Past Cure is a disappointment. Let’s establish that right off the bat. After a series of very promising trailers, I’ll admit I believed in Phantom 8 and their ambition. Unfortunately, the reality simply doesn’t match up.
I take no pleasure in giving a game from a small team a negative review, but Past Cure’s faults are too numerous and too significant to ignore. Everything comes up at least a little bit short, from sloppy gunplay to clunky dialogue. There is a decent game lurking beneath the surface, but either due to budget or time, Past Cure doesn’t deliver.
The game stars Ian, a man with missing memories. Three years have vanished from his memory, with no clues as to why. He’s awoken with strange and powerful psychic powers. He’s also being haunted by nightmares, featuring frightening porcelain monsters and a woman he doesn’t know. Luckily, his brother Marcus is willing to help.
Ian and Marcus are out for blood against those that have wronged them. As it would happen, Ian is an expertly trained ex-military operative. The game starts by following a lead to a pharmaceutical company that produces medication referred to as “blues.” They help Ian maintain his sanity, so the conclusion is that the company must be involved somehow.
Sanity is the major differentiation to the primary gameplay of Past Cure. The majority of the game plays out as a standard third-person cover shooter, replete with stop-and-pop gunplay. Sanity is effectively mana (complete with a blue bar keeping track of it) and allows for a couple interesting powers. You can slow down time for an edge in combat, but don’t think you’ll be shoot-dodging in style. It’s fairly rudimentary, simply allowing you to move at regular speed while enemies slow down. There’s also astral projection, sending mind outside of body to give you some tactical advantage. The game also mentions telekinesis, complete with tutorial pop-up, but in my complete playthrough of the game, Ian never had any such ability.
Firing guns in Past Cure is sloppy but serviceable, but stealth is another story. It’s pretty bad. There’s no adequate feedback on how visible you are or how loud you are. There’s a brief on-screen indicator showing the direction of an enemy who might be aware of you, but it’s usually delayed or flat-out wrong. You’d probably have an easier time with the stealth if you turned the indicator off. Astral projection helps in these segments for seeing guards’ routes, but it doesn’t make it any more fun. The developers even had the audacity to include a lengthy, rage-inducing, instant-fail stealth section in the game. Good luck progressing past it without breaking a controller.
The only saving grace is Ian’s nightmare segments. These are surreal and visually interesting. The world might crumble around you, or you may have to play a life-or-death chess game. You never know what you’re going to get in these segments and they have some interesting puzzles as well. The nightmares focus significantly less on guns and stealth, and instead focus on using your brain and establishing an atmosphere. Truly, it is these segments of the game that stand out. Part of me wishes Phantom 8 had instead chosen to focus more on nightmares than on Ian’s struggles in the real world.
The greatest offense of Past Cure is wasting its premise. The intrigue of a man battling with both insanity and amnesia, accompanying an incredible new power, is compelling. Include the woman in his dreams, his brother who seems to know just a little too much, and a strange man who always seems to be one step ahead of Ian silently watching; it’s a recipe for intrigue. I was genuinely hooked to see where these mysteries would lead. I am happy to save you some time, because none of these questions are answered. There are a few optional hidden items that paint the picture a little clearer, but never do you get solid answers. I can think of numerous plot threads left dangling by the time the credits roll, and the ending itself just kind of stops. There’s so much more to the story, and the developers don’t even bother trying to answer them. If the intention was to leave off on a cliffhanger, at least some of the questions needed to be answered or hinted at being answered. Instead we’re left with a “That’s it?”
Technical issues also run amok. The framerate is all over the place, even dipping into single digits during cutscenes. It can actually be a little nauseating trying to watch myriad quick cuts in such choppy frames. Dialogue fades in and out, the subtitles turn on and off at random, the game even crashed on me once, setting me back fifteen minutes or so. Every action takes a second too long after you press the button. Enemies display a Nintendo 64 level of AI competency, simply charging headfirst into gunfire. The shotgun has no range limitation; you can legitimately snipe with a shotgun. Doors that can be opened and ones that can’t have very little, if anything, distinguishing them. It’s all a mess. Past Cure is another great example of a game that simply wasn’t finished before being released.
I had high hopes going into this game. It looked like a well-made mid-tier video game with a story that was right up my alley. When it came to seeing that story, the best I can say is that the actors seemed to be doing the best they could with some truly wretched dialogue. The gameplay was rarely any fun, especially with the bizarre tease of telekinesis that never showed up. The best thing I can honestly say about the game is that the dream sequences were pretty fun, but that’s not enough. It is impossible to recommend Past Cure.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One using pre-release retail code provided by the publisher, Phantom 8 Studios.