Past Cure: Poor Execution Holds Back This Promising Psychological Thriller | A Short Pause Review
Past Cure found itself on my radar late last year. It was an intriguing looking title, but I wasn't sure what to expect from it. Phantom-8 was a brand new indie studio comprised of first-time game developers, and their game was coming in with a $29.99 price tag. Trailers looked promising, and several early gameplay demos I watched showed a competent game with some interesting ideas. The game has been out for a little over a month now, and I'm sure most of you have no doubt seen the abysmal-at-best reviews for the game. While Past Cure didn't set the world on fire for me, it represents a good first outing for a team with much room to improve.
Past Cure is a psychological thriller with some slight horror tones. Players will step into the shoes of Ian, a veteran who seems to have undergone some off-the-books genetic testing during his service. This has caused him to forget the past three years of his life and has left him with severe trauma that results in him experiencing some horrible nightmares. On the positive side, he has also developed a few abilities such as telekinesis and the power to slow down time. To keep himself in check and grounded in what we believe is his reality, Ian must take pills known simply as Blues. These pills serve as the only lead that Ian has in finding out what’s happened to him as he relies on the aid of his brother Markus to track down the people responsible for his horrible condition.
Awakening in a dark, abandoned facility, players immediately find themselves in control of Ian during one of his nightmares as the game begins. After a few moments, Ian finds a gun and is greeted by a porcelain figure walking towards him. It's here where you'll get your first taste of the game’s gun play as you mow down the menacing stone man. As you seek out an exit afterwards, the doors around you will close, some ominous music will begin to play, the doors will light up blue and red, and you'll find yourself fighting off a couple more of these mysterious figures. Gun play is straightforward for the most part, and a headshot will typically shatter these enemies.
Once this section is complete, you'll be introduced to some of the game’s other mechanics as Ian awakens from this nightmare to take one of his pills. The Blues are supposed to keep Ian sane; without them he'll have hallucinations of these creepy porcelain people watching him. As time goes on, unfortunately, this is inconsistently implemented at best. Once you learn about your abilities, the Blue meter — which is connected to your pills — is then tied to their use, seemingly ditching the notion that Ian needs them to focus on reality. After this point, the game loses focus, finding itself all over the place in terms of what it wants to deliver to the player.
After a nice set-up with some creepy enemies and straightforward mechanics, the game thrusts you into a James Bond-esque infiltration mission. Gone is the need to take Blues to stop hallucinations, instead using them to refill your ability meter that you'll be burning through as you slow down time to sneak past guards and use your telekinesis to shut down security cameras. This area is also home to the “never-ending parking garage,” a section which drug on a few levels too long as you find yourself trapped inside and locked into forced stealth missions that find you seeking out the person responsible for the Blues.
While I typically stumble my way through stealth sections in games, Past Cure treats its sneaky segments as more of a puzzle. There appear to be an overwhelming amount of guards patrolling the area you’re looking to navigate, but in reality, you have the entire floor to work with so you don’t need to find your way past tons of guards at a time. Using your abilities actually makes this section pretty fun as you'll be using your kinesis to check on the guard around the corner to see when he moves and then utilizing your slowing time ability to sneak around said corner undetected. Much like Quantum Break, you'll find yourself enjoying what Past Cure does as you utilize the tools given to you to tackle obstacles rather than attempting them with your standard stealth game mindset.
While I enjoyed the puzzle aspect of the stealth sections overall, I still found myself confused here on several occasions. In one instance, I needed to take a keycard from a character and make my way to the employee elevator. At the end of the hallway, a plaque notes the manager's office is one way and the employee area is the other. Naturally, I made my way over to the employee area after several tries, navigating and eliminating the different guards without being spotted (I should mention being spotted is an instant “Mission Failure” screen). I wandered around the break room looking for the elevator, but couldn't find anything. Since I had finally taken out all of the guards, I spent another 10 minutes or so wandering the area looking for where to go before heading back through the door I came in. This caused a glitch which allowed me to walk through the environment so I concluded that this was definitely not the way to go. I returned to where I started and headed down a different hallway, albeit one that looked pretty similar to another one I had passed through previously before finally figuring out where I was supposed to go. In fact, similar looking interiors are a prevalent issue throughout Past Cure. The hallways here, the parking garage mentioned earlier, and a few action sequences later on will definitely leave you yearning for more of the creativity on display during the nightmare scenes. The lack of a waypoint also hurt in this particular instance, as it wasn't obvious where to go once obtaining the key.
In addition to the puzzle-like stealth sequences documented above, Past Cure throws a number of different puzzle types at you throughout the game, and these continue to be the star of the show. Whether it's finding the path through a group of guards, solving a riddle, or hell, even solving the often loathed light switch puzzle where you have to direct the current from Point A to Point B, are done quite well here. The puzzles that shine the brightest are unquestionably the ones presented during the nightmare scenarios. Phantom-8 has made some of them feel incredibly consequential as you're unarmed in the asylum and failure to solve the puzzle at hand could result in a porcelain dude curb stomping poor Ian's face in. It's the nightmare chapters that show this game's true potential. Past Cure definitely delivers on its more horror-focused aspects. Once I finished the game, I was left scratching my head at the need for the action chapters. Past Cure leaves something to be desired out of the "real-world" missions that Ian carries out.
When it comes down to it, Past Cure frustrates the most in its lack of execution. It’s an interesting idea that both misses the mark and hits the nail on the head. In one aspect, you have a story that doesn't seem to flow consistently with the gameplay systems or make much sense upon its conclusion. The final boss’ name is only known because of the name above his health bar — Ian doesn't even know who he is. There are collectibles that fill in some background on Ian and Markus, so there's stuff in here that could lead you to draw your own conclusion about what actually happens over the course of the story, but unfortunately it's just that — your own conclusion. Past Cure has a cool premise, so to see the storytelling fall as short as it did is a disappointment.
Past Cure isn't going to be for everyone. It's a budget title from a group of first-time game developers and that's prevalent throughout the game. From odd mechanic changes and tone shifts between Ian's nightmares and reality, to the often confusing story, it feels like Phantom-8 had a lot of different ideas for how they wanted the game to shake out. It just didn't quite weave them together as seamlessly as they had hoped. On the flip side, they definitely have the potential to crank out an amazing horror game as their blend of puzzle-based gameplay and environmental work made for some both satisfying and eerie moments. Navigating through Ian’s nightmares were some of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a horror game since Resident Evil 5. There’s a delicate balance of tension that many horror games can't seem to find, but Past Cure felt just right in this regard to me. I just wish there were more of this aspect throughout the game. If you don't come in expecting The Evil Within or Resident Evil and keep your expectations in check, you’ll likely find something about this budget psychological action flick that you'll like.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT...
We reviewed Past Cure using a PS4 digital retail copy provided to us by the fine folks at ÜberStrategist, Inc.