Ever wonder what that “task failed successfully” meme would look like as a video game? In that case, look no further than Pathologic 2!
This 2019 horror sequel to the original Pathologic is a sequel in the most literal sense: it is full of cool ideas and spooky atmosphere and mired by terrible combat and gameplay. You won’t just be disappointed by the game that you’re playing. You’ll end up haunted by the awesome game that this could have been.
As a player, you have a real countdown hanging over your head in this game. Your simple-sounding task is to survive 12 days. “Survive” is the keyword here, because the town gets scarier and more dangerous by the day.
You’re surrounded by rampant disease, violent thugs, and spectral events that would leave the Ghostbusters shaking in their boots. Make no mistake, this is a survival game in the most literal sense. Survival is a challenge, and it’s one that most players are not up to!
Dying By Meters
Why is it so hard to survive in this game? It all comes down to a variety of health meters.
Basically, you need to keep an eye on meters that measure your hunger, thirst, and overall health. Additional meters measure your exhaustion (you must sleep, but this advances that doomsday clock) and immunity (which helps you ward off disease and pestilence).
Arguably, the biggest issue in the game is the lack of food. Whether you are looting, trading, or even murdering for grub, there’s never enough food to keep your hunger meter high. If you stay hungry, your health deteriorates. And even when you find food, you’re just one night’s sleep away from waking up starving again.
Is this realistic? Sure–food would be one of the first things to run short in a town on the brink of apocalypse. But it makes for an absolutely frustrating gameplay experience.
Choose Your Own Misadventure
On paper, one of the best things about Pathologic 2 is the ability to choose your own adventure. For example, you can try to find out what has happened to your father shortly before you arrived in this spooky town. Or maybe just set out to find out what’s inside some of the creepy gothic architecture that you are surrounded by.
However, this is one of many areas where the game shoots itself in the foot. You have to piece these interesting stories together on your own with little help from the game. And the brutal survivalist design means you’re likely to die (and keep dying) long before you resolve any of these narratives.
Terrible Combat (and Fun Surgery)
Because of roving mobs and other threats, you must occasionally enter into combat. Although in this case, calling it “combat” may be a bit too generous.
Combat is all first-person and mostly revolves around stabbing people to death before they manage to kill you. In execution (no pun intended), combat is slow and unwieldy, and you can’t really see what’s going on.
More fun is the in-game surgery. Your character must periodically use surgical skills to cure townsfolk or even cure yourself. And while these minigames are simply “OK” in terms of fun, they are a welcome relief from the tedious combat.
One of the bright spots in Pathologic 2 comes from the trading system. Your character constantly collects items ranging from knives to body parts. And survival is often a matter of figuring out who you can trade these items to in order to stay alive.
Trading is also an opportunity to boost your reputation. You can trade extra stuff to win someone over. This, along with your dialogue and actions, helps you positively influence your reputation in particular areas. If your rep is too low, someone may refuse to trade with you, and that can literally be a matter of life or death.
A Punishing Save System
At first, the save system in Pathologic 2 just looks a little annoying. Soon, though, you’ll find out it’s one of the most annoying things of all!
With some trial and error, you will eventually discover the ability to save your progress at clocks throughout the town. While this is frustrating for a generation raised on auto-saving, this is only the beginning of your frustration.
Before you can start again from your save, you wake up in a kind of purgatory. There, a creepy guy will hit you with a variety of annoying debuffs. And you get a new one after each death.
That means that on top of the punishing difficulty, you will now come back to life with problems like less health or increased hunger. So, despite the ability to keep playing and progress the story, each respawn becomes more frustrating than the last.
It feels mild compared to the other issues, but one of the biggest annoyances in Pathologic 2 is navigation.
Icons help lead you in the direction of specific goals, but it can be difficult navigating various town streets and landmarks. And the graphics (which are disappointingly murky on top of being deliberately dark) don’t help anything.
“Patience” is one of the few meters that your character doesn’t have. But walking around doomsday town is going to drain your real-life patience well before the 12-day countdown is complete!
Is Pathologic 2 worth playing? Not unless you were an absolute fanatic about the first game. The sequel continues the pattern of wrapping interesting stories and ideas into tedious and annoying gameplay.
There are occasional memorable moments throughout, but you have to slog through many awful bits just to experience the occasional cool stuff. Ultimately, Pathologic 2 is one game you’re better off social distancing yourself from.