Past Cure (Xbox One Review)
If I could use one word to describe Past Cure, it would be perplexing. It really feels like the developers Phantom 8 Studio tried to create a mesmerising story with lots of questions that would keep players hooked, breaking away from the confines of small indie game development and trying to score a home run at making a relativistic AAA title. All of which would come crashing down in an instant as the garbled criss-cross of ideas, broken story, and mostly horrible gameplay would take precedence over the developers underlying intent, putting Past Cure in an unfavourable and unrecoverable position.
To start, the story is fractured; both purposefully and accidentally. You play as Ian, a man missing three years of his life and fully intends on getting answers as to what happened during them. Going through an assembly of dreams, Ian receives glimpses of what he thinks are visions of events still to come or subliminal messaging of some sort. From this, the story then tells the player that Ian has supernatural powers — a byproduct of his past amnesiac event — that can slow down time and astral project. Breaking away from that the game pushes you forward in and out of dreams that act as tutorials that divulge tidbits of information that are meant to hold some relevance later on (hint: they don’t). This theme continues long into the ending of the game. Ian constantly hallucinates weird events. Like mannequin figures coming to life and chasing him down dark corridors; these are assumedly symbolic of something but it isn’t very clear. And as missions progress, questions are never answered.
And that’s Past Cure’s main cleft, its own chink in the armour. On one side, you have Ian’s struggle with self control. His dreams keep getting out of control and he needs answers. And on the other you have another story that see’s Ian face of against an unknown group, one that is never named, that wish to see Ian dead. As Ian fights against them to gain control of the substances this group traffics in–an assortment of colored pills–the context as to why all of this is occurring and how Ian fits into it all is never told. Players are just supposed to be on Ian’s side and should just play along; a game of ‘who’s who’ with drug lords.
If none of this is making any sense then you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking so. The narrative is in place but the plot sits in the backdrop waiting to reveal itself. Probably still on the developers cutting room floor. There isn’t any payoff to the narrative either, without fear of ‘spoiling’ anything the ending just throws out a cheap gimmick that essentially states that the events all took place in a virtual world. At least that’s what I gathered from my viewing of it on YouTube as the cumulative fight ended in a black screen for me. I could still move and switch weapons at will but couldn’t see my character or view the final scene. Funnily enough, I didn’t feel entirely robbed.
And these bugs occur far more often than you’d like. Dialogue tends to cut out as scene’s play out, whole animations aren’t in sync with game audio or in some cases the audio hasn’t even been added, leading to voiceless and soundless fist and gunfights, as if they were fighting in the vacuum of space. The dialogue volume level tends to be out of place too, as Ian will often mutter his spoken words while the rest of the cast clearly speak in a normal manner, making it hard to tell Ian’s current mood. Lines of excitement are delivered very flatly with little energy making it hard to believe that Ian is nothing more than robot experiencing a few fever dreams.
Outwith all this, the gameplay suffers the same fate: lacklustre cover-based combat at its worst. Players will either be hiding behind cover and popping up for the occasional headshot or they will be duking it out in QTE-based hand-to-hand combat; pressing the appropriate buttons to knockout your opponent in an unstellar manner. This is where Ian’s slow motion ability comes in handy either slowing down the timer on the QTE sequences or the terrible reticle control when aiming. Sensitivity is a bit of an issue in Past Cure as your crosshair jumps around more than rapper Everlast ever did. It almost feels like the slow motion mechanic was built around the poor, clunky aiming the developers had already programmed in. When you’re not shooting, you’re sneaking. And while the stealth sections of Past Cure invoke caution, you can readily run about and slit throats and none would be the wiser. Stealth is surprisingly competent in Past Cure given that Ian has supernatural powers to help him. Though it’s few and far between when they have their moments to shine.
Even then, Ian’s abilities aren’t all bad. Slow motion does give Past Cure a attractive Max Payne appeal. Dodging bullets isn’t a thing but seeing a slow-mo headshot in action is pretty satisfying. The same can be said for Ian’s astral projection. Leaving his body to scout ahead and disable security cameras or activate switches; a few areas even require astral projection to solve a few puzzles. With most of Past Cure’s gameplay being a waist high wall shooter, breaking the mold with astral projection held me over just enough to keep me playing.
One of Past Cure’s only redeeming features is that it uses the Unreal Engine which makes the scenery look spectacular in any given scene. Though, the Unreal Engine is rather widely used in games today and can easily be distinguished by the overly varnished look that covers every object.The walls, furniture, plants, the air… it all looks glossy, be that bad or good. It makes Past Cure at least visually pleasing even if the environments themselves aren’t. Every level in Past Cure is a litany of recurring scenery, a rhythm of reused assets to which goal I can only assume is to save budget. Underground parking garages are tens of miles long with the same rooms and assets reused over and over again. The same goes for the Hotel level and the Apartments level. A series of hallways and rooms recomposited to look new but it doesn’t really fool anyone. It’s downright unappealing.
And that’s Past Cure as a whole. A mess of ideas not fully fleshed out or implemented in a digestible manner. The story falls apart from the get go and the gameplay see’s players jumping between stealth and aggressive play styles without much notice in overly saturated environments full of re-hashed assets. Past Cure is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow as it looked like it had so much promise but it turns out just to be a small team of developers trying to overreach, resulting in a game that has no perceivable cure for its own ailments.