Reviewed on Xbox One X, also available on PlayStation 4 & PC
Released – February 23rd 2018
Developer – Phantom 8
Genre – 3rd Person Action
File Size – 8.6GB
Past Cure is a dark, psychological thriller developed by a small 8 person studio from Berlin; Phantom 8. A single player, cinematic experience that follows the story of our protagonist Ian, an ex-special forces soldier, as he searches for answers as to why he has lost the last 3 years of his memory and why he has a come to possess some unusual telekinetic powers and abilities.
What follows is a 5-6 hour action and stealth romp that sees the player control Ian through both the ‘Real World’ and the hallucinogenic ‘Nightmare’ world that has been conjured by the prolonged use of his powers.
Anyone familiar with titles such as Quantum Break or Max Payne will feel right at home when stepping into Ian’s shoes for the action sections. As well as the usual duck, run, melee, shoot you would come to expect in an action title, Ian also has something special up his sleeve in the form of 2 telekinetic abilities. The first is Astral Projection, which allows our hero to leave his body and interact with the environment or NPC’s. The second (and my favourite) is Time Perception which works in a very similar way to Max Payne’s ‘Bullet Time‘. These 2 respective abilities are mapped to alternative shoulder buttons to allow ease of access when the action heats up. However, if you play anything like me, you will find yourself spamming time perception so that you can pull of those satisfying, slow motion headshots.
Phantom 8 have done a decent job of mapping Ian’s movements to the pad interface, with players being able to pick up and master these abilities with relative ease. However,I do have a criticism in that I do feel that a ‘snap to cover’ mechanic would further enhance the gameplay, especially in the more demanding firefights.
Past Cure also has a few Stealth sections throughout the campaign. In these sections Ian is stripped of his weapons and only his telekinetic powers to rely on. I personally found these sections to be a bit hit and miss due to the very unforgiving nature of the checkpoint system.
On one hand it is absolutely brutal and frustrating in the ‘Real World’ sections where getting spotted can literally set you back 10-15 minutes playtime due to an instant fail mechanic. It just feels a little jarring and immersion breaking, considering 5 minutes earlier you just massacred 10 agents in 30 sections by slowing down time and dispatching them with a clinical headshot! It really is a low point for the game.
However, in the ‘Nightmare’ world I found the stealth sections sublime. There is a level later on in the game that clearly draws inspiration from titles like Silent Hill and Outlast. In this section, the genuine fear of getting discovered and instantly killed by the outright creepy ‘Porcelain Mannequins’ is brilliant.
If I were to offer advice to the developers I would have suggested doubling down on the nightmare stealth sections and leaving the real world sections to action only. I personally feel the game would have been better for it.
Past Cure utilises Unreal Engine 4 and for the most part is a decent presentation for the player. There is a very clear difference in how the 2 game worlds are displayed. A minimalistic, clinical art-style employed for the real world sections and a hellish, dirty style employed for the nightmare sections. Environments employ the use of decent textures and for the most part a solid framerate is achieved for the majority of the game.
Character models are a little bit more hit and miss. Ian and the nightmarish mannequins are well realised. However human NPC’s could really have done with a little more work and variation. This variation in quality between models is probably down to the time and budget constraints on such a small team as opposed to lack of effect on the developers part.
Sound design is actually quite good in Past Cure, especially in the Nightmare sections. Phantom 8 make good use of unusual, uncomfortable sounds to really ramp up the tension in these areas, especially when a mannequin is alerted. Guns sound meaty when fired and the musical score in the action sections is well matched to set the scene.
However, the voice acting can be a little poor in places with delivery not really up to scratch. I found myself willing not just the principle protagonist, but also the supporting NPC’s to deliver some more punch and emphasis with their lines, especially in the more tension and action filled sections.
Past Cure is a decent first effort from a small 8 person team. It takes a little while for the story to get going in the early hours, however, it does ramp up quite considerably towards the end of the game if you stick with it.
On the whole I found the game to be a little hit and miss. With some sections incredibly frustrating and some genuinely brilliant. However, if you can look past a couple of design shortcomings and you’re looking to scratch that single player, sci-fi, cinematic experience itch then Past Cure is worth a look.
- Good use of Unreal Engine 4
- Time perception is a fun mechanic
- Very atmospheric in places
- Mannequins are genuinely creepy
- Stealth sections can be very unforgiving
- Can be a bit linear
- Story takes a while to get going
- Would benefit from a cover system