- December 8th, 2010
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DAY 1: HOBONOMICS AND WHY I FEAR THE DOWNING SUN
I won’t mince words or piss about: Pathologic is fuckin’ weird, man. It’s a glorious, surreal, haunting, artistic weird, however. Also, it’s a pretty fantastic game after all is said and done. But it’s hard. It’s Siberian winter hard. It’s gnawing-on-tree bark-early-1900s-Ukranian-famine hard. But godammit I love the game, and I love nutty Russian game developers Ice-Pick Lodge for bringing me such heartfelt, hardassed gaming. Adventure gaming was all but dead and Ice-Pick brought it back to life, just so they could kill it with you in it. That’s commitment. That’s what adventure gaming needed.
Day 1 itself begins in Eve Yahn’s house (called The Slough), where I have found room and board (and judging by Eve’s outfit, something more). I have been summoned to this town by a friend and former colleague, Isidor Burakh. He believes a local aristocrat, Simon Kain, has discovered the secret to prolonged – perhaps eternal – life, which is the subject of my own research. Or was, as my own laboratory has recently been shut down. However, Simon has died under mysterious circumstances and Isidor has disappeared. I have to go see Victor Kain, the erstwhile head of the estimable Kain family in the wake of Simon’s death, for further information. Fortunately, the Kains live down the road – one of the few instances where the game doesn’t send me at least halfway across the map.
The first thing I did before starting on my campaign was to save the city map in MS Paint and then draw in where all the dumpsters, ashtrays, and water wagons were located as well as which shops sold food, medicine, or clothing. This of course involved playing a bogus Day 1 and doing nothing involved in the main quest, just marking off the aforementioned landmarks and then restarting. Restarting the game is just part of the process in Pathologic. There is maybe an hour of extra time to screw around with on any given day, and most of that is spent maximizing returns on Hobonomics. Game time runs much faster than real time – I’d say one minute of game time is roughly 10 seconds of real time.
I plot my route to the Kains’ estate and subsequent locations according to what path would take me past the most dumpsters. You see, Pathologic cleverly subverts the old cliché of games making trashcans searchable containers while rarely if ever putting anything of value in them. In this game, commerce begins in the refuse. Thusly, instead of just walking up the road north straightaway, I veer off to the south to score some goodies from the dumpsters nearby. These small detours are allowable within the rigid time constraints the game places upon you, provided they are not too extravagant.
The variety of objects found in the dumpsters and ashtrays is fairly constant – empty bottles, busted watches, needles, rusty straight razors; junk. I like that there’s actually junk in the trash. How novel! But every single item is of value and use, that’s the key. Water bottles can be filled at one of the water wagons scattered about the town. They are traded for bandages and tourniquets with the hobos you see staggering around with demented smiles on their faces. The other junk can be bartered with any child for other items, such as lockpicks and ammunition. I imagine Russian children routinely carry these items so it’s not even a stretch for Ice-Pick.
Some items of note along the way to the Kains. The first thing I saw once departing Eve’s place are two insanely dressed individuals skulking by the gate. I was certain they were going to mug me but no, they serve as a weird in-game tutorial system. They ramble on obtusely about healing and eating and how being nice in certain circumstances earns me something akin to reputation and so forth. Oddly enough, they will even move to the Kains’ estate and hang outside there for part of Day 1.
Although Victor believes Simon was murdered, evidence surfaces slowly that he may have succumbed to a mysterious illness. You’d have to be a complete imbecile not to guess what that mysterious illness turns out to be, but fortunately the game offers far more than that.
Isidor is missing and the Kains aren’t much help. Having picked up the lead to talk to Isidor, I head over to his place. Along the way so as not to waste too much time backtracking, I stop by Lara Ravel’s house and talk to her. She gives me a quest involving finding a secret house where the town’s children like to go and eat medicine and nearly die because that’s what kids do for fun here. Dead children can be so refreshing!
But Isidor is dead too! Guardsmen posted outside his house instruct me to speak to Alexander Saburov about the matter. Alex apparently lives in an abandoned nightclub called The Stem. Alex believes Isidor was killed by his own son, Burakh the Haruspicus. He refers me to Julia, who lives in The Seine. Julia maintains Isidor visited both Simon and Vlad Olgimsky, a town elder and businessman. She mentions a possibly relevant issue at Anna Angel’s house, who lives in The Verbae, and directs me to Vlad Olgimsky, who lives in The Clot. I love this town, it’s so metal.
Anna has a dead person in her house. Because this is Pathologic, I have to make certain that this is an unusual event. Anna asks me to help bury this poor fellow, and in agreeing I am set upon a very time-consuming side quest that feels somewhat unnecessary. But since it involves a graveyard and a demented mutant, I am willing to give it a chance.
In the interests of time constraints I head over across the east river and talk to Vlad Olgimsky. Vlad is a beast of a man and the owner of the Apiary, the town’s enormous food processing plant that dominates the northeastern part of town. It is theorized that the outbreak of whatever sickness (that some call The Sand Plague) manifested itself within the Apiary – which means it could have easily spread throughout the town. Olgimsky is on the outs with his son, Vlad Jr., after he instigated a riot inside the Apiary and forved Vlad Sr. to have it sealed. He also states that Isidor was likely killed by an Apiary butcher. Egads!
Immediately after leaving Olgimsky’s place, things get a bit sweaty. A Morlock runs by like a bat out of Hell and heads down the street. Even in this town that seems odd, so I make chase. He scampers all the way down to the southern end of town, then turns to kill me so I have to shoot him. This cold unflinching act of murder serves as a means for me to discover Vlad Jr’s hideout. That’s just how Pathologic rolls.
Vlad Jr is hunkered down in a shitty little shack, shaking his fist at his father and generally being kind of a twat. He wants you to kill the butcher for a reward but since he’s a douchebag, chances are it’s not the right move. However, his take on the circumstances surrounding Idisor’s death sound much more plausible than his father’s. He saw Isidor last night and it seems to him that Simon died from whatever disease had struck Isidor (as opposed to Isidor dying at the hands of his son). Vlad Jr. feared the Apiary was also infected and instigated the riot to force its closure.
Rubin, Simon’s understudy, will be meeting with Victor Kain at his place to examine the body at 9:00PM. Missing this deadline is a great way to lose the game! The first time I played I missed the Hell out of it, went to sleep and a bizarre cinematic played while an angry Russian voice chewed me out without even the benefit of subtitles and then I awoke in the Save/Load screen.
Knowing that Eve has a better idea for handling the butcher (who she feels is innocent) I head over to her place which fortunately it isn’t too far away from Vlad Jr’s rathole. This affords me the opportunity to dumpster dive and accumulate more items for bartering. Eve refers me to Ospina, an oddball child who is protecting the butcher in his hovel. He can secure the butcher safe passage into the hills outside of town, known as the Steppes. But first I have to help bury the dead guy in Anna’s house, which requires the aid of Luska, the child caretaker of the graveyard. I think it’s pretty funny the way most of the adults in the game just hang out in their bedrooms while all these orphans run the town. It’s like Oliver Twist meets Village of the Damned.
Along the way to the graveyard I make sure to sell enough stuff to have 2000 coins in loose change available. Thanks to Hobonomics, this is not that difficult of a feat. Many items in the game are pretty pricey once sold – selling the things you get by trading junk to the townsfolk adds up quickly. The graveyard rests at the southern edge of town. Depending on what portion of town one is in, a different selection of ambient music plays. The outskirts music is rather haunting and melancholy, so if course it’s my favorite. Laska is not present and the hunchbacked gravedigger who is hiding in the corner scares the bejeezus out of me asks for 2000 coins to bury the body. It is of little consequence to pay as Anna gives a decent reward for my effort. I stock up on food with what money I have since food prices will skyrocket on Day 2.
I meet up with Rubin at Victor Kain’s place. As Day 1 draws to a close I head back to Eve’s place and sleep until midnight, at which point I am notified that the masks (the two freaks who acted as a tutorial earlier) are at the Theater, so I head over there. It’s tricky moving at night because knife-wielding thugs abound and will chase me down and gut me. You see, the game isn’t nearly difficult enough, so these guys have to spawn in after dark to make things worse. Once the streetlights come on I am overcome with an ever-rising sense of panic and dread. I can’t tell you the last time an adventure game filled me with panic and dread! On the way back from the Theater I deliberately run by an innocent townsperson so she will get stabbed and not me. I believe the Ice-Pick guys would high-five me for my clever maneuver.
The first of 12 game days and already I feel Pathologic is delivering on its promise of providing a harrowing experience with legitimate horror. I cannot help but a feel a certain kind of superiority or gaming acumen for learning how to work the game’s economy and play dynamics to a significant advantage, because even with that the game is still a ball-buster and makes me jump nearly effortlessly.