Monday, February 27, 2012

Pathologic: The ending, according to another Bachelor

I evangelized Pathologic to several different friends as I was writing this blog. My friend Ben Hess went out and bought it immediately after our conversation, and wrote me a compelling letter detailing his experience in the game. 

I have, after long hours and a particular kind of focus possibly best described as a 'mania' this week, completed Pathologic. As the executors say, the twelve days are finished... it is all over. I don't think I won.

Upon seeing the executors' unholy beaks outside the doors of some of my Adherents, I knew that the outcome would not be good. In fact, I had forgotten (in those months in absentia from the game) how to view letters I had received. This led to days seven and eight being a muddle of wandering and base survival. I sold my soul for food and healing, and only completed the main quests. I believe the disease appeared in Rubin first, then to Kapella after Big Vlad's suicide, then to Lara, Alexander, and finally Ospina. In short, I cashed in big time on my friends' willingness to die for me. I was able to manage, however, reasonably well without a gun for much of the game. Food became my undoing, and I wound up selling clothes and weapons in fear of starving to death well-armed and armored. Sleeping around (not like THAT) in whichever house was nearest became the norm, and my sense of security dwindled without a place to call "headquarters". After Eve's (apparent) suicide, I didn't have a reason to go to her house. Reading and following your blog left me more and more convinced that I would probably achieve a different ending (though I only read entries for day I had already completed), and this was further exacerbated by the side quests I was unable to complete as heroically as you... An unarmed doctor can only do so much against renegade soldiers, and so my Bachelor became more than willing to escape with his own life an leave riotous citizens to the unjust firing squads.

Apart from the desperate journey of scratching a living from the inhabitants of the town from hell, my own personal struggle with the disease and the larger questions of the town came to a head in a very different way from yours. Around day 10, I had decided that it was a sin to destroy the Polyhedron. Accident or no, it was plague-free. That, to me, became my guiding light in my quest. I was like a surgeon or a sculptor, excising the diseased flesh at will. Take out the tumors, and cut around it.... just to be sure. I carved the town to the bone. The Haruspicus confronted me with his solution on day 11, and I could not conceive of it. The thought of existing alongside the disease, eliminating its effects and the architectural (and so much more!) wonder on the other side of the river was weirdly repulsive to me. Not that I don't think it could work, but it was a panacea to a broken system; a further humanistic advance to fix more problems of humanity. It made the disease (and by extension its dark cause) okay. Or maybe not. Whatever the exact ultimate spiritual meaning of the butcher's suggestion, I rejected it in favor of a fresh start. I sided with Maria. 

Even taking into account the dark history of the Kain family, I was sure there should be no town here. Rebuild on the other side the river. Burn it all. Cut the flesh, graft on the new, and start over. In other words, I was perfectly unwilling to let the inhabitants live with the sins of their past and continue above the pathological and spiritual legacy of the Cult of Bulls. I wanted this place to be a dead shrine to a dead past; a silent stone monument to humanity's sins. I wanted to give the survivors a fresh start, and to maybe... just maybe do things differently. Salvation, in my mind, would come from new creation; from Armageddon and rebirth. Perhaps what this town needed was to spring from the Polyhedron, rather than the Polyhedron being birthed by the town. Sociologically, I didn't want to fix a broken system. But whatever feeble justification, I think my primary motivation was fatigue. 

The Kains were experienced in this sort of thing; the legacy of Simon lives on in George and Victor, and that of Nina lives on in Maria. This family, in many ways is the town as much as the buildings and inhabitants. But they represent the Western part as separate as possible from the Abbatoir and the Apiary. They are a new beginning for the town, as Vlad the Younger is different from boos Vlad. (Victor pointed out in one conversation on day 12 that boos meant "bull-like", and that he was, in many respects, representative of the old ways). This town, I thought, deserved the chance to make new and exciting mistakes, I guess. 

But, ultimately, if I chose utopia then I didn't choose it for myself. My Bachelor will not live in his creation; he doesn't deserve it. Though I went through twelve days in hell without killing a man in cold blood (only self-defense), the blood of every man, woman, and child in the infected zone is on my hands; not to mention the children expelled from the Polyhedron to accommodate the adult "survivors". I have killed the bull and kept the horns only.... I'm a poacher. But my trophy is at least alive. I have spared a few, and that's enough, I guess to sate my conscience. Cut away the flesh. And I assured Maria and everyone that I would leave with the soldiers at dawn. My decision, but not my life. And maybe refusing to live in the utopia I helped create is the proper atonement. After all, in the end I am only a doctor from the city. The plague is gone, and maybe that's enough to live with. 

Duke, this was by far the most difficult game I have ever played. Not only practically, with the clunky mechanics and extreme risk of death by stabbing or fire, but in every way. I have wrestled with the cryptic speeches, trying to figure the angles of each family and each Adherent while (for some reason) trying to keep them alive. I have been awestruck at the betrayals, traps, and pitfalls from those I trusted. I have found out things about myself that would have been happily underground if not for this game. I guess in the end, I was not the Bachelor... It was just me all along. In the end, thank you for showing this to me. I have been to a place that I cannot fully return from, and I have given this game (it feels a little lacking to call it a 'game', now) a part of myself in exchange for it giving me... something. Insight, maybe. Self-awareness... discovery? I can't name it at all, yet. But I'm more and more convinced that, even though my ending cutscene was accompanied by oddly distressing music, it wasn't really and totally wrong. I feel, here at the end of all things, that I have a story to tell. Like the Bachelor, I may have created a utopia, but it is not mine... I don't deserve it because of the blood on my hands. What I do have is a story to tell... and my Bachelor will live on in the Capital, perhaps to write an account of the town to which he performed the ultimate amputation. 

- Benjamin

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pathologic: The Ending, according to the Bachelor

If you haven't read the write-ups for Day 12 I suggest you go read them right now unless you've played the game through already. What we'd like to present to you right now is an overview of the endings.

As the Bachelor, I found three "choices" presented to me at the end of the game. I didn't have enough panacea to cure everyone's adherents, so the Devotress couldn't give me her input. So what I had--what I have to analyze here--is not the complete picture, though Kevin and Rory have filled me in, more or less.

The three choices I had were:

1. Let the Settlement be destroyed. But [the] Polyhedron may not be touched. The surviv[ors] will [rest] there until we vaccinate them, and the epidemic will finally [. . .] come to the end.
2. It is enough to destroy [the] Polyhedron to stop spreading of the infection. There is no sense to destroy the whole town.
3. So, I declare my decision to you. I refuse the choice. I shall not decide about the destiny of this town and [. . .] show my arguments to you.

Here's a quick summation of the results of each decision:

Destroy the Polyhedron; Save the Settlement.
We see the model of the town with the water jug that functions as the Polyhedron being slowly wrenched free.

It falls and lies, useless, on the ground. Then a vision of the Settlement with bluish skies, healthy. The kids, the Haruspicus, the turning of the wagon wheel: it looks like everything has turned out well.

"We aren't dying!"
After this, we're treated to an unsettling vision of the theatre, the three protagonists lying on stage like rag dolls with button eyes.

The game specifically notes that it "acknowledges the player's victory". We can walk around on stage, look at the dolls close up, before walking to the exit at stage left. Shimmering lights wait, suspended, in the void beyond the door, which slowly slips into the distance.

Destroy the Settlement; Save the Polyhedron.
The cutscene at the end shows the two Authorities--little kids--bashing the model of the town.

The artillery fires, the sun rises and Maria Kain stands looking very smug at the front of her entourage.

After a lovely view of the Polyhedron at dawn, silhouetted against the umber sky, the perspective shifts to the theater again, button-eyed dolls, the three protagonists arrayed at the back of the stage.

The game doesn't acknowledge the player's victory in this ending scenario. There's no text, no script. This ending is a defeat. The Kains won. The player let himself be manipulated, took the bait.

Again, floating lights, door, fade to black.

Refuse the choice.
The cutscene that plays exudes "bad ending vibes". The camera pans across the interior of a plague-ridden house, the light lingering on bloodstained bookshelves, the dirty floors, and so on.

Then we pull away to see the town bathed in red.

And eventually we see the corpses of the dead townsfolk.

The last shot is a fade-out on the Authorities' model of the town.

And then it's back to the town Theatre, on the stage with all the crumpled forms of the protagonists, buttons on their eyes. Door, fuzzy lights, fade to black.

Get this, though: at the end of this scenario, the game notes the player's victory.

I'll let Kevin fill you in on the other ending--the one supplied by the Devotress. For now I have some thoughts.

Concerning Victory.
There's a lot of conjecture about what the endings mean, but it's pretty easy to see the trajectory of each character and how it lines up with their "ending"--the one they contribute to the final reckoning if you save all their adherents.

Artemiy Burakh, the Haruspicus, has grown from the steppe dirt and inherited his father's legacy as shaman and curate of the Settlement. His relationships with the town's children, the way the scenario is shaped, leads him to demonize the Polyhedron. His "ending", so to speak, is to destroy the Polyhedron so that the town can return to the status quo. While the cinematic paints the ending in a positive light, I can't help but be grieved, because it's just as it was before--no better, no worse. The ending is reflective of the traditions and perpetuity of life the Haruspicus seeks so desperately to protect: it's stayed the same.

There are so many unanswered questions I have about Klara, the Devotress, having not played her story myself. She's an enigma. She's a miracle, a curse: she's a cookie-cutter messiah, loved by some and hated by the rest. And apparently her ending functions as a sort of deus-ex-machina, allowing the town to both sustain its own life, do away with the plague, and keep the Polyhedron. Rory's playthrough on his blog will certainly explore this in-depth when he writes up Day 12. Like the Haruspicus' ending, Klara's ending fits with her character: enigmatic, paradoxical, out of the blue.

Daniel Dankovskiy, the Bachelor, is an outsider, a scientist: a reserved and judgmental young man who thinks he knows best. It quickly becomes evident that he has neither the experience nor the wisdom to defend the town against the plague, so the Inquisitor, and later the General, are brought in to mop up his mess. He views the Sand Plague as an enemy: winning is the goal here, rather than curing the disease.

The suggestion the Bachelor brings to the final decision in the other games is to preserve the Polyhedron. This decision leads to the Kains building their "utopia". However, this choice doesn't acknowledge the player's victory. It's not the right decision to make; in fact, I believe it's the only patently wrong choice the player can make at the end of the game. I don't say this out of opinion: every ending except the Kains' Victory has an explicit statement of the player's victory.

If you've read through my playthrough as the Bachelor, you should see how my thinking, both as character and player, shifted over the course of the game. I began bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so happy to save the town, save the world, and somehow, around midway through, I decided I hated the town. They were not worth saving. The crime, the politics, the horror of basic human nature. The problem was not the plague: it was the humans who were scarring the earth, doing violence by their very existence. I resolved that, on the final day, I would destroy the town when the decision was presented to me. The Polyhedron was a happy little coincidence--an inhuman marvel--that I wanted to save, and in the end, it was only a tool that would be misused.

The true enemy in this was never the Plague. The Bachelor realized it. His character introduction at the start of the game reads, "This is the story of a man who performed a miracle and defeated an opponent when victory seemed impossible." Could the conniving, clamoring people of the Settlement be this opponent?

Nukes and artillery aren't enough to kill the enemy, though. Men can escape shells. They can hide, reproduce, and rebuild. But the Sand Plague is a natural mechanism that, perhaps, was never evil to begin with. How does the Bachelor achieve the victory he has worked so hard to obtain? He walks away and allows the human parasite to devour itself. He lets the fever burn out.

Mother Nature: 7,776  -   Humanity: 0
Is this the "right" ending? For the Bachelor, who calculates in cold math, whose empathy has been steadily burned away by the shit-storm that is human nature, this ending makes perfect sense.

Edit [1-27-2013]: We've been hearing from other players who have differing reports about the way the Bachelor's scenario ends. If you are interested in reading about them, a few of our readers have kindly posted their own experiences in the comments below (and elsewhere on this site). Feel free to join the conversation, fellow players!

Pathologic: Hiatus

Apologies, dear readers. Kevin and I still have more thoughts on Pathologic, and we're itching to share them. We hope to have the next part of the Dialogues out in the next week or so. We'd also like to write something a bit more thorough on the endings. I'm also writing an essay on Pathologic for Kill Screen which I'll put here once it's finished.

Just understand: there are more things to come. If you're new to the blog, please read about us or start reading the playthroughs.