Modern gaming is resistant to genre description. Each release is a combination of tropes and themes that strive to carve out a niche in a competitive marketplace. Even a decade ago, you could put a game up against its peers at a glance. Shooters, RPGs, and Survival Horror were on a separate path, evolving on their own and appealing to their own fans. Early attempts to break that mold were marred by a lack of vision, producing games that didn't appeal to anyone. Nowadays, most games can merge ideas without issue, and it's rare to see something that truly feels out of place. These curiosities feel like time travelers from another age, and that dubious mark of quality is the perfect descriptor for Phantom 8 Studio's Past Cure.
The official website for Past Cure boasts that the game is equal parts action, horror, thriller and stealth. To the casual eye, this seems like a pretty unstable combination, and the final product bears out that conclusion. Attempting a tale of intrigue with an amnesiac main hero, Past Cure throws together zombie stand-ins, secret conspiracies, superpowers, corporate espionage, and cyberpunk visions. It can never really nail down a narrative thread, preferring instead to go off on every tangent it can find. The twists it attempts to lure you in with are obvious. The voice acting feels too belabored and boring to sell its flights of fancy. What should be your driving force through this adventure quickly becomes an afterthought as your brain rejects the muddled nonsense on offer.
Thankfully, it's not all inane lunacy. Past Cure features serviceable gunplay, helped along by a psychic dose of bullet time. It turns out, despite all our progress as a society, an impressive slow-motion headshot is still extremely satisfying. This is especially the case here, as Past Cure layers in a gratuitous blood splatter that is both welcome and hilariously out of place. The AI isn't anything special, and there were several scenarios where I could hide behind cover and watch as enemies charged in for their complementary death blow. Any game where you can unwittingly create piles of corpses has some merit in my eyes. Still, I doubt that these tactics are what the designers intended.
Outside of the times where the game gives you full reign with a gun, Past Cure is a nigh-unplayable mess. The mandatory stealth sections are particularly nasty, crafting missions filled with mechanics that have been forgotten for a reason. Scenarios strip you of your weapons and force you to creep around vision cones, hoping beyond hope that a guard doesn't see you. You can use astral projection to see where guards are before lurching ahead with an unwieldy crouch walk. One wrong move and your progress disintegrates. This may have been acceptable back when stealth was a novel concept, but it just comes across as maddening now.
The horror aspects of the game kick in around the second half. The action moves from bland office buildings to bland boiler rooms, and your enemies become haunted mannequins. The design in these sections is a slight step up, with several sections reminding me of the inventive pastiche of Deadly Premonition. It hits all the beats you'd expect, and all right in a row. Still, this is another aspect that functions as it should. Nothing is truly terrifying, but it's clear that there's a decent idea or two buried amidst the rubble.
Phantom 8 Studio are positioning Past Cure as a game that "bridges the gap between AAA and indie". Technology is a wonderful thing, and it's impressive that such a small team can create a game that wouldn't have looked out of place on retail shelves in the PS2 days. Unfortunately, even considering that accomplishment, this is no Hellblade. If you've played games at all, you'll know everything that Past Cure has to offer. It draws from countless sources, creating an end product that is generic at best and broken at worst. Games have moved beyond the static worlds and bargain basement production quality on display here, leaving Past Cure for only the most morbidly curious of observers.
Past Cure is a hodgepodge of stealth, action, and drama that reaches for the stars and falls somewhere far below.
- Serviceable Gunplay
- Interesting Dreamscapes
- Mandatory Stealth Sections
- Comical Voice Acting and AI
- Predictable Twists and Turns