house and sleep until midnight.
A funny thing happened to me while playing the very end of Day 12. The game kept crashing at midnight, and by crashing I mean it gave my PC (a quadcore with 8GB of RAM and a 1GB GPU) a BSOD no matter how I fiddled with the settings. I tried viewing the movie files in my Pathologic directory. This allowed me to see what I thought were the final respective cinematics for all three characters. The cinematic for the Bachelor details the destruction of the town by Bloc’s forces (and/or the hands of the Authority Children) with the Polyhedron left unmolested and Maria ascending to become Mistress. I had thought that was the ending of the game until I put the finishing touches on this final entry and booted the game up to refresh my memory. For a lark I slept until midnight to see what would happen.
A final scene in the Theater plays. It is of all three of the main characters – the Bachelor, the Haruspicus, and the Devotress – laying on a heap together on stage, with buttons for eyes. The cinematic transitions to an in-game engine rendering and I am now disembodied from the Bachelor. I make for the Theater exit. I open it and am pulled out into a star-filled void. I float away and away.
So Pathologic ends, and I have played only one-third of the game proper. I have played only one-third of the game proper. I kind of cheated and researched the final parts of the game for Burakh and Klara. Unfortunately it will be some time before I subject myself to this game (and from what I understand I will need the fan-made translation mod for Klara, because the translation for her part of the game is even more incomprehensible than the Bachelor’s). Burakh discovered that all the blood from the slaughtered bulls in the Abattoir was drained into the same deep pit and over the years collected into a giant underground lake of blood underneath the town. It was this that the Polyhedron’s tail-like foundation pierced and it was from this that the Sand Plague arose. Thus the Polyhedron must fall. Klara believes that the town and Polyhedron may live on if all the adults die and so it would come to be. However, interestingly enough, the “right” choice depends on which character is being played. For example, as the Bachelor I had to choose destroying the town and saving the Polyhedron.
The reason for this I believe is that the game’s world repeats itself at least twice (for a total of three). The Bachelor or Haruspicus has his destiny, then the other, then the Devotress Klara has hers – the final one. But they are still all just characters in a computer game that I, or you, or anyone who plays Pathologic plays as. The ending of the game is that it is just a game, but the implication is that it is as real to whomever plays it inasmuch as they would like it to be. An old acquaintance of mine pondered issues similar to this and asked some relevant, and rather poignant, questions:
Is a friend in a game still a friend?
Is success in a game still success?
Is failure in a game still failure?
Is anger in a game still anger?
Is fear in a game still fear?
Is death in a game still death?
Some may be able to answers those questions easily; I cannot. Regardless, it takes a lot of chutzpah for a game developer, even a small-time obscure-to-America developer like Ice-Pick Lodge, to have this kind of an ending. It was all a dream! It never really happened! It was a game, after all! It was his autistic child looking in a snow globe! And now you float away into spaaaace! And so on. It may even infuriate some of you to find this out, after all this time, that this was the ending. You may feel cheated by proxy, considering all the time and effort I put into inflicting this game upon myself. I wouldn’t blame you.
However, I cannot count myself among the infuriated or cheated. Why? Games don’t end this way. We are accustomed to winning games, adventure games notoriously. We are not accustomed to having the narrative rug pulled out from under us in such a wild and brazen fashion. This is far too meta. This would never fly in a game developed in North America. I’m not sure how well it would have flown anyway but for the simple fact that the game is balls nasty to play and finish, and deliciously foreign and odd. The entire experience of the game is surreal, why shouldn’t the ending be so as well? It’s certainly not what I was expecting. I don’t think anyone who played it was expecting it. Ice-Pick is asking us what we think of this ending by virtue of it being there to experience, I believe. This is a big part of what makes this game an art game in the truest sense of both words. It expects us to feel something strong and to try to put it into words. It works as an allegory for life and existence, a meta commentary on gaming, and as simply a fully self-contained, amazing story. And it’s a damned fine albeit rugged adventure survival game with impressively interwoven mechanics and game play.
Really though, this is what seals the deal for me in terms of what I think or feel about Pathologic. I thought I’d be sick of it before the end – well before, even, – but even as I finish my final entry on it, I know I will be playing the other two characters at some point. The story is great, and there is yet more to discover in it. I hope you’ll join me then as you have now.