Pathologic 2, or how I learned to stop caring and live in the moment

The infiltration was almost successful. Getting in, or rather on, the building was simple once I took into account the nearby crane. A bit of creative construction work later and I was standing on ZenPRO's helipad. Problems arose when I took the elevator down to the 40th floor, where security gave me a look-over. I'd already secured a press pass for myself, but it seems that I forgot my gag in the apartment. The guard was about to pull out his taser and give me a stern talking to behind the proverbial shed because of my sharp tongue when I pulled out my...

Quick-load. To avoid overworking this narrative device, allow me to make my point.
Whenever the player messes up their plan, instead of rolling with it and seeing what becomes of it, they will most likely just reload to the autosave the game made 2 minutes ago, or let themselves get killed in the ensuing fight, both of which are the most boring reactions possible.

This is more a problem with the player-centric, objective driven narratives that most games use. Players like making plans and they like seeing them work, and they dislike it when their support NPCs shout at them for doing a poor job at whatever it is they were doing. So, if they make a mistake, or believe the computer did, they'll reload a save and think nothing of it. However, quick-loading quickly leads to the player becoming apathetic and losing immersion, neither of which is ideal. How do we avoid this?

Sadly we can't do away with the player-centric design outside of small-scale experimental titles since narratives rarely work without them. However, what if the game's characters didn't have to think of their protagonists as unbeatable, legendary badasses? Enter stage right...

Pathologic 2 is the Russian everyday sim which uses a very good system to highlight Russians' inability to respawn. You can only save in certain safe areas at clocks, similar to older Resident Evil titles, with a couple differences. You don't need limited use items to save your data (whether those be Ink ribbons or Savior Schnapps) and only allows you to save at certain points and the save points are areas which you will have to visit anyway and contain friendly NPCs.

While this isn't exactly revolutionary and has been done before, it was one of the first time I experienced such a system (excluding Resident Evil 4, which had very forgiving area saves), it is the first time I experienced the full force such a system creates.

The game's protagonist (Artemy Burakh) isn't Batman. He isn't a secret agent and won't inevitably save the world. He is a human, just like the rest of us, who has to figure out how to save anything, if it is save-able to begin with. His failures are an inevitability of human nature, not a failure of the developers' design. In this, the player and Artemy are linked, creating the kind of bond that I don't share with Wayne and his many gadgets or Jensen and his cybernetics. That is immersion.

In the game (as opposed to real life), food and time are limited, so if I wanted to go herb picking for a quest, I couldn't just save at the start and reload once I figured out where black twyre spawned so that I could collect as much as was needed. Assuming I couldn't find any no matter where I looked, I also couldn't first save before running down into the town to check the bar where I'd sold my last bit of the stuff the night prior, in an attempt to buy it back.

As I ran down the muddy path back into the town in search of that bar, I was overtaken by a panic not replicated while sneaking through the mansions of the Thief games, because I knew that if I didn't find those simple herbs, I couldn't just reload a save. I'd have to carry on with my day and hope that what time I'd wasted searching wouldn't be needed to make it to the Kains and fulfill whatever it is they wanted me to do.

So, just as on the first day I'd ignored the children's plight for fear of what the adults might do to me while I was tending to them, I turned and ran in the opposite direction to hopefully outrun the passage of time itself and maybe recover something out of the failure salad that my life was steadily becoming.

I can see why these systems aren't used in big AAA games. The increased immersion creates stress, and most people play games to alleviate it. However, just letting go and ignoring the pause menu entirely can be a very liberating experience.