Pathologic is a very special game. Developed by a small indie team Ice-Pick Lodge, it has a reputation for being unplayable but worth playing at the same time. Embodying paradox and testing the limits of gaming, this cult classic is worth a review or a hundred.
Ice-Pick Lodge: Aesthetics in Service of Meaning
Ice-Pick Lodge is all about deeper meaning. Even the most fanservice-y game by them, The Void, is there to give us things to think about. Yes, the game is full of half-naked ladies (and horrifically disfigured monsters), but that is just aesthetics. The surreal beauty of The Void is there to tell us a story about the nature of creation and art.
The idea of juxtaposing beauty and horror is also something Ice-Pick Lodge like to do. You can simply take a look at their logo to figure out that they enjoy creeping you out. And few things can be as creepy as a first-person plague simulator.
The History of the Original Pathologic: Too Rushed
The original Pathologic was the first game by Ice-Pick Lodge. Announced in 2004, it was released in Russia in 2005. In 2015, while everybody was waiting for the release of the sequel/remake Pathologic 2, Pathologic Classic HD was released with slightly improved graphics and reduced bugs.
In interviews with the developers, it is clear that they view games as a form of art. And art can take a lot of time to become truly fleshed out. The signs of the original Pathologic being rushed are obvious in the way some of the quests are all but copy-pasted. The original Pathologic is also famous for its bugs, which show that the game was far from polished. The graphics are clunky even for 2005, and overall, the developers stated that they were not satisfied and wanted another shot at the same storyline. And so, the idea of Pathologic 2 was born.
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Pathologic 2 is not the same old Pathologic. It is still challenging, but this time, it is playable. It is less buggy, more beautiful, and the sound design is still amazing! The story is different, though; it is a new play based on the original scenario. There is also a demo, Pathologic Two: Marble Nest (the title is a reference to another game by Ice-Pick Lodge) with a completely different plot. Over the course of its development, Pathologic 2 outgrew the stage of a remake; now, it is a reimagining of the original Pathologic.
With Pathologic 2, Ice-Pick Lodge took their time. The Kickstarter was launched in 2014, but the game was not released until 2019. The developers admit that a lot of people got quite frustrated with the waiting, especially since they only received one-third of the original game: right now, the only playable character in Pathologic 2 is Haruspex, and the original Pathologic offered three playable characters. However, there are plans to add the remaining characters, and the game itself has very positive reviews on Steam because it’s all the ideas of the good old Pathologic with new twists and turns and much better packaging.
Pathologic is challenging, and it is challenged by multiple problems, some of which are clearly the fault of rushed development. But despite its clunky graphics, bugs, and many other limitations, the game managed to become a cult classic. The new version might be a better introduction into the concept of a first-person plague survival simulator, but remember that Pathologic 2 is not equivalent to its predecessor. For a deeper dive into Pathologic’s unique, confusing but inspired mechanics,