Everybody loves an underdog story. The fighter slated to have no chance but comes back to win; the Cleveland Indians hope of the 2016 World Series (and the inevitable heartbreak thereafter); an indie developer pumping out a tremendous game. I’ve always been a fan of indie games as they’re often untainted by AAA boundaries or large publishers. When I had the opportunity to play Past Cure, the action/stealth game from indie developer Phantom 8 Studios, I took it. There are a couple angles we have to take to properly assess the game: Does it play as it should, and what is its overall cost? The answer to the later is a solid $39.99. Past Cure, unlike many indie games, is available as a hardcopy, and the price is identical for download on whatever platform you’re choosing (PSN, Xbox Live, or Steam). The answer to the former question – whether the game itself plays as it was intended – is a multilayered answer.
Before we dive into that, however, we should understand the plot. Past Cure is the story of Ian, an amnesiac who suffers from terrible and violent nightmares but is also a conveniently trained killer with supernatural powers (the ability to slow down time or project himself out of body, for example). Your goal is to find information about your mysterious disappearance of which you have no recollection. The game takes you through multiple stages, each fairly unique from the last, as you work your way to your goal.
Past Cure is an ambitious title, especially from an infant developer. Phantom 8 Studios had some great collective thoughts when building the premise for Past Cure. Unfortunately, the execution of the game left quite a bit to be desired. Ian comes equipped with psychological powers that have certain limitations. As your traverse the various stages in Past Cure, you’ll be called upon to utilize each of Ian’s mental powers. Disabling security cameras, for example, require Ian to project himself near the camera (a press of the command prompt will do the trick). Likewise, the ability to slow down time comes in handy when in an intense firefight, allowing you to take your shots with care and improved accuracy. Additionally, Ian can mind dive into certain enemies and accomplish a few other neat tricks using his abilities. For the most part, Ian’s unique skill set works without a hitch.
Everything, in fact, works without a hitch for portions of the game. What killed the experience for me, however, were the numerous iterations of broken gameplay and poor stealth mechanics. Various stages – or parts of stages – require Ian to stealthily avoid any enemy. If spotted, the game instantly ends. This caused me much pain in the hotel level as I made my way from the manager’s office to the staff elevator (not anywhere near the Staff sign, by the way). Before I finally completed that segment of the game, I found myself a little exit window (by which I mean part of a wall was missing, and I caroused around in air, game development squares, free standing doors, odd metal bars that attached to officers I couldn’t, strangely, enter, and a bit more. The humor of free roaming outside of the intended area faded as I realized I couldn’t access the elevators with my newfound freedom and was near instantly spotted when I re-emerged from the ether. I saved the clip on my PSN for future enjoyment.
On its own, Past Cure isn’t an altogether terrible title. The story is passable, and the core gameplay mechanics are interesting. Gunplay isn’t the greatest, but it works effectively and as desired, while CQC provided the same results. Stealth segments placed unforgiveable barriers in the way of progression, completely removing me from the feel of the game. Particularly, when roaming the nightmare prison – the hospital portion – and attempting to sneak around the creepy dolls (by the way, the added horror element of Ian’s nightmares was a great touch marred by shoddy stealth gameplay) took me away from my involvement in the plot, characters, and game itself to realize I was spotted once again from the eyes on the back of these monsters’ heads.
If Past Cure ever finds itself in a bargain bin before vanishing from stores altogether, I’d recommend giving it a try. Phantom 8 Studios has ambition, and for its first foray in the gaming industry, put forth an admirable effort. While the cards fell short on this particular game, the team, should they stay together and improve upon their flaws, can craft potentially great things. Past Cure is a poor man’s Quantum Break, but with way worse acting, poor sound quality, a plethora of glitches, and awful stealth. As much as I hate to say it, the underdog in this scenario fell about as hard as the bookies predicted.