We knew things were bound to get harrowing in The Cursed Crusade; the game's premise is to send you to the depths of Hell... we just didn't expect to actually be tormented. After many hours, we've emerged from this nightmare with blistered fingers from clunky controls, in complete disbelief over its sleep-inducing story, but mostly, we're thankful that we didn't throw our controller over the awful AI and frustrating glitches.The Cursed Crusade, we banish you to the Gaming Hell you sent us to; may you never give another gamer the misery you gave us.
It doesn't take a dedicated history buff to know the discord that erupted with the Crusades during the Middle Ages. Put yourself there for a moment - bloodshed left and right, passionate warcries abounding as you charge forth into a throng of barbaric enemies. On top of this, you've got some crazy curse that grants you superior strength to stand against the sadistic horde. Of course, it comes at a price - your curse binds you to Hell, with the Grim Reaper constantly at your heels.
This sounds like quite the compelling premise, right? You're probably imagining epic battles, high pressure moments, and a narrative full of energy and vigor where the brutalities of war and sacrifice increasingly surface. The Cursed Crusade's story unfolds more like a history lesson where Ben Stein lifelessly recalls facts. Students often ask their history teachers why they should care; we wanted to ask the same to The Cursed Crusade.
The problem lies in Denz de Bayle's story, narrated by his father without gusto or high energy cutscenes. What we get is boring exposition revealing the most trivial details about Denz's adventure... if it can even be called that. Where's the intensity? Where's the anguish over the loss surrounding these characters? Most importantly, where's Denz's struggle to come to terms with the fact that his soul belongs to Hell?
While the game tries to add levity by partnering up the noble Denz de Bayle with his polar opposite, the sly and shady Esteban, it just doesn't work. Their banter feels so forced and dry that it often becomes more misplaced than anything. As for the full story arc, it's a mess; not just because there's a lack of action, but because the writers had trouble deciding where they wanted the plot to go. When they do finally commit to an angle late in the game, it offers the ultimate bitch-slap: an abrupt cliffhanger. There's absolutely no resolution, no saving grace, it all just feels like a dirty trick.
Those more interested in pulling off menacing combos than following Denz's story won't fare much better. While there are interesting ideas such as the intriguing weapon system, the repetition and awkward controls kill much of the fun. You're able to pick up a slew of weapons, each of which have different moves and abilities depending on the other weapon you wield with it. Because your weapons break often, you'll be forced to try new ones, and luckily there are always spare ones sitting around. Since combat requires swapping back and forth between cursed mode and normal mode, along with the fact that most cursed mode abilities require multiple button presses, combat is never as fun as it should be. It doesn't help that attacking is extremely straightforward. It revolves around two attacks: one horizontal, one vertical. Despite this simplicity the game does offer some depth. There's timing your attacks right for counter attacks, kicking enemies to throw them off balance (a la Assassin's Creed), the sometimes-frustrating breakable weapons, and team attacks executed with either your incompetent AI ally or any poor soul you can rope into being your co-op partner.
Outside of combat, the game is split into chapters with various missions, but we couldn't tell you the difference between them. The structure is always the same: fight through hordes of enemies, hunt for something or someone, and then go fight some more. There are only so many times you can kill the same enemies with the same tactics over and over before it becomes mind-numbingly dull. Not to mention the environments are all painfully identical; Dragon Age II has nothing on The Cursed Crusade in this aspect. However, there are levels where you're battling in Hell, which was a welcome addition… until all of these levels ended up exactly the same, too. The game does offer a semblance of variety, making some mission objectives revolve around archery or controlling a ballista, but aiming during these sequences is incredibly frustrating, compounding our struggles. Aiming a ranged weapon requires precise movements that often need to be undertaken using the d-pad, and cranking them up requires repeated rotation of the analog sticks. There's no auto-targeting to assist you, either, so these sequences are nothing but tedious.
The key to combat is supposed to be the cursed state, where Denz and Esteban have stronger attacks, can throw fireballs, or heal up. You're also able to detect hidden enemies' souls to purify and weak walls to break through. It doesn't change anything to ease the monotony, though, and it's frustrating to hunt hidden objectives in this state. For those who can stomach it, The Cursed Crusade awards exploration: complete enough side objectives and you earn extra points to spend on new combos for each weapon.We'll admit, The Cursed Crusade does have a shining spot with its more advanced combo moves, where you rend your opponent limb-from-limb in an incredibly gory fashion.
Whenever a budget title makes its way to retail, we want to root for the underdog, but The Cursed Crusade does nothing to make us even give it a pat on the back. Its biggest flaw is that it lacks spirit, which is ironic, since the game is actually trying to take your character's soul. Without a spark, though - even a stolen one - The Cursed Crusade has ended up damning itself.