“My father always said that it's our dreams that reveal our deepest nature. If that is true, then I am lost.”
These opening lines are delivered by the game's protagonist, Ian, as the scene opens up to a dark, dilapidated room with rotting furniture hanging upside down from the ceiling. Trying to shake off his confusion, he wanders a bit before finding a handgun on a pile of debris. All of a sudden, a burst of red light glares through the cracks of a nearby door, which then swings open to reveal a humanoid-looking creature with white, marble-like skin and glowing red eyes. It heads implacably towards Ian. This sets the scene for Phantom 8 Studios premier foray into the gaming industry with Past Cure: a supernatural thriller that follows the journey of an amnesiac ex-soldier trying to solve the riddle of his own mysterious disappearance.
Ian was on a military deployment over in Syria when the next thing he knew, he was waking up alone on the side of a London road three years later with a gaping hole where his memories should be. In lieu of his memories Ian gained strange powers; and night after night of hellish, death-filled nightmares and hallucinations to go along with them. Ian’s new powers come in two forms: astral projection and the ability to slow down time. Astral projection, as the name implies, allows Ian to leave his body for a short amount of time. His projection wreaks havoc on electronics and can be used to take out security cameras. Other than that, it is used to hit out of reach switches for puzzle-solving purposes. Ian’s second power is more combat oriented as it allows you to slow down time and line up those perfect headshots, or move quickly out of harm's way. Using these powers come at the cost of Ian's sanity (which is conveniently displayed as a blue bar on your HUD). Your sanity meter automatically regenerates up to the 25% mark as to not leave you stuck on the puzzles, but there are also mysterious consumable blue pills that can be found in the levels that refill sanity completely.
Due to the nature of Ian’s plight, the player will spend their time gravitating between the real world and the nightmarish dreamscape of his mind. While the dreams are mostly made up of puzzle and stealth segments, the real world is where Ian's military training comes in handy. Ian can perform a multitude of cool stealth kills, and for when the going gets tough, you rely on guns and good ol’ fashioned hand-to-hand combat. Ian can carry two guns at a time, which doesn't sound like much but there are only four guns in the game (one of which you only see near the end of the final chapter). And with the exception of the laser-sighted pistol, they aren't very accurate either. I found this frustrating at first, but then I realized that by putting less emphasis on accuracy the devs are subtly encouraging the player to make use of all of Ian’s techniques to survive. It also helps to make melee a viable option. Ian can string together a three hit combo, which then gives you the ability to unleash a killing move via a button prompt. Certain enemies rush right at you, making this a very useful technique. One thing I do find terrible about the gunplay is the odd decision to include two targeting reticles. This causes a lot of problems when aiming from behind walls and corners, since one reticle seems to get stuck in limbo, causing all your shots to hit the wall while the enemy can easily connect with his shots. It's a real pain in the butt but it can be circumvented by using your time slowdown powers and getting far enough away from cover before unloading.
Graphically speaking, Past Cure is no slouch, especially considering it was created by such a small team of developers: most of them have never worked on a game before this. I like the way the real world stands in stark contrast to the nightmares. The nightmares are dark, gritty places that give off major Silent Hill vibes. Silent Hill 2 is especially brought to mind due to the fact that Ian spends a good chunk of time navigating a run-down prison, dodging enemies and solving riddles. In comparison, the environments of the real world are bright, clean, and filled with stylish modern architectural designs. The music is easily the weakest link. It gets the job done, but it avoids notice most of the time since there aren't any standout tracks besides the ending theme (and Beethoven’s famous Moonlight Sonata, you always get bonus points for using Moonlight Sonata).
Although Past Cure’s gameplay can feel a little bit repetitive over the course of it's nearly 8 hour runtime, the story was interesting enough to keep pulling me in. Wanting to find out the truth behind Ian’s story kept me coming back for more and I appreciate that the ending, in my opinion, is open to some interpretation. Aside from some technical foibles that the developers are aware of and planning to fix up in a patch, Past Cure is a solid adventure that's easily worth the price of entry.
Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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