- January 30th, 2011
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DAY 6: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
It is on Day 6 that the true, startling genius of Pathologic becomes evident. It is majestic, beautiful, horrifying and transcendent.
More on that later! Let’s talk about pain for a minute. I’m talking Buddhist monk-level suffering. That is Day 6. Day 6 is reciting the periodic table of elements from memory while a gnome (who is ugly even by gnome standards) maliciously tweezes your pubic hairs one by excruciating one while a minotaur who is hiding under a giant paper bag (but you still know he’s a minotaur underneath it) occasionally yells commands such as “OK NOW BACKWARDS STARTING AT UNUNQUADIUM AND DO NOT SKIP THE ACTINOIDS THIS TIME” and berates you for missing one, even if you didn’t.
Nearly the entire central section of town is infected or closed. It is lousy with knifebums, plague clouds, rats, and worse. Amber plague clouds shaped like death angels assail me. Psychotics with Molotov Cocktails now prowl the streets shoulder-to-shoulder with the knifebums. They all spawn relentlessly. It is impossible to clear a district of their presence. Ammo is far too scarce to waste on them indiscriminately. They pool around the southern districts and near the bridges like clotted filth too large and tenacious to be flushed away. Although town guardsmen spawn in endless numbers as well to fight them, they lose as often or more than they win. They are behind me, in front of me, to all sides of me and they are closing in with each passing second. Reloads and saves in ludicrously small time increments are the rule.
And that’s not even the worst part! There are four quests on Day 6. Three are relatively straightforward but the fourth is a miasma of vagueness, uncertainty and obtuse pedantry. But enough about the dialogue! I will recount the fourth quest last for clarity even though chronologically it starts second.
The first letter I receive is from Rubin. George Kain has a bounty on his head due to the experimenting he has been doing to stop the plague. I have to say it’s pretty intriguing the way many of the characters in the game act in seemingly paradoxical fashion. Most adventure games have good guys and bad guys; rarely are there ostensibly good guys acting in opposition to the efforts of another good guy in combating the game’s antagonist. Indeed characters can switch between antagonist and protagonist during the same quest. Aside from the sheer danger involved in navigating to Rubin from George and back again it is an easy quest resolved by a few dialogues and Rubin rewards me with a white vaccine, which provides complete immunity from the plague for a short period of time.
Spichka, the annoying child thief leader, sends a letter claiming he knows who is spreading the plague as well of this person’s whereabouts. He says the primary carrier of the plague is a Steppe Creature and it is currently skulking about somewhere just south of the Apiary (rather the Abattoir, the giant domed rear portion of the Apiary).
I freely admit the Steppe Creature freaked me out. He has pale skin, black pits for eyes and an ungainly, wobbly neck that undulates uncomfortably – and he is definitely diseased. I take hits to my health every second I am within 10 feet of him. Spichka suggested I blow him away but there is just no way in Hell any quest in Pathologic is that easy, so I try conversing with him. The conversation is disjointed and not very satisfying but the gist of it is that this beast, despite oozing death, is not the town’s Patient Zero. Rather annoyingly, the Quest journal refuses to mark this quest in any other fashion than “Missed the Steppe Beast” although it does register as completed.
The last quest of Day 6 is given after speaking with Vlad Sr. Jr. and Vlad Sr.’s daughter Kapella. It seems suspicion of the Apiary has swelled to critical levels and an angry mob (led by that gimpy doof Var) is preparing to lay siege to it at nightfall. The entrance to the Apiary is a courtyard facing northwest. Some guardsmen are posted but they either refuse to fight or die fairly quickly, as aside from Var (who is actually a tough bastard to kill, requiring two shots from the rifle) there are a handful of arsonists in tow. I remain at range and take them all out with the rifle and loot their corpses. On reflection I realize that Var probably led this charge because his daughter’s diseased body was discovered with her heart torn out just a few blocks from the Apiary. I had to kill him to try to maintain an obviously decaying sense of order in the town. The plague claims victims without even having to infect them.
The main quest of Day 6 is where the true genius of Pathologic reveals itself to me. The Cathedral, which was set up as a safe house against the plague, was deliberately infected resulting in the death of most of the townsfolk who sought refuge within there. Eyewitness accounts can only verify that whoever unleashed the plague in the Cathedral was female, and several incriminating – perhaps too incriminating – personal items of Julia, Lara, Anna, and Ospina were recovered. Alex Saburov and Vlad Olgimsky Sr. naturally suspect the implicated women immediately. As the doctor I am entrusted to recover blood samples from each of the women and examine them under a microscope to see if they appear infected. It seems simple enough, but this is Pathologic and things are much murkier and more convoluted then they appear.
None of the initial accused women turn out to be guilty and were clearly framed by someone (or thing). In fact, Anna points the finger at Klara the Devotress (the third playable character in the game), and Ospina corroborates Anna’s suspicion. Evidently, Klara is currently under the care of Alex and Catherina Saburov. Intrigue!
Conversing with both Alex and his wife Catherina is an exercise in lunacy. Alex admits he had to expel Klara from under his care once he became convinced she wasn’t human. Not worth pointing out at any time prior to me asking him about her, I guess! Worse, I go around to the back of the house where Catherina resides and there’s Klara standing next to her! They are both claiming Klara isn’t the Devotress, that there is a doppleganger of her that is committing all of the evil acts in town. The dialogue in this part of the game is very particular and difficult to follow, and any wrong response choice can break the quest. This is disastrous because the entire quest will register as failed if Klara does not flee to Eve’s house (of all places). Laska is able to point me in the direction of Eve’s place for Klara’s whereabouts – indeed, speaking to Laska is mandatory or else Klara will not materialize there. However, Klara’s blood also turns out to be uninfected, so the entire quest is practically a waste of time – but only practically.
Study this map for a second. The two red hands next to each other are where Alex Saburov and his wife Catherina are. Straight south of their estate across the river is Vlad Olgimsky Sr.’s penis-shaped mansion. The red hand furthest east hovers over Victor Kain’s place (the Cathedral is west of the Kain estate). The red hands to the west of Saburov in the center north part of town are Lara Ravel and Julia Luricheva’s houses. The red hand south and slightly east of Saburov is Anna Angel’s place, and the hands to the east of her place are Ospina’s haunt and Laska’s graveyard domicile. The orange star is Eve’s house, the blue star is Rubin’s lab, the black star is Spichka’s shithole and the yellow star is where that creepy Steppe Creature is skulking about. Last, the dark circle in the south center of town is where Vlad Jr. hides out and the red bars trace where the attack on the Apiary takes place.
Now, it’s not so much how convoluted the quest pathways are in terms of who to visit and when (although that is certainly part of it). It’s the sheer danger involved in traversing any sizable distance coupled with the seemingly arbitrary manner in which pertinent dialogue advances a given quest. The game demands reloads. Realize as well that while in transit from place to place I am always engaging in aggressive Hobonomics…and this is where insanity sets in.
Another facet of the game that I was not aware of until after I had played it for awhile was the care of the Adherents. Adherents are a subset of the game’s more prominent NPCs, different for each of the game’s three playable characters. Now, early in the game before the plague truly breaks out, failure to complete a vital quest resulted in the game just ending and an unceremonious dumping into the Save/Load screen after a scolding cutscene plays. Afterwards, however, the game allows progression even if a quest is failed, but one of the character’s Adherents is sacrificed. Need I even point out that the “true” ending of the game is impossible if any of the Adherents die during the game? I became aware of this acutely during Day 6, as I failed the main quest of Day 6 literally dozens of times.
First it was merely because I ran out of time – or so I thought. When the clock strikes midnight, an unfinished quest is considered failed. However, due to the intricacies of the blood testing quest, I had never actually completed that quest even though I had visited all the relevant people involved. Honestly, I am not entirely certain of what I did wrong that I finally did right. A more involved dialogue with Alex? Getting the sequence with Alex, Catherina and Klara correct at Saburov’s house? Speaking to Klara again after testing her blood? Maybe. Who knows. After so many reloads of the entire day and just parts of it both large and small, it all runs together. So many aborted efforts to get the quest right – like trying to talk to the other accused girls after checking their blood (an act which seems to exert no actual effect on the quest) – coupled with choosing a poor path through the worst parts of town result in a haze of memory concerning what I did and did not actually do. Items I picked up and traded for are reset and changed with nearly every reload. Parts of any of the quests that I did and did not yet do add to the overall confusion. I am afraid to stop playing the game for the night because I just might not remember where I am, what I’ve done, and/or what I am supposed to be doing. Did I talk to you already? So I still need to? Can you help me? Is this for real? What do I do next? Do I have enough ammo left? Did I buy food this time? When will this all end?
Day 6, Pathologic succeeds in approximating the actual feeling of near-complete paranoid despondent insanity. I have never been party to such a thing in a game before. Most adventure games are funhouse slideshows with the occasional cat-out-of-a-closet scare and maybe a short-lived lingering sense of unease from the better games. Pathologic is different. Pathologic is a madness simulator.
I am afraid to play it.
I am afraid to stop playing it.