Dark nightmares, disturbing dreams, horrible hallucinations and themes questioning reality have been the staple for many games, books, and movies for decades now. From the holy trinity of the Matrix movies to the trippy drug modes on Far Cry and GTA, and the whole of The Evil Within franchise, developers get the chance to be as creative as they want, bend all the rules and have a bloody good time doing it.
In Past Cure the same tropes are in action once more and the small team at Phantom 8 Studio are hoping to live up to the highs of the entertainment mentioned above, but will they do it? Or is it like my dreams – something which should never be made into any kind of medium?
Past Cure starts with a bearded man called Ian stuck in a nightmare. He’s moving through a deserted industrial space, being chased by white porcelain, red-eyed golem creatures. Here we get a long tutorial on how to play the game through an overly elongated sequence. The story involves the mind of Ian, an ex-super soldier who can shoot, punch, and utilise some other very special powers. There is a mysterious woman who seems to hold the key to his sanity, a strange brooding man who is always appearing in Ian’s reality, and a magical dream world. After the tutorial, you go on a mission given to you by a voice down the phone, which takes you to the biggest car park in the world and then on to a hotel to pinch some documents. As you might guess, things go very badly indeed…
The controls for Past Cure begin pretty basic, with the usual walk, run, crouch, shoot, and aiming options. But then you have Ian’s special powers to play with, which include an astral plane effect. Here you can move a small distance into a spirit form to check out an area, or disable a camera or switch on a computer. The other power lets you slow down time, which is very important when shooting projectiles, slowing down your enemies, or sneaking past a guard. There is a cost to these powers though, as there seems to be with all super abilities, and that is that your sanity levels drop rapidly. Don’t worry though, because you can collect some blue pills in order to top up your madness levels and carry on though.
Past Cure brings a mixture of the good, and the not so good. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this game, even though it’s been getting some very harsh reviews across the board. It doesn’t do anything wrong – at least nothing that you can put your finger on – but it doesn’t feel particularly right either, instead coming across at a halfway point between a triple-A game, and a small indie title. The price however reflects this.
But it doesn’t fit into your normal scheme of things, as the tutorial takes up a huge amount of the overall game, and when everything finally finishes it feels like you are stuck in the middle of the second act.
The combat found within is okay, but the gunplay and melee attacks could do with some refining. It all works, but it just isn’t fluid enough or interesting enough for you to want to engage with it for too long. I wanted to stay stealthy all the time. You’ll probably feel like the game has borrowed or has been influenced by a lot of other titles that have probably had more of a budget and been able to fully show the developers’ visions.
But that said, Past Cure does have some innovative ideas and thought-provoking pieces of narrative, mixed with some great set pieces of gameplay that should keep you entertained. The story is good, as is the world it creates, but the writing can get a bit hokey in places and doesn’t quite work overall. It looks alright too, with a nice clean gleam in all its areas on show. The nightmare sequences are okay; they can be a bit generic and the character models are detailed, but similarly they are nothing special. The audio meanwhile delivers a good score, with some nice effects and it really works on par with the action sequences.
Overall and if you’ve gone anywhere near the internet over the last few weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking that Past Cure is a bit duff, but it isn’t as bad as some are making out. It’s not the worst game of the year because it’s not broken, it all works fine and there is an interesting concept of a show here, even though we may have trodden these boards before. I found the combat sluggish and uninspiring, and some of the nightmare levels can be very generic compared to other games in these genres. But I think Past Cure is probably worth a punt as long as you can grab it in a sale and fancy trying something a bit unusual.