Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pathologic: Day 0.5: In which Kevin is almost reduced to tears by a videogame, then dies of starvation

Pathologic does not mess around. Within two minutes of clicking on the Haruspicus at the character selection screen, I watch my character, Artemiy Burakh, kill four men and fatally wound a fifth after they ambush him at a railroad station. When he wakes up in the weeds the next morning, a cloaked, bird-headed person called an Executor (below) informs Artemiy that he is close to bleeding to death from his injuries. Also, everybody in the neighboring town knows that he killed those men, and they would be perfectly happy to hasten his death.

Let’s back up a bit. A “Haruspicus,” as best as I can tell from the translated diary that Artemiy keeps with him, is a combination of an anatomist, shaman, and butcher. Translated another way, the word could mean “Ripper.” Artemiy uses the dead bodies of others to gain knowledge of matters scientific and … otherwise. So it’s understandable that the townspeople would be a little wary of him even if he hadn’t announced his arrival with the killing of five citizens. Never mind that it was self-defense—Artemiy is a Haruspicus.

I discover the depth of their mistrust the hard way when I enter town and the first person to see me tries to murder me with his bare hands.

Keep in mind that I’m five minutes in and am still figuring out how to play the game (since there’s no tutorial).

I quickly learn that I am going to spend a lot of my first day skulking around and avoiding just about everyone. This makes things difficult for two reasons.

1) It takes me forever to travel anywhere. I’ll be walking toward a promising-looking building, but a townsperson suddenly appears between me and my destination so I have to go hide in some bushes until he ambles past.

2) I am tired and hungry. If I get too tired or too hungry, I'll die. I don’t have any food of my own. Everyone in town is much more likely to punch me to death than, say, sell me a hamburger. I’m so desperate that, when I find a lemon in somebody’s trash bin, it qualifies as a feast. On the bright side, I’m able to keep my exertions to a minimum thanks to all of the hiding in bushes that I’m doing, so you know. There’s that.

It doesn’t take long for me to start seriously worrying about how I’m going to make it through the day alive. Unsure of what to do, I decide to check out the creepy-looking Abattoir in the northeast corner of town. On the way there I duck into a back alley to hide from a passerby, only to discover two men trying to assault a woman. Wow, this town really is messed up. I beat them up, expecting a reward or at least gratitude. Instead, she runs off in terror, and I’m left even more tired and hungry than before.

This is when I start to lose it a little bit. I just saved a woman from being raped! Doesn’t that win me at least a little trust from the townspeople? This isn’t fair. I’m getting that shaky, throat-tightening feeling of pure frustration. After checking the men’s bodies for supplies and coming up dry, I think, Screw it. If everyone’s going to hate me for being a Haruspicus, might as well own it. I search the bodies again, only this time I choose to harvest their organs. Maybe I can get some use out of these.

It’s too late. Eventually I figure out what Artemiy needs to do, but the sky is already darkening. Artemiy has been going an entire day on only two hours of rest and no food. I complete the mission given to me by one of the few friends I have and start walking back to let him know. Suddenly, I stumble, then keel over in the middle of a field. Dead.

On the drive home (by that time it was midnight, and I had work the next morning), I was genuinely exhausted. For the first time, I realized just how unforgiving this game was going to be. If I make the wrong decision, Artemiy won’t just miss out on some items or experience points. He will suffer for it.

Pathologic does not mess around.

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