Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pathologic: Day One, during which the Haruspicus is to become a wanted criminal instead of a lawful heir

(Or, in which Kevin squeezes a liter of blood out of himself and learns a lesson about hubris)

It’s the start of the first day again. Artemiy Burakh, the Haruspicus, wakes up in the weeds by the train station, again. The Executors inform him of his newfound status as a hunted man, wanted for multiple murders. Again.

Instead of turning left and sneaking around the depot, he walks directly toward the campfire to his right. And that small decision makes the difference between a Haruspicus slowly dying of hunger in the middle of a field and the Haruspicus I’ll be following for the rest of this game. Taking the right-hand path puts me in contact with a crucial character early on, whom I didn’t meet until much later during my abortive initial attempt. It’s a hard lesson in just how much the smallest decision will affect my character’s future, but it’s a lesson well taken.1

The campfire on the right is surrounded by four or five townspeople (which is why I intentionally avoided it on my first attempt), who give chase as soon as I step within the ring of the firelight. I make a break for some warehouses to the east and barely manage to escape by hoisting myself over the fence and ducking inside the nearest building. I turn away from the entrance and find myself surrounded by half a dozen children in the semi-darkness.

It’s not necessarily a safe situation to be in. Children in Pathologic are not innocent lambs wandering through an adult world. They are dour and ruthless, with a special interest in sharp objects like straight-razors and fishhooks. As I will learn over the course of the day, the children of the town have formed two opposing gangs, the Dualsouls and the Dogheads, and all of them—from 6-year-olds to teenagers—are willing to kill each other to survive. Like animals before a storm, they seem to sense the approaching disaster and have even taken to raiding the town’s pharmacies in order to stockpile medicines. One can trade with them to get supplies, but it seems best not to underestimate them or trust them overmuch.

Glower all you want—your clothes still look dumb

The warehouse into which I’ve stumbled is the lair of Notkin, a grim but fair-minded leader in the Dualsouls. He says he doesn’t believe all the horror stories about me that have been circulating, but I have to do him a favor before he’ll trust me completely. I’m so relieved to encounter someone who doesn’t want to lynch me on sight that I agree immediately. So it comes to pass that, less than two hours into the day, I find myself on a mission to kill a traitorous gang member on the orders of a boy who’s not yet old enough to shave.

A few children remain who have not succumbed to the cutthroat mentality of their peers, however, and I encounter one of them, Laska, a bit later in the graveyard to the southeast. She’s tending to one of my attackers from the previous night, who managed to survive my righteous beatdown and drag himself to the cemetery. It’s not clear what this girl is doing hanging around inside a mausoleum all day, but never mind. Laska informs me that the man will die unless he gets a blood transfusion from someone, and I realize that this is my chance to rehabilitate my reputation in town.2

Enter the Humpback.

The Humpback enters
He may look unpleasant, but I have a feeling that this guy is going to be one of my best friends once the quarantine clamps down. He gives me some much-needed food. He also says he will trade health supplies for the internal organs I harvest from bad guys; I politely avoid dwelling on what he might use those organs for. The Humpback offers to prepare a transfusion for me, but he needs some blood to work with first. Not having any in my inventory, I panic until I remember where I can get some: my own veins.

Artemiy: “I’ve decided to squeeze a liter of blood out of myself.”3

I survive the operation (barely—it takes a huge chunk out of my health meter) and limp all the way back to the cemetery on the other side of town, keeping to the alleys and bushes all the way. The transfusion works, my former enemy is eternally grateful, and—finally, at long last, oh thank you Lord—I can walk openly through the streets without worrying that a beefy factory worker will try to stomp a mudhole into my face. Store owners still won’t sell me food, but I’ll take what I can get.

Compared to the twelve hours I’ve spent clinging to life by my fingernails, the rest of the day is uneventful. I make my way to the Clot, a mansion right in the center of town, to speak with a man called “Fat Vlad” Olgimskiy. Fat Vlad, by all accounts, is a shady character with one finger in a lot of pies—sort of a small-town mob boss—and I’m sure that he can’t be trusted. Nevertheless, he’s extremely friendly and helpful to me, clueing me in on why I’m in this mess to begin with. Apparently, both my father and the town’s mayor suffered a grisly death at the same time, and everyone thinks I murdered them. A young doctor from Moscow (the Bachelor) is trying to convince them that the two men died of a horrible disease called the Sand Plague, but it’s slow going. Fat Vlad suggests that I seek the Bachelor out tonight.

On my way out, I stop to talk to Fat Vlad’s young daughter Kapella, who gives me the last bit of information I need before the day ends: the names of my Adherents. These are the people whom I need to keep alive once the plague hits. Looking at the pictures she gave me, I notice Notkin’s face. Then Laska’s. Kapella is among them as well. All of my Adherents are children.

I make my way to the Bachelor’s house as night falls, taking swigs of water to stave off my growing hunger. As I talk to him, it’s clear that neither of us likes the other person much (I’m rough and arrogant; he’s stiff and kind of a goody-two-shoes), but we’re willing to forge a tenuous truce for the sake of the town.

As we talk, I notice that my reputation meter has filled up completely, meaning that my name has been cleared for now. I thank the Bachelor for his help in discovering the true cause of my father’s death, then collapse into the nearest bed. As I drift off to sleep, I try not to think too hard about being indebted to the unsavory Fat Vlad, about the weight of my father’s legacy, or about the fact that the town’s children—those kids who are desperate to steal medical supplies, who love the feeling of a straight-razor in their small hands—are counting on me to be their savior.

1 It’s also a warning shot across my bow, as if the designers are saying, Don’t try to get clever. Modern game design is often conducted according to the Yellow Brick Road Philosophy: If the player must go from Point A to Point B, the game should make it blindingly obvious which path to take by making the path fluorescent and having everyone tell the player to start following it. In order to make things more interesting for myself, I usually look for ways to take the road less traveled. In Pathologic, this road is muddy with the tears of presumptuous gamers like myself, brought low by their own hubris.
2 One of the interesting side effects of Pathologic’s reputation meter (and videogame morality systems in general) is that it incentivizes “good” actions in a way that doesn’t actually have much to do with real morality. I don’t particularly feel like loving the enemy who is slowly bleeding out in a cemetery, but my desire to make the game easier by increasing my reputation meter is stronger than my desire to see him suffer. Ergo, I save his life—because it’s to my advantage to do so. I suppose this teaches us either that I am a horrible person or that what we call altruism in real life is often closer to a calculated assessment of altruism’s side benefits than we are comfortable admitting.
3 Quoted verbatim. Gotta love the translation.

1 comment:

  1. "In Pathologic, this road is muddy with the tears of presumptuous gamers like myself, brought low by their own hubris."

    I grinned there. Nice one.


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