There is always a huge risk when a small indie development team try to rival the big hitting AAA developers and publishers with their games. Sometimes it can pay off and the surprise hits like Cuphead, make a huge impact. But more often then not by attempting to emulate games with huge budgets, these small developer teams trip themselves up by throwing everything into the mixing bowl and seeing what kind of cake they can bake. Phantom 8 Studio is offering what they claim is a ‘Cinematic story driven supernatural thriller with stealth and action” with Past Cure, does it deliver a big hitting AAA experience for a budget price?
In short the answer is sadly, no. Past Cure is another example of an indie title that tries to cram in a whole bunch of popular gaming mechanics but then suffers the pitfall of having a small budget and team to splice them all together. The end result is a game that fails to do any one thing adequate enough to work well then crumbles under the weight of everything it is trying to do to leave what is a game with a lot of potential on paper but suffers from a small developer team punching above their weight.
The main character is Ian, a former soldier who has three missing years and very scary nightmares and is a man very much torn between the abstract nature of his dreams and the search for answers in the real world. Ian is certainly shown to be a troubled man who is struggling to deal with what has happened to him. Aided only by his brother Marcus, the game will see Ian attempt to piece together what has happened to him whilst dealing with his nightmares. So on paper at least, Past Cure has a rather interesting story to begin with.
The troubles do start very early on as the game opens with Ian in his nightmare world and having to defend himself against strange white mannequins who come out of doors as Ian moves through the corridors looking for a way out. Past Cure is a third person shooter at its core and it is evident right from this opening section that this aspect is the first of many that required a lot more polish as the hit detection is ropey as hell especially when it comes to getting that critical headshot as at times it took 2-3 bullet hits before it would register.
Visually the game is very much last generation at best, often blurry with some clumsy animation at times. It also has those widescreen black borders at the top and bottom of the screen to try and give it that cinematic Hollywood feel and the cut-scenes certainly attempt to give it a big screen feel. The voice acting does nothing to really help though and the often wooden and dry delivery of dialogue, which in itself will not be winning a BAFTA anytime soon, is distracting and took me straight out of the game. It was hard to read if Ian was supposed to be worried or scared or just robotically going through his dialogue and lines of narration.
The first two hours of the game serves as a painfully overly long tutorial as we spend a lot of time in the dreamscape where the player learns that Ian has actually developed supernatural abilities. The first of which is his ability to use astral projection to leave his body and interact with the world around him. This is really limited to either activating switches in the dreams or to take out security cameras in the real world. The second ability Ian has is that of being able to slow down time which enables Ian to have an advantage in shoot outs and the chance to sneak past enemies whilst it is in effect. Both powers require energy to use and by using them depletes the ’Sanity’ bar which can only be replenished by Ian taking his Blue pill medication. Now I am all for mental health featuring in video games and in the past year we have seen this used to great effect to both educate and explore the issues of mental health. However here it is simply used as a hud description. Rather than saying Ian’s sanity is depleted by using his abilities it would make more sense to say it is more a mental endurance aspect than directly having an effect on his sanity which Ian himself as a character never really seems to comment on whilst using his powers. It just feels like a story narrative attempt to tie in gameplay but like so much of this game, just falls flat. The powers themselves are interesting but during the dreamscape tutorial it just became boring to repeat the same exercise of using astral projection to activate switches to move to the next section. One or two would have been enough but almost two hours or learning to use both powers was overkill.
The first real world mission which brings all the mechanics of stealth, shooting and use of powers for the player only really serves to showcase just what a mistake trying to incorporate so many gaming mechanics were. The mission requires Ian to stealthily make his way to a hotel to question a person who may explain what happened to him and begins Ian having to work his way through the multi-storey carpark of the hotel, which is guarding by default ‘bad guy extras in a Johnny English film’. Now those familiar with third person action games will recognise the basic need for the game to provide cover for the player to use either by having random objects or environment to conveniently provide the cover. Which only makes the level design just baffling on this section as being a car park location; it is the parked cars that provide the cover mostly. However the way in which cars have been parked just make no sense at all considering the enemy has no idea that Ian is there until shots are fired or Ian is discovered. This section like the dream tutorial just goes on for so long, repeating the same mechanic of Ian having to use his abilities to stealthily move past the enemy or just to have a shoot out.
The stealth aspect is just so painfully executed here as being crouched just makes movement so clumsy and slow that in all honesty, just having a shoot out will not only save time but the players patience as well. The poor shooting hit detection also rears its ugly head as going for headshots, even if you use the slow down power, can be hit and miss. The enemy AI is just weird as well with some enemies without guns, will simply charge at Ian for an easy kill, if the game lets you get the skill shot that is. They also have the worst dialogue which has each of them saying the very same thing, in the same voice which on one occasion gave me the most comical moment of any game this year as one guard bugged out and was caught in his own movement animation, shuffling along to a corner whilst repeating the same two lines of dialogue for three minutes before I mercifully put him out of his misery.
To top it all off, as a game that is sold on having stealth as a major factor it is very quick to drop this mechanic without reason. After a few sections of this car park location where I am able to use stealth and only having a gun fight if I fail or choose to ignore it, the game itself then decides to sod it all and instead of Ian going into a stealth position, suddenly the enemy know I am there and boom it is a boss fight encounter. Now considering I have been firing guns and killing my way to this section which never once alerted any of the bog standard enemies that I was approaching, now the game decides it is ok for enemies to be prepared for Ian popping out of a door way. Making it through this and the game then says right it is stealth or game over, as finally getting to the hotel requires Ian to move around stealthily with the game ending result if he is spotted. With the stealth mechanic being so painful to use it literally stopped me in my tracks for a while, having to actually walk away from the game and come back later as it was so frustratingly bad as game mechanics just failed to make this either fun or playable.
Past Cure is sadly a game where the small development team and small budget simply punched above their weight and tried to put together so many elements without taking the time to really polish each enough to make them actually work. The shooting is so hap hazard it becomes laughable and the use of powers just ends up feeling strange and out of place. The stealth sections are beyond painful with so many elements actually working against each other it becomes an overall mess of a game that clearly required more funding and quality testing time before release. The story becomes forgettable rather quickly and the voice acting and dialogue are painful at best.
I do feel that the developers, Phantom 8 Studio, deserve credit for attempting such a game despite their limitations. The ideas shown in Past Cure are interesting enough, most of which can be seen in far bigger budgeted games such as Quantum Break. But by attempting to do so much they sadly failed to do even the basics well enough to make this title playable. They aimed big but delivered poorly making Past Cure one to really avoid outside of a budget sale at some point. It requires work to tidy up the issues it has especially with movement and hit detection and even then, there really is far too much wrong with this game to make it worth a purchase at full price.
Ambitious but ultimately terrible execution makes Past Cure one to avoid.