Launching a brand new IP at the foot of 2011’s “AAA” season is always going to be a risky business. Though games such as Techland’s Dead Island and Relic Entertainment’s Space Marine have fared well, much of their success has been channelled from one of the year’s most iconic CG trailers (in the case of Dead Island) and a much-loved brand in tabletop gaming which has been in circulation for well over 20 years. Without a hype train to roll on and overshadowed by a barrage of must-have sequels, things are already looking grim for Kylotonn’s The Cursed Crusade without even mentioning the game itself.
Set during the Third Crusade, revered Templar knight Jean de Bayle is inflicted with a curse destined to spread through his bloodline, condemning his family to eternal hell. In search of redemption and a way of ridding himself of the curse, Jean disappears during his quest in the Holy Lands and to make matters worse his family have been subjected to the cruelty of his brother who, in Jean’s absence, has claimed his land and wealth for himself.
Enter Jean’s son, Denz de Bayle. A Templar in training, he soon discovers that he has inherited the curse and is now capable of transitioning between Hell and reality. Of course it’s not all dimension hopping fun, in return for his ability he’s constantly pursued by Death and his minions. Embarking on a quest in the hope of finding his father, Denz crosses the path of Esteban Noviembre, a Spanish outlaw also bearing the curse. The unlikely pair enlist in the coming crusade, and it soon becomes apparent that they are not the only ones damned with hellish powers.
Denz in all his demonic glory.
The Cursed Crusade is a straight-up action adventure title with a heavy focus on melee combat. Levels usually clock in at around 15-20 minutes, the full game taking roughly 6-8 hours to complete (depending on difficulty.) Each level follows a strict linear design, and though a number of in-game environments are spacious, there is little room or incentive for exploration; the game instead steadily forces players down a single track, frequently punctuated with bouts of hand-to-hand combat.
Though they are effective in breaking the continuous chain of battle sequences, puzzles offer very little challenge or variety, either forcing you to make use of your crossbow or to search for glowing interactive objects . The crossbow can also be used in combat, easily being the most powerful weapon in the game; however the heavy use of fixed camera angles and basic firing controls/animations make it redundant at times and ultimately the least enjoyable component of your arsenal.
Melee combat is simple enough to master, The Cursed Crusade’s weapon system adding a moderate yet somewhat misplaced sense of depth. Each class of weapon has its own combo tree which players can develop in between levels using the experience they have earned. Though it does add a degree of customisation, the result is that you will find yourself sticking to only a handful of the dozen or so weapon-types. Even then you aren’t missing out on much; upgraded weapons will allow for bigger, more devastating combos though the lack of visceral gameplay feedback and having to remember button sequences won’t have you clamouring to max out those dual axes you had your eye on.
Combat itself requires a mixture of well timed attacks, stuns, dodges and counters, sharing more similarities with games such as Assassin’s Creed than “hack and slash” titles like Dynasty Warriors or God of War. We’ve seen other games using this “bait and wait” style of combat, such as Captain America and most notably Batman: Arkham Asylum, but their success rests within the fluidity and impact of gameplay, two key elements which The Cursed Crusade lacks. Countering an attack won’t damage your opponent, instead leaving them dazed for a couple of seconds. Skirmishes feeling more like a collection of one-on-one encounters instead of a cinematic cohesive beatdown.
Again, The Cursed Crusade tries to shunt an element of variety into its gameplay with the inclusion of armour, but it ends up becoming another barrier for players to overcome. The majority of enemies will be kitted head to toe in mail or plate which must be damaged before Denz and Esteban can even deplete their health. Therefore instead of being creative with your combos, you will spam H attacks (which aim for the head) in order to get quicker kills. This is exasperated even further by the fact that weapons will break after a prescribed number of strikes, which proves a frustration rather than an interesting mechanic.
One subtle gameplay feature that works well is the use of your surroundings in combat. Though there a very few examples of this environmental interaction, it works well and breaks the monotony of constant battle.
The core gameplay isn’t terrible, it just suffers from Kylotonn’s attempts to work in other mechanics which seem promising at first though fail to add anything constructive to the experience. Unfortunately the same can be said about The Cursed Crusade’s focus on co-op play. The only time you will ever need the presence of an active partner is during scripted events which require two players to be present such as lifting gates, operating winches etc.
Without the budget or resources of an epic-scale action game from a mainstream publisher, visuals were never going to be a strong suit for The Cursed Crusade. With that said, the graphics don’t appear as dated as some might expect; character models lack detail and there is a noticeable drop in frame-rate from time to time but animations are sound for the most part, as are some of the environmental designs. One nice touch which may go unnoticed is the soundtrack and how it adjusts depending on whether Denz and Esteban are in reality or the demonic plane, slightly changing in pitch and working in different instruments though maintaining the same tune.
- It may stumble over itself at times, but the narrative will spark interest.
- Voice work which pitches itself higher than most budget video games.
- Actually tries to introduce variety into its gameplay.
- Atmospheric soundtrack.
- The Templar’s Curse plays a relatively minor role in terms of gameplay.
- Combat is hefty and repetitive, puzzles are almost too basic.
- A number of gameplay elements are carelessly implemented.
- Focus on co-op is forced on players.
- Frame-rate issues are persistent.
- Suffers from a lack of pace.
- You will find yourself lost without a sense of direction at times.