Written by Derrick Smith
Developer Phantom 8 has crafted their first interactive experience with truly ambitious intent, resulting in Past Cure, a cinematic, story driven experience where the player follows the struggles of a broken man searching for the missing pieces of his mind. With intense cut-scenes and intriguing story items throughout the affair, players unravel a story that while it may keep you guessing, leaves much to be desired.
It seems clear that while the aim for Past Cure was to engulf players in an abstract mind trip phenomenon, with influences from movies like Inception and games like Max Payne, Past Cure despite its impressive attempt at telling a super-natural story, is ultimately betrayed by it rudiment gameplay design.
Past Cure follows the life of submerged Elite-soldier, Ian, who you discover is in pursuit of the men who once betrayed and transformed him. For years, Ian was the object of secret human trials, held in a dark prison somewhere in Europe. With the help of his brother Markus and the opaque double-agent Sophia, Ian pursues the men in the shadows. He takes on Eastern European cartels, secret lodges and unscrupulous scientists. Eventually Ian encounters an adversary who does not seem to be of this world.
Yet, due to inhumane experiments Ian was changed, developing improbable skills. Unfortunately for Ian his sanity has paid the price. Each time he uses his powers madness grows within him. This madness is fully realized in his dreams. These Inception like dreams offers both manifestations of his experimental torture, as well as deciphering challenges of previous locations where Ian was held. Through these processes players are introduced to Ian’s incredible abilities, which are supported through astral projections, telekinesis and time manipulation.
Past Cure offers an interesting mixture of experiences as Ian’s mind is torn between the gritty real world and the nightmarish horror of his dreams. Past Cure contrasts between the cold, brutal combat oriented levels of the real world, to the more puzzle solving and survival gameplay in the abstract dreamworlds.
The experience is set up to reflect varying actualities; in some scenarios players are engaging enemies in gun battles while utilizing Ian’s stylish time bending abilities to slow down time and brutal hand-to-hand jaw-crunching combos. Players in these cases can also choose the stealthy approach where evasive tactics and slick takedowns allow you to outsmart your enemies in silence. In addition, Ian’s stealth approach of engagement gets a notable boost when using astral projection. Sort of like an out of body experience, Ian can project from himself through travel and interact with the real world. This skill comes in handy when needing to assess an environment for nearby enemies and cameras, as well as reach certain key areas otherwise unattainable. Similar to games like the Deus Ex series however, whenever players tap into Ian’s special abilities his skills meter is drained, causing him to carefully manage how and when to use his powers.
In other scenarios, players will find themselves without the use of their handy firearms and forced to use their cerebral muscle along with their super-natural abilities to escape the entertaining puzzles set within the more survival horror aspects of the game. Again, in these cases Ian is trying to escape the prison of his own mind. These set-pieces added a great layer of mystery and wonder to the experience despite the simple execution.
For the entirety of the playthrough I found myself rooting for Past Cure as it was clear Phantom 8 took pride in this bold idea. However, Past Cure misses the mark of properly blending this attractive narrative alongside pleasing gameplay logistics. All to often, if the clumsy gameplay of the shooting and combat mechanics or simple character actions did not pull you from immersion, the regularly painful subtitles which ran far ahead of the character dialogue would certainly seal the deal. On one occasion I was regrettably forced to restart a level because I got stuck in a dark room between a bed and the box. What made this painful was not the fact that I had to start over, it was how far back the game took me. I literally had to the begin at the very beginning of the level after making sizeable headway, brutal! Sure, there is autosave, however it needs to far more frequent within the levels. Despite the voice acting which was generally cringe worthy, my optimism stayed the course.
Visually Past Cure has its moments, yet they far few and between. In all fairness, this experience should not be judged by its graphical fidelity or lack thereof, as the story and overall vision are exciting. Nonetheless, it becomes increasingly difficult not to spot technical shortcomings when the most fundamental aspect of gaming procedures are taking a hit.
Past Cure is a stylish narrative tale, which due to its mood quality and theme could keep players guessing until the end, yet this might be a daunting chore for players with superficial cravings and short attention spans.