Past Cure is a game that sounds good on paper. I loved the pitch of a psychological thriller combining dreams and reality with an emphasis on stealth. What I got… wasn’t quite that.
Chasing a Dream
Past Cure, developed by Phantom 8 Studios and out now for PC, tells the tale of a man haunted by a past he can’t remember, tracking down the years he lost and why he was blessed with psionic abilities. It’s a premise that sounds good, but the writing just doesn’t hold up. The script feels rushed and unnatural, and even ignoring the poor quality of the writing, the way the story unfolds leaves much to be desired. Nothing is answered, and the only thing the ending makes clear is that the events of the whole game don’t matter.
On a related note, the voice acting is mediocre at best. The good part is that, despite being from a German indie studio, the English voices are quite understandable, without strong accents or mispronunciations. The “acting” part of voice acting suffers, however. The delivery is emotionless and devoid of life. Scenes where the writing should have characters yell in anger or fear are delivered flatly, or with the wrong syllable emphasized, like the voice actors didn’t understand the context the line was delivered in. It makes for an overall very disjointed and unsatisfying experience. Normally I wouldn’t mind all that much for a translated title, but when the game considers its story a main selling point, they should really make the story enjoyable.
World’s Largest Garage
The gameplay itself is hardly any better. Controls are overall sluggish and prioritize finishing animations over precision. For example, if you tap forward on the control stick to try and inch forward to look around a corner, you’ll end up stepping all the way out of cover, promptly getting filled with lead. On the bright side, if you were one of the few masochists who enjoyed Final Fantasy XIV‘s original release, you’ll feel right at home in Past Cure.
The game begins with you shooting white mannequins attacking you in a dream, wandering in literal circles through halls, needing to stop and shoot all the mannequins before proceeding over and over and over again. The freaking intro level outstayed its welcome by the halfway point. This trend continues as you go through an (extended, overly drawn out) tutorial that doesn’t even cover all of the mechanics. The first true level is a parking garage that teaches stealth mechanics. Like the rest of the game so far, it’s also too long, and could really be cut in half. A few hours into the game, I legitimately wondered if the whole game took place in a parking garage.
That brings us to the game’s stealth mechanics, where it falls flat on its face. I’ve always been a fan of stealth and I’ll usually go that route when given the opportunity. However, Past Cure‘s stealth proved so frustrating that I wound up giving up on it almost immediately after the forced stealth level. Enemies can see you so long as a line of sight exists between you and them. Yes, it’s more realistic, but it makes stealth impossible, especially since there are no other concessions offered necessary for a good stealth game like minimaps, shadows, alternate paths, or quicksaves. Good level design is critical for allowing stealth to work, and the level design in this game is so poor that you can’t even use stealth for most of the game. Even barring the scripted boss fights (that clue you in with a starting cutscene) there are rooms that look like they were designed for stealth, only to have an enemy watching a chokepoint and refusing to move. The 3rd (and final) “real world” level completely gives up on stealth, and doesn’t even allow it as an option!
Lastly, there’s the psionic abilities. You have two: an “astral projection” that lets you fly your viewpoint around and scramble electronics, and the ability to slow down time. That’s it. There is also a mind reading ability, but it’s used a grand total of twice, solely to trigger a cutscene. Entering and exiting astral projection is slow, and you’re a sitting duck. This combination means that it’s only useful for disabling security cameras and the occasional puzzle that requires it. Slowing down time, on the other hand, sees a lot more use. Unfortunately, that’s because it’s the only crutch you have to work around the poor gameplay design. Sneaking around is extremely slow, and when combined with the unforgiving stealth mechanics, you need to minimize the time you’re not behind waist-high cover. During combat, enemy bullets will turn you into Swiss cheese in seconds, forcing you into a mediocre cover-based shooting pattern of popping out of cover with time slowed and shooting, then popping back in to recover your meter before you’re given a lead injection. If I wanted a cover-based shooter, there are many, many, many better options.
This Game is Lit
The game looks gorgeous… sort of… but even here it comes across as technically proficient but poorly designed. There’s high resolution models, but the lighting is, to be blunt, terrible. Several areas are literally pitch black, while others are lit up like the surface of the sun. It’s hard to appreciate the models at all when it’s washed out in white, and it drives home how poor the level design is when a completely ordinary locked door is so brightly lit that it could be seen from space. The environments are also bland, reusing the same assets over and over and over again and making the game drag even more.
The music is likewise completely forgettable – mostly generic bass lines, interspersed with a few more generic piano soundtracks during quiet moments. Literally the only part of the music that I can clearly recall is that it used Moonlight Sonata during a few scenes. Beethoven makes everything better (and more pretentious)!
I really wish I had more good things to say about Past Cure. When I first got the press information for the review I was legitimately excited! A psychological thriller with stealth seemed right up my alley, which made it all the more disappointing that it wound up primarily a mediocre cover-based shooter. But hey, my achievement progress for the game is at 69%, and it’s going to stay that way. Nice.
~Final Score: 3/10~
Review copy provided by Phantom 8 for PC. Screenshots provided by reviewer.