The Cursed Crusade
Developer: Kylotonn Entertainment
Publisher: Mastertronic/ dtp entertainment AG
Genre: Action/Adventure/Hack ‘n’ slash
Platform: Xbox 360 (PS3, PC)
Released: 7th October (Europe), 25th October (US)
The crusades were a series of military campaigns for the cause of religion, with the noblest of knights setting out to holy lands such as Jerusalem in the name of Christianity. They took place from the late 11th century to the late 13th century. Although entirely fictional, it is in the late 12th /early 13th century that The Cursed Crusade is set, and the developers have seen to it that the period features have been observed and that the game’s weaponry is authentic.
After a brief prologue mission laying the foundations for the story, you inherit the role of Denz de Bayle, a young man whose father left for the crusades and never returned, and who is now setting off to Jerusalem to track down his father. Soon on in your quest, you cross paths with a Spanish chap called Esteban (the second piece of the game’s two-player co-op), and learn of a curse that runs in both your bloodlines which has been ingrained in your genetics as punishment for an unforgivable sin committed by one of your respective forefathers. This curse is The Cursed Crusade’s gimmick: pressing LB transforms the world, literally, into an apocalyptic hell-hole. A molten lava-like surface lines the floors and walls, pieces of scenery erupt into flame and even your appearance and that of your enemies takes a turn for demonic to reflect the change.
Almost like entering a ‘rage’ mode in many other games before it (to set the record straight, this idea is nothing new), entering curse mode increases your strength for attack, with your opponents armour diminished by the change so that, in turn, your weapon combos prove more lethal and efficient. Another benefit of the change is that you get powers associated with the curse, ranging from a healing move to restore health, to offensive magical powers to help dispatch the groups of enemies easier. Unlike you, however, enemies don’t have the same benefits of entering curse mode, although doing so does bring up new opponents, as there are then spirits lingering in the air as well as the original enemies, plus the constant threat of succumbing to ‘Death’ itself, who watches over you and is ready to pounce if you use the curse for too long and the adjoined meter runs too low. Conversely, some levels give you no choice in the matter and you play as the cursed version of yourself for the entirety of the mission.
Where The Cursed Crusade really falls down, though, is in its animation. In combat you are presented with a wealth of weapon choices from the era, from swords, maces, spears and axes, ranging from single-handed to double-handed grips. This means there’s a huge number of weapon combinations you can use, each with their own individual animations. But while the variety should be applauded as swinging the same sword in the same patterns throughout the game would be dull, this can make the combat look completely third-rate. It almost looks as if the developers haven’t bothered to adjust sequences to fit the dimensions of new weapons, meaning that although your swords have supposedly clashed, in actual fact they “collided” in mid-air still a good couple of feet away from each other.
Ironically, the opposite can be true too, and instead of colliding too far away your weapons merge with one another so that your sword will have melded with your opponents weapon. The likelihood of this, with respect to quantum physics, is the same as that of the particles in your chair momentarily giving way to leave your buttocks merged with the seat, which makes it all the more alarming that this problem happens so readily in-game. It’s not just limited to weapons either; it happens with skin-to-weapon on the character models, too. It becomes particularly apparent when running someone through with your sword, as they way the blade glides through the flesh with no resistance whatsoever looks rather unnatural. These shortcomings aren’t limited to swordplay though, as during gameplay you can sometimes see enemy forces springing out of thin air, and lazily on the creators part, background models enact the same synchronised gestures.
These animation flaws aren’t even cleared up for the cut scenes. In fact, this could be where it’s worse, as the lack of button-pressing to distract you and close-up camera angles make it even clearer. Moreover, although the voice-acting of the main characters is relatively good (some of the casting doesn’t suit the character types and anonymous extra characters aren‘t well-voiced), problems with the lip-synching become evident when watching the cut scenes. The lip movements don’t appear to have been tweaked to match the performance, nor the performance timed with the lip movements – there are even occasions when the lips remain perfectly still despite dialogue coming from them. During my time with the game I also encountered an odd issue where the volume controls reset themselves to zero after each play session, and although it isn’t a huge problem, nor is it one that every buyer of the game is likely to experience, but the fact that errors such as this can crop up goes to show a lack of overall polish.
The cinematic camera angles of cut scenes are carried over into gameplay, which combined with the dramatic zooming in of the camera on certain combos, gives it an interactive film type of feeling. The ever-changing camera angle does create problems of its own, though, where the sudden change of angle can disorientate your movement, bringing up navigational hiccups of not knowing where to go as you have no map.
The game is strikingly linear; where many games these days give you a world in which to roam, The Cursed Crusade sticks to a menu-based mission structure, where completing a level consists of chopping down bad guys as you walk along a fixed path until you reach the end, even if there are hints of something a little deeper via an upgrade system where you spend Victory Points earned at the end of each level. Some may even appreciate the straight-forwardness, as a badly-made open-world scenario isn’t much fun at all and The Cursed Crusade is playable in its own monotonous sort of way, especially if you are willing to overlook the steady stream of visual and audio bugs. Most of the major problems are superficial and aren’t particularly harmful but nonetheless all culminate to the feeling that The Cursed Crusade is an unfinished product.