Cinematic story driven games are becoming more frequent lately, and as such, it takes something unique and compelling to stand out. Unfortunately, the developers at Phantom 8 Studio haven’t quite managed to deliver any of that with Past Cure. The game is pegged as a dark psychological thriller that attempts to blue the lines between reality and dreams. Players take on the role of Ian, a former elite soldier with a life that takes a strange turn for the worse. Losing a considerable portion of memory and suffering with recurrent nightmares, Ian finds that he now has powerful supernatural abilities.
Ian couldn’t always control these abilities or phase out the nightmares, but with the help of his brother Marcus, he now has things under wraps. Determined to fill in the pieces of his memory loss and get to the bottom of what has transpired, Ian and Marcus collectively knuckle down and get to work. The game starts you out in a dream, in which you’re simply tasked with picking up a weapon to defend yourself against what seems to be a bunch of mannequins. This is where the first problem with the game became immediately apparent. The controls feel far too loose, making it a tough struggle to compose Ian swiftly enough and accurately enough to put an end to the danger.
When the controls do work, it’s a far too basic affair to boast about. I often found myself, in both gunfights and melee combat, just button mashing to make it through. It shaves a layer of immersion off, and as a result, hurts the overall experience. Ian’s abilities should have made Past Cure feel more original, but instead, it only further highlights that there’s no thrill in this thriller. Sure, Ian can slow down time and astral project, but Phantom 8 Studio have failed to truly capitalize on these mechanics. It’s all just a bit too gimmicky and lacks excitement and refinement. Despite its issues, Quantum Break made good use of its mechanics through mandatory gameplay segments, which is something Past Cure could, and should, have taken on board.
It doesn’t help matters that the game is chock-full of problems. Take for example the first issue, which took place early in the game. Players will find themselves in a boxing ring, tasked with knocking out the opponent. The issue I suffered from, was that once I had floored my opposition, the game took it upon itself to not continue pass that point. I was left in the ring for north of twenty minutes before I decided to restart the game. This isn’t an isolated fault, as I was able to get through it on my second run, only to bump into another problem. Ian will need to utilize his astral project to bypass security cameras. However, one camera caught sight of me and locked down the security door before I could gain entry. This door must have jammed pretty tightly, because only yet another game restart would see me get by it.
Past Cure has no shortage of issues like this, and although many of them are not as invasive as the aforementioned pair, it’s still a mess nevertheless. The pace to the gameplay is off too. Past Cure will throw everything and its cat at you, rather than slowly and subtly introduce you to new mechanics. Hell, some mechanics don’t make any sense whatsoever. What’s the point of a sanity gauge if it doesn’t make you insane? Instead, it will slightly distort the screen for a moment or two, temporarily gating you from using your powers any further. It’s as if the developers threw all of their ideas onto the proverbial drawing board, and failed to follow said ideas up with any structure or meaning. What’s really a big disappointment in all of this, is that the plot is intriguing and inventive. It’s a shame, however, that this is buried deep underneath incompetent workflow.
I found the nightmare sequences to be much more interesting than anything else on offer. These tend to dish up some passable puzzle elements, with a blend of stealth and action gameplay tying it all together. That may sound like a compliment, but much like everything else in Past Cure, it doesn’t come without a downside. Puzzles are far too easy to overcome, and instead of using this dark threatening space to create tension, the developer has you trekking down unimaginative pathways as you try to suss out what to do. Silent Hill 2 made excellent use of its split-realm gameplay, and it would have been nice to see some level of creativity here, but that’s not on the cards apparently. Real world scenarios are far less exciting, merely consisting of moving from location to location, shooting shit up, and some light investigation. Past Cure is the definition of wasted potential.
The game can be nuked in roughly one to two sittings. It’s not a very lengthy game, which doesn’t at all sit well with the price point. Not to mentioned all of its issues. If the game was trouble free, then I would be more willing to justify buying in, but seven hours of stress and repetition just doesn’t cut it. The visuals are decent enough to warrant a pass, and I quite enjoyed the design choices on this front, across the game. That being said, there’s nothing revolutionary to soak up. Textures can at times look quite dated close-up, and the character animations equally as such. Screen tearing is a common occurrence in Past Cure, as is motion blur. The voice acting is another aspect of the game that just doesn’t hit a level of quality that the game states to relay. To top it all off, the voices often fall far behind the on-screen subtitles. Sure, this is a minor niggle, but it’s as distracting as hell when it occurs.
Past Cure offers an interesting story, one that’s buried deep underneath a plethora of technical issues and poor execution. Despite a few intriguing moments within, this game is nowhere near as exciting as it makes out to be. It’s over-priced and over-hyped.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.