Release Date: Out Now!
Multiplayer: Co-op only.
Thanks to Atlus for providing a copy of this game for review
The Templars and the Crusades are, to me, one of the most interesting periods in history, filled with intrigue, massive battles and much more. Assassin’s Creed in particular has made full use of this setting , and now the Cursed Crusade has come along and decided that the Crusades would make for a perfect medieval brawler. Perhaps they’re right, maybe it would make a great medieval brawler. Sadly we won’t be finding that out today, as the Cursed Crusade isn’t a perfect brawler; it’s a mess.
You play as Denz De Bayle, a Templar who sets on the Crusades, accompanied by the walking Spanish stereotype that is Esteban, to try to locate his missing father and restore honor to his family name. But Denz and his companion have a second problem; they’re cursed. This curse haunts them, causing Death himself to try to claim them in person, often attacking them in their dreams. And so an interweaving story unfolds of Denz trying to find both his father and certain holy relics in an attempt to cure himself and Esteban of the curse. Along the way they’ll encounter some rather dodgy characters and beat the crap out of a lot of people, because that’s just how they rolled in those days.
But despite the games sheer love of cutscenes, with around two hours of them in the game, very little ever actually happens. Most cutscenes are filled with pointless speeches and dialogue. In fact much of the game progresses in this simple manner; move about ten-feet forward and expect either a bunch of people waving swords or a cut scene. Utterly terrible writing isn’t helping, either.
Denz and his Spaniard are hardly compelling lead characters either. Denz’s voice actor at least gives his lines a try, but the writers seem to have forgotten Denz’s personality somewhere along the way, leaving him a bland and dull character. Esteban is a tad more amusing, but mostly because of his portrayal as the perfect Spanish stereotype; from over-the-top accent to his one-liners, he’s a walking cliche that never failed to bring a smile to my face, for all the wrong reasons. They don’t seem that bothered by their Curse, either, and the fact that it’s going to send them to Hell. Sure, Death is chasing them around the place intent on making dramatic moments and claiming their souls, but they never seem to be that scared of the prospect, ruining the entire concept of it. The rest of the games characters suffer the same fate, being almost instantly forgettable and poorly written. Even while writing this review I struggle to name any of them.
Still, Esteban’s overly Spanish presence does mean that the game supports two-player co-op, both splitscreen and online. Like any game where you can play with a friend it does help to increase the fun factor a little as you can happily shout at each other down the mic. But the game doesn’t really make much use of the co-op, with about the only activity requiring both of you to work together being moving a cart or other piece of scenery out of the way so that you can progress. Other than that your friend can grab and hold stunned enemies, allowing you to end their miserable lives, and can revive you should you fall in battle. Still, having a friend is preferable to having to put up with Esteban’s unhelpful AI who has a horrible tendency to forget what he’s doing, such as killing the nasty people. At times the AI will simply fail to attack anybody and at others will get stuck in a piece of terrain, madly flailing at some wall that, I assume, must have offended him in some way.
So that leaves the medieval hacking to make this game a worthy purchase. And on paper things are looking good; there’s well over a hundred weapons in the game and you can happily dual wield whatever combination of them you like, assuming it’s not a two-handed weapon. Ever wanted to wield an axe in one hand and a sword in the other? Well, now you can! Or perhaps a shield and lance? Even better is that mixing these various weapons together unlocks the corresponding technique which you can then put points gained during play into. By doing so you’ll gain access to a vast array new moves when using that weapon or weapon combination. You also get to invest points in your characters basic stats, so between these two factors there’s a good bit of depth on offer, though it does quickly become evident that the various combo’s really mean little as none of them seem to offer any notable differences in damage or effectiveness.
But loads of weapons mean nothing if your combat system can’t deliver on its promises, and sadly Cursed Crusades simply doesn’t deliver at all, mostly thanks to the fact it commits the darkest sin possible in a hack ‘n’ slash game; control lag. There’s a considerable delay between hitting an attack button and Denz actually executing the move, and once he does launch the attack it’s completely uninterruptible . This is fine should you be facing a single foe, but in the world of the Crusades there’s rarely just one foe, so your pesky attack leaves you wide open for a strike. In theory the parry/block system should solve this, but it’s inconsistent best, sometimes working perfectly and other times failing to work at all. All of this leads to a combat system where button mashing is just as, if not more, effective than trying to perform specific combos, a fact further encouraged when you realise that a vast majority of enemy attacks can be halted by simply hitting X to strike them first. Simply repeat this step and victory shall be yours. A Guard break system does add a little dept to proceedings, but like the block it often doesn’t work.
But beating the snot out of an enemy at least rewards you with one of the games many finishing moves, and what moves they are! There’s some nicely brutal finishers to be had, all activated automatically, that lob of heads, limbs or simply drive a pike through someones skull. The first time you see these should easily bring a smile to your face, but the novelty quickly wears off as they have a habit of activating on almost every kill and often take over 5-seconds to complete, ruining what was left of the combats flow.
The enemies themselves are a pretty brain-dead bunch, giving rise to the question of just who the hell decided to hand them sharp objects without proper supervision by someone with an IQ that’s actually higher than a brick. The majority of these morons can be killed with simple button mashing, while others simply require you to tap the parry button, hit a few times and then repeat. Some enemies wear piles of armour in a brave but pointless attempt to halt your assault; simple bashing solves this problem, though a small amount of strategy is implemented in the form of blunt weapons doing more damage to armor. Mostly these nutters are dangerous through sheer numbers when they can slice you up while you’re stuck in an animation.
But battering enemies in its face does tend to take its toll on your weapons, resulting in them snapping in half or shattering, making you have to search the ground and pick up a fallen adversary’s sword or axe. In theory this is a pretty good idea, encouraging to try new weapons, but in practice it has a few fatal flaws; the first is that weapons break incredibly quickly and the second is that finding a replacement often proves tricky as they’re touch to spot on the ground and have a nasty habit of simply vanishing, never to be seen again.
Other than trying to put the correct end of a sword in an enemy there’s little more to do in the Cursed Crusade. There’s the occasional attempt to swap up gameplay by making you push a barricade forward while under enemy arrow fire or even guarding a siege weapon as it goes through town. There’s an attempt at ranged combat in the as Denz and Esteban always have a crossbow or bow on their person. But the aiming is incredibly clunky and the designated shooting sections feel like something you’d play at an amusement park where the enemies pop-up to fire, giving you an easy target.
And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the Curse, either. In-game this takes the form of a handy button that you can hit which causes the entire world to erupt in flames, Denzs and Esteban growing horns and practically everything turning red. According to the game itself entering this cursed mode should make you stronger and faster. You do indeed run a bit fast, but enemies never seem to go down any faster under your onslaught and you never actually feel any more powerful. At least you get some extra powers in the Curse, such as setting enemies alight with purifying fire. Again, it’s a decent concept but one that feels poorly implemented thanks to irritating auto-lock and the fact that the fire just doesn’t feel that powerful, either. The catch behind the curse, apart from the aforementioned being damned thing, is that allowing your Curse bar to drain will damage your health. Considering it doesn’t really help you anyway, I actually found myself avoiding Cursed mode entirely. In fact, the only real good side is that being in the Curse allows you to see structurally weak walls and break through them, a concept that’s never really implemented as well as it could have been. It’s simply used to move through the linear levels, but could have been used for finding secret areas and alternate routes.
It’s not a very good-looking game, either, despite the occasionally decent moment. The character models themselves are actually fairly detailed, but once they begin to move things fall apart as the animation looks stiff and lip syncing is utterly terrible, often failing to even activate when the character is speaking or just looking so stiff and unrealistic as to be funny. The environments show some decent textures in places, but clipping, rough lines and pretty bland level design quickly overshadow it, as does the horrible looking fire effects.
If that weren’t enough the game is also a bit of a mess with glitches and little bugs running rampant around the place. Characters can get stuck in scenery, weapons vanish from the ground, objects, when touched, will often float away into space for no reason and some animations during in-game cutscenes fail to activate entirely. Hell, there’s even a glitch that resets all the sound to zero whenever I booted up the game, forcing me to go through the options every time to set them back to full. Speaking of which, the music isn’t going to be impressing you, either. And plenty of other little problems and glitches exist. And did I mention the irritating camera angles? No? Well, they’re irritating.
Before this review draws to a close, though, it should be noted that the Cursed Crusade is a budget title, created using far less money that what we expect from a Triple A game, and so you can’t truly expect stunning graphics or perfectly fluid animation. Having said that, the lack of money doesn’t really excuse many of the games problems and shortcomings, because we’ve seen other mid-budget games do pretty damn well.
I have no doubt in my mind that this game, like the Dynasty Warrior titles, will find a dedicated but small group of people who enjoy it, and to those people I tip my hat because you’ve managed to get a fun experience out of something I could not. There’s just something about this style of game that attracts some people. Ultimately, the Cursed Crusade just doesn’t deliver the fluid combat that a good hack ‘n’ slash game needs, nor an interesting story to keep me playing. But having said that, there is a certain addictive quality to bashing enemies in the face, and I can’t actually say I hated my time with the game, just that I didn’t like it, either.
+ Loads of weapons and combinations.
+ Plenty of unlockable moves and finishing moves.
+ Esteban is amusing.
– Combat is clunky and lacks any real need for skill.
– Numerous glitches and problems.
– Dull story.
There’s the occasional moment of decency, but this is pretty poor on both a technical level and a design level.
The music repeats itself continuously and is as generic as it comes, not to mention the poor audio quality of it.. The voice acting is poor as well, but some of the sound effects aren’t too bad.
A cursed Templar sets out to find his father, accompanied by a stereotype on legs. Isn’t as interesting as it sounds.
At first things are fairly fun, until the input lag drives you nuts and the button mashing gives you a headache. It’s a shame, because the amount of weapons and combinations is pretty good.
The singleplayer should last around six to eight hours, though that includes a ludicrous amount of cutscenes.
Summary: Stiff, slow combat and numerous problems and glitches all overshadow a couple of good ideas.