Psychological thrillers usually aim to capture the interests of their intended audience by focusing on the disillusioned minds of their characters and the way in which the world around them isn’t always as it seems. But getting the balance of merging reality with dreams right can often be tricky business. If done well it can create something special; something that confuses you by forcing you to have mixed states of emotion at the same time, something that can leave you questioning your own existence. Get it wrong though and it can cause a game to almost lose its identity as a psychological thriller.
Unfortunately for me, Past Cure just doesn’t get the balance right when it comes to bringing two worlds together. At all times I could tell where I was; I could tell what was real and what wasn’t. And instead of becoming frustrated at the game for boggling my mind to the point I had to put the controller down and walk away just to understand what was going on, it has been frustrating me for the wrong reasons. That’s not to say that the game isn’t good, it just it feels like it could’ve been much better because the foundations and all the scaffolding is there to build a great game, but it didn’t deliver what I was hoping it to.
For example, the game boasts that it is a “cinematic, story-driven experience” and it does become one, eventually, but it’s almost like being a tourist on holiday when you jump in a taxi. You ask to go to your destination and because they know you’re new to the area they take you the long way round to get where you want to go to make them more money. It takes so long to piece together what the hell is going on, it just feels disorganised and almost like you’re being told the story in the wrong order, and not in a clever way like Star Wars.
You start off with the protagonist’s nightmare, which acts as a tutorial for basic controls and sees you killing a bunch of manikin-like creatures before running out of ammo and waking up in your brother’s beach house. Then you chat with your brother on the phone, and shortly after a cinematic sequence begins explaining about some tests that were performed on individuals to unlock hidden powers. You then decide it is time for bed, but not before seeing a man in your house who isn’t really there and then you learn about your special abilities in your dream. After completing that secondary tutorial about how to use your abilities you set off on your first mission to stop some guys dealing drugs and finding information about who kidnapped you. Sounds a little confusing right?
I think the basis for a good story is there and it does get better as the game develops, but the cutscene about the soldiers being tested on for me feels like it should have been played before the game even begins. Setting a bit of context about what has been going on. I also think that as nice as it is to have such a thorough tutorial, it’s extremely long-winded and could be cut down a hell of a lot, because albeit for a couple bits where you hear voices from your past, it doesn’t add a lot and you end up repeating some stuff like shooting your gun, making the initial tutorial in the nightmare pointless.
Fortunately, the game does pick up from the slightly disappointing and confusing start, with the real fun beginning once you start your missions. Now, these can be approached in one of two ways; you can either channel that inner ninja that only ever comes out when you return from a drunken bender and you don’t want to wake anyone in the house, or you can go in all guns blazing, taking out anything and everything. Obviously, those who take the second path will have a slightly tougher time of it as you alert more enemies to your presence, but thanks to the magical abilities you have, you should still make easy work of them.
There are two abilities you have at your disposal during the game but you’ll need to make sure you use them wisely as doing so will decrease your sanity. Don’t worry though, because you can just pop a few pills in order to top your sanity levels up should they get too low. The first of your abilities you discover is telekinesis, using this allows you to have an out of body experience so you can look down corridors for enemies or disarm security cameras without giving your location away. It’s a skill you’re more likely to use if you intend on playing this game as intended and stealthing your way through missions. It allows you to plan your routes out and control the risk of being caught by disarming enemy security measures.
The second ability allows you to slow down time, making it easier to avoid enemies as well as dealing with a crowd of them. This again comes in handy if you plan to stealth missions because it gives you more time to perform stealth kills, as well as providing you with additional time to sneak around without being caught. But, as stated, it does have its benefits for those wanting to go in loud because as you slow down time, you’re able to dodge enemy attacks more effectively as well as aiming your weapons more accurately so you can plant your bullets into their skulls. But like I said, using abilities does come at a cost so you have to be careful as you can only use them for a limited time, and although some of it does recover by itself, if you don’t have any blue pills left, you could find yourself in muddy waters.
Besides the abilities, you have two main methods of combat to help you tackle your opponents. Firstly, guns. There are a few different models you’ll see throughout the game, but the one you’ll probably find yourself using the most is your pistol. The sight is always in the middle of the screen when equipped and it’s quite an accurate system the devs have put in place, to the point, it is almost impossible to miss your target unless you use a weapon with some major recoil like an assault rifle. As for bullets, you’ll find these stashed around or you can recover ammunition from the bodies of those who were no match for you.
The second form of combat is hand-to-hand, and there are some really nice animations for these moments. Unfortunately, the majority of enemies in the real world have guns, and there is usually multiple of them so you don’t get as much of a chance to use this style of combat which really is a shame because the mechanics are great. That said, if you are playing stealth, then there are plenty of opportunities to sneak up on people and to perform stealth kills which display various methods of killing people from slitting throats to just choking them until they pass out cold on the floor.
One of the games biggest positives besides the combat mechanics is Past Cure’s graphics and music. A lot of effort has clearly been put in and you can tell that the dev team have added a lot of small details to try and really make this game something special, and for the most part, it is brilliant. Creating a bunch of great atmospheres throughout. However, there were times where for example on the early missions you’d go in and you’d see these stunning cars in this concrete underground car park, and yet something so simple as a door handle could be pixelated and look like something you’d expect from a PS1 game, so as much work has gone in to refine this game, there is still a fair bit to be done.
Overall, I think this game could have been much better than it was, but considering it is the first game to be released by the 8-man indie studio phantom8, they’ve done a tremendous job. I feel much of the criticism they have received has been harsh, but the developers may be partly to blame for their own downfall with Past Cure by releasing a trailer that generated a lot of hype, which the game didn’t fully deliver on. That said, some of the criticism has been quite accurate as well. Ultimately though I’ve enjoyed my experience of the game and it has been quite fun to play and for all they have done wrong, there has been a lot they’ve done right, such as the combat mechanics and although with a few blemishes, the graphics too. Given the size of the studio and the quality of the finished product, I’d say it was a job the team can be extremely proud of.
- An unnecessarily long-winded tutorial and confusing start to the story
- Excellent combat mechanics with some lovely animations
- Mind-bending mental abilities to aid you in missions that slowly cause you to lose your sanity
- Play the game the way you want; go in all guns blazing or channel your inner ninja
Past Cure is a psychological thriller developed and published by the German indie studio phantom8, and it is now available to buy on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.