4. All The World’s A Stage
At this point, I’ve told you everything about the game’s story and mechanics that I can say without ruining the experience for you. But to help you understand the feel of the game, I think it would be good to talk about one of my favorite things in it. That there? In the picture above? That’s an Executor, and behind him, a Tragedian. Collectively, they are known as the Masks. In a game centered around Threes (three protagonists, three ruling families, three major areas of town), they are the only Two. I know this because they told me so, and while the Executors very rarely tell me anything I want to hear, I’ve never known them to lie.
You see, the Masks understand the true nature of the world you’re living and working in. A game? How dare you think this is a game. No, no – Pathologic is a play. The game opens with the three healers standing on a stage and melodramatically explaining their motivations and personalities through soliloquy. And the masked Executors (that raven skull is a mask…right?) are its tech crew. You never see them moving, but they appear when you need them most – usually, as the first sign of a named NPC’s impending demise. These named NPCs are always among your closest allies. “These people must die because of you,” the Executor preventing your entry into their house explains, “because these are the only people who would die for you”.
And they’re not speaking to the Bachelor, the Haruspex, or the Changeling, none of whom seem to have any idea what they’re on about. They’re talking to the actor playing the character. They’re talking to you.
Giving crucial information that explains everything through an unreliable source is one of my favorite storytelling techniques, and no game has ever done it better than Pathologic. Every night the Masks will put on a short theatrical performance retelling the events of the previous day (customized to the decisions you made.) The Executors, naturally, represent the tragedy you failed to prevent, while the faceless, pathetic Tragedians (described as “placemarker heros”) represent you and your uselessness. Watching them unflinchingly act out the horrible events of the play you wrote is an indescribable feeling.
If all this sounds awesome to you, that’s probably because…
5. It’s The Indie Game We Always Wanted
When I say “we”, I obviously don’t mean everyone – there’s a number of people for whom Pathologic will be too dark, too intense, too unforgiving, and I completely respect that. Schindler’s List is one of the best and most important movies ever made – that doesn’t mean that I enjoy watching it. But for me, I’m always looking for games that make those emotional connections, games that subvert everything we expect a game to be in order to become something greater. I’m talking about things like the beautiful emotional gut-punch that is The Beginner’s Guide, the satirical nihilism of The Stanley Parable, the knowing humor of Undertale, the best RPG about being a terrible RPG. But these are small experiences, and while that’s not bad in and of itself, it’s incredible to learn that they were all outclassed twelve years ago by the staggering ambition of Pathologic. This game takes everything I loved about those experiences and stretches it out to a 70-hour RPG epic.
I’m angry that I didn’t know about this game when it came out, and that it never quite got the level of recognition it deserves. Love it or hate it, this game needs to be part of the public discourse, a talking point in every discussion about the artistic merits of games and gaming. And like I said, right now you can get it for less than four bucks. So if you’ve the stomach for it, and you want to see a game that takes philosophical, thoughtful storyelling to heights you never thought it was possible to achieve in this medium – I urge you, play Pathologic. The actors are all in position, the Executors waiting in the wings. Let the curtain rise.
After twelve days, the game ends.