A hodge-podge of bungled aspects make this one of the worst games ever.
Past Cure sounds like the name of a remedy that’s inaccessible to my current being. Like a paradise that’s out of reach; a river in the desert that reveals itself when I’m already dying of thirst. In reality, it’s Phantom 8 Studio’s third person, psychological horror thriller, stealth action, puzzle solving game. If that sounds like an amalgamation of too many ideas, then take heart – this Unreal Engine-developed title introduces them in as arbitrarily, slow-paced, poorly thought out and clunky a way as possible. Oh, and there’s a mystery or three thousand to be solved. Where the game’s fun actually lies is sadly not one of them.
"From what’s meant to be a psychological horror game, we’re suddenly thrown off the rails into a puzzle-rific abyss of blank textures, like Portal’s lab settings with even more life sucked out of them."
Let’s start with the story. It begins with Ian, a scraggly-bearded soldier who’s stuck in a nightmare with killer mannequins. The nature of these mannequins and the inconsistent textures of Ian’s beard fascinated me. As I gunned them down casually, running out of ammo in the penultimate encounter and only getting more by dying and resetting, I was suitably less fascinated.
Ian has been having these nightmares for a while. There’s a period of his life that’s a complete blank – three months with no recollection of what’s occurred. The void now hosts these hallucinations, which Ian can suppress using blue pills. Interestingly, the pills help bring down his Sanity meter. “Oh boy!” you’d think. “A rip-off of Eternal Darkness where low sanity causes me to hallucinate various monstrosities!” But no. That’s not quite the case.
Anyway, Ian is looking to hunt down the people who did bad things to him with the help of his brother Marcus, guns and the recollection of a strange woman from his dreams. There’s also a bearded guy that keeps showing up. He has no hair on his head, distinguishing him from Ian but not from the other bearded dudes. Given how nondescript all the personalities are, the shoddy nature of the writing and the ham-fisted “self-talking” form of story-telling that a million other games handle way better, you could be forgiven for never caring about anyone ever.
From what’s meant to be a psychological horror game, we’re suddenly thrown off the rails into a puzzle-rific abyss of blank textures, like Portal’s lab settings with even more life sucked out of them. Ethan, I mean, Ian can use Astral Projection and hit switches. He can also use Bullet Time. You also have the ability to sneak around and – get this – use Bullet Time to sneak by dudes more easily. It’s a potpourri of mechanics that are tossed at you, overstaying their tutorial-esque, blatantly one-note direction for far too long.
"This game’s puzzles don’t need you. They don’t need your intellect or participation or even passing interest."
Apparently our dude’s father liked to punish his boys when they were “naughty” as evidenced by a memory within this dream. But hey, at least Isaiah has that memory of that woman who he gifted a frigging baseball bat of all things to on Valentine’s Day, except he doesn’t know who she is because that’s how mysteries work. It was around this time that I suspected the two didn’t get an amicable divorce and go on their respective merry ways.
It’s a testament to the game’s optimization that even with such bland visuals and an abnormal resolution (the thick black bars on the top and bottom of your screen a la The Order: 1886), the frame rate is abysmal. It improves when there’s literal darkness on your screen or just plain white textures. That’s not a compliment by the way. It’s just that I was so out-of-my-mind bored with the game so early in that I took to noticing the most insignificant things. Between the horrible implementation of anti-aliasing, making edges fuzzier then our dog when he’s had too many KFC bones, glitching textures and clipping issues, I would have thought this game ran on Unreal Engine 2.
Ethan plays chess with a sleeping mannequin and after some pawn metaphors and running around circles, you’re exposed to the other fatal flaw of Past Cure. This game’s puzzles don’t need you. They don’t need your intellect or participation or even passing interest. Click a button, watch the boring cutscene with Iago’s bland voice-acting, click a button. Repeat. Find a door that needs a passcode. Discover a piece of paper with the passcode. Press a button on the door. Repeat. Hate life and ponder about the punishing games that you’d rather suffer through time and time again instead of playing this mess. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The only real interaction I had during a puzzle was a series of button-mashes necessary for possessing a dude’s mind with Astral Projection. That’s being very, very generous mind you.
Oh and using Bullet Time or Astral Projection drains your Sanity meter. But don’t worry! It slowly refills. Why did it have to be a “Sanity” meter then? Lucifer take me, I don’t know.
"I don’t know how I stumbled into this grad school student’s version of Max Payne. I’m not sure the developer knows either."
Still here? Good because now we’re getting into the stealth, cover-shooter portion of the game (surprise! Cover shooting!). Isabel breaks into a hotel where one Dr. Fletcher, who’s had some nefarious hand in home boy’s condition, resides. There are Romanians protecting him though and they’ve got the building all wired up with varieties of cannon fodder. There’s Uzi Man, Handgun Man, Handgun-Man-With-Laser-Like-Aim-And-Oh-Lord-Why-Does-He-Hurt-So-Much and – my favourite – Runs-At-You-With-Fists-Man. Shotgun Man was somewhere in this mess as well. I think he was bald. Not sure if he had a beard though.
You’re educated in the game’s close quarters combat mechanics prior to the “mission”, which involves flailing your fisticuffs at a dude before executing a finishing move in the worst parody of The Bourne Identity since The Bourne Legacy. You can also counter a foe and I suggest mashing the heck out of that button. The small window and poor indication of whether the button must be held – which does nothing – or pressed – which seems delayed enough to do nothing – is why.
Oh, and have fun with the clunky shooting which throws two reticules at you for the realistic shooting portion of the game. If the inner reticule doesn’t line up with the outer, then your bullet won’t hit the target. The former can sway this way and that while moving but seems to steady while using Bullet Time. I don’t know how I stumbled into this grad school student’s version of Max Payne. I’m not sure the developer knows either.
Want to go full stealth? On one occasion, a stealth attack didn’t kill an enemy and instead alerted him. On another, an enemy with its back facing me was suddenly alerted to my presence. The one clever touch I liked was enemies becoming aware when you destroy security cameras using Astral Projection (which you can’t use to just randomly explode their brains, except that one canned QTE sequence). That led to certain instances where you draw their attention with a destroyed camera and then flank around to execute them.
"If this was to make firefights more “realistic”, then why do the enemies have such perfect aim while I battle these terrible controls?"
Actually, the flanking part is negated by the fact that you can mantle over certain hurdles but not others. Still, I’ll give some credence to the game for making enemies aware when their comrades go down. I’ll spit on it for making my enemies deaf to next door gunfire louder than the voice of Cthulhu but immediately turning aggressive when they hear a door close in a cutscene. And no, that particular instance of wanton door-closing rage wasn’t triggered the other dozen times I opened and closed doors.
There’s no option to actually take cover – you awkwardly crouch and peek out to shoot at foes. Here’s how you best succeed in shoot-outs. When an enemy is a few feet away or rushing you, equip a Uzi and gun them down. When they’re far away, activate Bullet Time, quickly pop out of cover, fire one round from the Wood Hawk (it’s a play on Desert Eagle. Get it? Get it?) and then go back into cover after scoring a head-shot.
Any prolonged time peeking out will earn you a million bullets to the brain and a quick death. This is on NORMAL difficulty, mind you. If this was to make firefights more “realistic”, then why do the enemies have such perfect aim while I battle these terrible controls? If this was meant to be more “stylish”, why is the most effective tactic also the most boring available? Why in the seven hells did I receive the sprint function so damn late? Actually, that was so I would be slowly, painfully forced through the prior sequences and nightmares.
"The only reward is that you don’t have to play Past Cure anymore. You might as well not even bother to begin with."
You could argue that the tale of Past Cure is at least somewhat intriguing. However, my motivation to see how this all fits together was undone by the fact that the separate pieces are so badly written with awkward “banter”; badly voiced with drawl characters; backed by horrible cinematography with at least one “camera on the gun” cutscene that’s so bad it’s hilarious; and terribly deflating in terms of motivation. I’m sure Ian is a nice guy but he’s stuck in this magnanimously bad story that’s neither entertainingly terrible nor competently handled enough to negate all the other terrible aspects. I could dissect each and every portion of this game but then we’d probably be here all day.
Past Cure is bad. Don’t play it unless it’s for a bet and even then, ask for the money up front. There is no brilliant moment where all of these ideas come together into an intriguing experience. There’s no sudden catharsis to all the clunky gameplay you’ve endured. The only reward is that you don’t have to play Past Cure anymore. You might as well not even bother to begin with.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Somewhat intriguing story. Enemies are kind of interesting to sneak past. That one cutscene with the "gun camera" which makes me laugh. Decently subpar aesthetic.
Horrible cover-shooting mechanics. Horrible mix of ideas and genres that never gel together successful nor stand out individually as very well done. Story is marred by bad dialogue and horribly voiced characters. Pacing is snail-slow yet the gameplay is painfully simplistic. Logic holes a-go-go.
So awful yet so boring that one can neither get too mad nor fall asleep, Past Cure is simply a Frankenstein of poorly implemented, cliched ideas and story beats.