When first hearing that Past Cure was a story-driven cinematic action game that didn’t focus on player choice or replayability I was pretty excited. There’s nothing I love more than playing a narrative-driven adventure, feeling every emotion of the protagonist and experiencing edge-of-your-seat set pieces. From my experience of the playable demo and everything I’d seen of Past Cure, this is exactly what the game looked to offer, which is why I felt so let down while playing through the over-complicated shallow story that’s pieced together with unnecessary fragmented gameplay.
Past Cure sees you playing as Ian, an ex-soldier with some pretty unique telekinetic abilities. These abilities seem to be the side effects of whatever happened to Ian over the past three years, and this is the direction the story takes, trying to piece together Ian’s shady past. Unfortunately, the game fails to achieve this on just about every level. As the story progresses we are given some insight into the past three years, but really not enough to make us connect with Ian in any way and the can be said about every other character in Past Cure.
Moving through the narrative will see you meet a couple of side character, but just like Ian, there’s nothing there to really bring a connection to them. For example, towards the end of the game you’re introduced to a certain character and just an hour later your thrown into a situation where you’re supposed to really care about them, which is a pretty hard task when you’ve only shared a small amount of dialog together and don’t really know who they are. The rushed introductions continue throughout the game and once the end credits role your left wonder who anyone really was, including Ian.
This ambiguity towards the character development may way be the angle developers Phantom 8 where aiming for. But in a single player game where you spend six hours investing into one character, you have to have a connection to make the games larger set pieces come alive. But once again, due to the lack of investment to any onscreen character, the larger action moments carry the same small amount of impact as any other part of the game.
So, what about the actual gameplay? Well, this is where Past Cure tries to save its self, and for the most part, does a pretty good job. Ian telekinesis provides him with 2 main abilities, one slows time around him but allows Ian to move at full speed, the other is to interact with objects you cant directly reach. These abilities provide the core gameplay when moving through the different stages. Most environments will start with a stealth approach, and by using your telekinesis ability you can take out security camera and spot the location of guards. But when all hell brakes loose and you’re spotted the time slowing ability comes into play, allowing you to tactically pick off enemies with a slick looking headshot – which does feel awesome in slow motion.
Taking advantage of these abilities is limited as using them will decrease Ian’s sanity levels. This is measured by a blue bar in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, you can increase your amount of sanity by finding blue pills. The emphasis on limiting the use of these abilities plays well into the games hands and does require you to think about your actions before just rushing in.
Although these different abilities do bring a focus on resource management and offer some challenge in their delivery, they cant do much in taking away just how sterile and bland most the environment you play through feel. The biggest victim here is the first act, where after moving from white room to white room in an hour-long tutorial, you’ll then find yourself moving from parking lot to parking lot. You can expect this to last for just over 2 hours, after which your treated to a nice set of hotel corridors.
Past Cure does mix things up in the second act, which is no doubt the strongest part of the game. Here you’ll find yourself in a very claustrophobic and run-down prison. It’s when the games play into this setting that you’re treated with some genuinely tense gameplay and interesting narrative finds. Moving through these dark corridors actually made me question what was around the next corner and made me feel slightly uncomfortable, but just when it felt like this psychological thriller is showing it’s the true colours you ripped away back into another sterile room.
Not only is this environment often boring, but they also offer little exploration or intrigue, which the game wouldn’t allow for anyway. For some strange reason, Past Cure wants to be in complete control from the beginning, which is so often demonstrated through the game rather annoying objectives. I mean, telling me to answer the phone call from Marcus, really, not only have you ruined the surprise of whos calling, but the only thing to interact with in the room is the ringing phone, so, of course, I was going to answer it. These prompts continue throughout the game, and every time I saw one I was reminded I was playing a video game, which really takes away from the cinematic experience Past Cure is striving to achieve.
What does make up for the cinematic experience is the overall presentation of Past Cure. Now, the actual gameplay visuals aren’t the most impressive you’ll ever see, but the letterbox effect and the slight blur to each cutscene do bring a cinema effect to the game, which mostly fits in well on-screen action.
It’s fair to say I felt pretty let down by Past Cure. The ideas behinds the narrative and the snippets of information we know about the characters offered the potential to deliver a meaningful and impactful story. Although the use of telekinetic abilities tries to save the rushed introductions, bland environments and shallow narrative, they cant help the fact that Past Cure feels like a classic 90’s action game that just missing a bit of heart.