How to design a survival horror game : Part 2 – Pathologic

Fine wine has it’s limits…

In the last article, we got into some of the theory behind what makes a good, oppressive, frightening survival horror environment. A truly beautiful one, we dusted off some old classics and praised them like they were godsent. Now we will discuss the topic in earnest. Today we praise Pathologic Classic HD by ICE PICK LODGE, a survival horror game like no other. It is a day for celebration for Baskin. Baskin smiles on today, indeed….

What is the scariest game ever created?

Is Pathologic worth playing?

Pathologic is the greatest literary work in the history of humankind, bar none, so far as time has taken us. It is brilliant, devious, multifarious, twisting, winding, oppressive and timely. It’s story of a town consumed by plague speaks to the modern times in quite the most direct manner.

We will now jump right into it…..


(The Greatest Videogame Ever Made)

Pathologic was a confluence of factors so multifarious it defies literary description, it is an experience you need to live through to understand. Like the great Russian Novels, of Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, and the plays of Shakespeare, many things are more poorly written than Pathologic Classic HD. Many are the number.

Pathologic Classic HD, is so well written, it is in a class of it’s own. It is arguably the best novel ever written by human hands, short of the bible, and the dhammapada is not quite as good.

The bible is a good analogue.

Let us detail the plot, in Pathologic, you are a doctor, or a surgeon, or failing that a spirit healer. You must be the doctor (THE BACHELOR) or the surgeon (THE HARUSPEX) first. Before you can unlock, the (DEVOTERESS). The beginner friendly, and easy path, basically easy mode, is to be the bachelor, Daniel Dankofski. So my recommended choice is Artemy Burakh, his path is a lot harder and he is a lot less stupid and full of himself. You will have an easy time as the Bachelor, rampaging through ancestral history, overturning thousand year old graves to look for oil for research on vaccines. As Artemy, we are a little less stupid, Artemy returns home from his studies abroad to discover, three men of the knife, bearing to smarts him. Artemy makes short work of them, which is to say, he almost dies in the introduction to the game, killing his attackers in the process.

Artemy is the clever one

Artemy then stumbles through the deep yellow grass, to the confines of a small sealed warehouse town, avoiding the approach of any men of the knife found wandering, in search of the murderer of these three, family men of enterprise and good character. You burst into Bad Grief’s establishment.

Bad Grief is a seller of the goods of others, and a generous man of the people. He will sell you weapons and items, and buy them as well at a fair price, he is indispensable. But do not expect him to deal with you on anything resembling a straightforward, or honest, or non homicidal set of agendas. Bad Grief is a very good man.

He sends you away on a quest, your prize being a gun, a staple of any shooter, in Pathologic you are better off selling the bullets for food. You meet a doghead teen boy, and discover with disbelief that he is your assassination target, so then when gameplay provides a choice, you let the young man return to his treacherous deeds, and fail the quest, don’t you?

Time management is crucially important

Looks like you wasted valuable time, on that quest, to nowhere, you did not choose to pickup the gun, so you have nothing to show for it but your morality intact, or as pathologic would refer to it, suicidal naivety in need of extraction. Pathologic will go a long way towards making you regret your moral actions, and rewards you for doing the jerk move every time. In one mission, you get a bunch of money to buy bread, so you can give it to some girl who demanded lots of bread for her hospitals, at one point you have all the bread, you’re set for days…. You can just walk away, or do the pointless quest, waste hours of precious time, and end up infected with the plague when you are done.

Yes, I suppose we should discuss that as well. In the entirely fictional and Russian crafted (not state sponsored) universe of ICE PICK LODGE, there is a plague seeping through the city, slowly steadily, grinding like metal jaws, it sits, it grows and seeps into the pours of the city, choking through into the water. Every day the plague becomes worse than the last. The game lasts about 12 days, each day is about 3 or 4 hours of content, depending on how much you sleep. On day 1, everyone is just going about their business, it is a good time to buy lots and lots of bread and guns, because on day 2 the plague is released, and there are shortages. No not toilet paper guys, this isn’t the coof. You will find food, very scarce, and hard to find, you will discover the money you aquired on day 1 is worthless, but the bread you bought with your money is now worth a small king’s random of worthless money. Enough to buy many guns. The best strategy is to scalp items on day 1 and sell half on day 2 (you still need to eat, believe me).

The Plague just gets worse with every passing day

The plague just gets worse, and worse and worse and worse and worse, every day. Every day in Pathologic is worse than the last. But the biggest drop is the panic selling and shortages on day 2, if you survive day 2, and that is far from certain, you are well setup to learn the game enough when you die on day 4, that on your second attempt, you will breeze through to the ending.

This is true SURVIVAL horror, not just…. some bandages and item management puzzles…. In Pathologic, you must manage your health, your hunger, your thirst, your immunity, your infection levels, you must manage your time, mange your friends and kin, complete the quests or abandon them in a timely way, you must sleep or you will die. Basically all the human needs and functions besides romance and love, are covered in Pathologic Classic HD.

By the way, here’s WIRED on Pathologic, so I look better by comparison. 🙂

Managing the needs of your body is difficult

You will find yourself, genuinely panicking from stress, because you cannot find any food. You do not have the money to buy food, and food is expensive, you have no good items to trade for food and the items you have are not in demand at the moment through barter with citizens. You have a gun, worn and half broken, but no bullets. There is no restarting when you die, you go to your last checkpointed save, and this person will not survive the day, they will be losing approximately 4 hours of progress, just to realize that original save wasn’t very carefully crafted was it? Maybe you should have restarted and done a better job, you didn’t get all your good quests done, and you are low on resources, you will be in trouble soon.

We haven’t even gotten into the town patriarchs. There is Alexander Saburov, who of course is not starting the plague himself, because he enjoys martial law, not at all, this is Alexander Saburov, he is different. You foolish people, he would say, so entrenched in our machinations you cannot even see up and realize who has done this to you. In an ancient Chinese curse it once was issued as a threat to a fool;


Russia and China are allies, I find it somewhat sad that this Russian masterpiece never made it’s way over to China, due to their sensible policy of censorship. This game just isn’t for sale in China, no wait…. yes it is, they have steam there, I even remember hearing about a mandarin translation.

My apologies, they have Pathologic in China, it is not vulgar or anything. Anyway, ICE PICK LODGE (not state sponsored) has crafted a really beautiful masterpiece with this game. The fictional town beset by plague, really speaks to the modern day now that I think about it. It is a timely game, and their sequel PATHOLOGIC 2, has much better acting and characters and is worse in every way.

You can learn about the sequel HERE, <——- this way. < < < <

The music is…… good.


Much better.

I used to think it worse,
I suppose I needed to listen to it with new ears.

Incredibly well written

It is so well written, it is mindblowing, it is endless in depth, unquenchable in literary power and spirit, it is the finest work of literature except the books of Baskin. Dostoevsky is terrible, just….. terrible….

The characters are endlessly devious, each one has a distinct personality and set of agendas and they do not often tell you the truth. You will be sent on wild goose chases taking hours of your time for no reason, because someone’s agenda required you out of the way for a while, or they wanted to rob you or something.

Before we continue,

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Anyway back to Baskin’s business.

When I am done praising this game, we have not even scratched the surface, by day 9 the city is a hellscape, most people are infected and must be avoided at all costs, the rests are muggers, and murderers. Soldiers march the street in perpetual martial law, shooting and burning anyone seen infected. The hero soldier, man of the people, I forget his name leads them, you must deal with this man. He is a tyrant who will level artillery on the town if the infection is not healed soon. As Daniel, the bachelor, this seems like a sensible option to preserve the Polyhedron. Artemy a man of the earth, sees the Polyhedron as an abomination to the soil and the people of the steppe. He believes the Polyhedron should be destroyed to save the town. And he has the medicine required to heal them. The DEVOTERESS, wry demon that she is, says neither side is right, and both the town AND the polyhedron can survive, she must simply water the soil with a few lives to sacrifice. If these friends of hers were to die, enough of them, both the POLYHEDRON and THE TOWN will survive.

You decide the fate of the town

It is up to you to decide whose path to follow. It is 30 hours per playthrough, each path is completely different than the other characters in every way, they are DIFFERENT STORIES, with different perspectives and different truths depending on who is looking at the same information.

In one beautiful scene, the bachelor rampages through town, finding a big abominable bull, he is sure is making people sick, so he orders the bull burned. QUEST OVER.

On the Haruspex path, you toil for approximately 4 hours in search of a legendary bull, who will provide enough of the blood you need, to make enough vaccine to heal the entire town 5 times over. You finally arrive at the bull to find this moron has burned it. He mutters some prefunctory excuse, uninterested and uncaring of your lowly endeavors. He is after all the man in charge of the lockdown.

Aglaya Lilich is likely doomed

Oh yes, the town is locked down, there is no entry or exit from the town, until the plague is resolved. Aglaya Lilich the INQUISITOR, has come to town, to murder anyone who looks at her sideways, as she ruthlessly endeavors to fight back the plague at all cost to human life and all bounds of reason unneeded or required in the fulfillment of her tasks and various agendas. She is the puppet of the higher powers in government, and they have no intention of her surviving this intact.

She is fighting for her life,
In her quest to push back the plague,
Victory is impossible,
She knows this.

But she is determined to see things through to a resolution.
And she will bless whatever plan has the best chance of success, be it to destroy the town, or to destroy the polyhedron, or even sprinkle a bit of blood on the ground.

We have not even discussed the plague clouds…..

This game is beyond my ability to recommend, it would take too long and Baskin is tired.

I want to talk to my girlfriend now.

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