If all the games in all the world got together to have a party then The Cursed Crusade would be the very strange looking chap in the corner, constantly babbling away to himself. Everyone else would be giving him an extra wide berth, but if you were to have the tenacity to approach him it would take you less than a minute to realise his ramblings were constantly repetitive, completely absent of originality and substance, plus he smells. Breaking away from his completely historically inaccurate fancy dress, you might also notice that he has a creepy Spanish friend (also unrestrained in verbal vomiting) and that strangely, despite their apparent kinship, there is a complete lack of interaction between the two. It is fair to say that the party of games would have been better off if they had just stayed at home.
But, for fairness sakes, before we call over the bouncers to politely remove this pungent Templar from the soiree, let us examine closer what it is that has cursed this man’s crusade.
The Cursed Crusade fits neatly into the button-mashing, hack and slash, action genre but also manages to drag in at least a few elements of role-playing and character progression. It tells the story of Denz who is on a quest to find his father and recover a relic that will remove a curse that has tainted his family’s blood line. Along the way, through a series of serendipitous events, he finds kinship in a wayward Spaniard named Esteban who also unfortunately suffers from the very same curse. Together they must join the army of the Third Crusade and fight across to Jerusalem killing everyone on the way, up to and including death himself, to find Denz’s father and discover the dark secrets of the curse.
Developers Kylotonn Games clearly felt that their story was worth telling. Immediately upon starting a new game you are barraged with endless minutes of awfully voice acted and badly dubbed cut-scenes. Eventually you may lift your weary head to discover you have hit a section of action but undoubtedly after only a few seconds you will again be transported back to simple observer. This process then repeats throughout the game, so much so that finally you will break and begin slamming the B button every time there is a pause to skip. Don’t worry, you won’t miss much - most likely that scene was just another spew of irrelevant ‘witty’ banter between the two main characters, no doubt another pointless attempt at building the unhealthy bond between these conflicting personalities.
It is almost a shame that The Cursed Crusade’s path is littered, like an overused and disrespected dog walk, with these smelly turds because the action, when it gets to it, is not quite as disastrous. True, this is moronic button mashing to the highest degree, but there is something satisfying about hammering X and Y over and over to perform a large variety of gory and punishing special moves. You’ll find yourself slashing between enemies with ease as you continually smack the same buttons, driving the all important combo score higher and higher. Furthermore, after each level you are given the opportunity to unlock more X + Y combos, and with hundreds of weapons and several different types (most of which can be combined into a double handed pose), there are plenty of options to keep you busy. Unfortunately virtually all the weapon types and moves boil down to the same few techniques and really despite the large array of possibilities it all becomes exceedingly repetitive very quickly. The Cursed Crusade does try and mix it up a little with the bow, but due to the slow and difficult nature of the aiming it becomes apparently this is only for use when enemies are deliberately placed out of your blade's length.
In one last grasp for some originality, The Cursed Crusade introduces what it must have believed was its ace in the hole, the titular curse. Hitting the left trigger enters this mode which unlocks certain special powers such as healing or smashing through specific walls, however one must remain wary of the soul meter in the corner which drips away. If this reaches zero then the hero will fall, his unfortunate soul damned forever.
This seems like a good idea, however all it really seems to do is fill the screen with garish colours and turn your character’s model into an ugly demonic fiend. Your character still performs all the same moves, and the gameplay remains virtually unchanged, most likely, you’ll leave this mode mainly untouched.
It would be great if The Cursed Crusade could, like the character in the story, redeem itself through the cooperative multiplayer. This option is available from the beginning, and two players can take control of either character and play the entire campaign together in split screen or online. Unfortunately, like the rest of the game, this seems completely uninspired and under developed, as if the team responsible sleepwalked through the creation process without a modicum of thought. Generally one would expect in a cooperative game some form of cooperation, however both characters seem to fight completely oblivious to each other. There are no moves that make use of both players and generally you will get frustrated as your team mate yet again steals the enemy you were attacking from your grasp and ruins your combo. Often it simply feels like your friend is not even within the same game. Perhaps worse is the fact that, despite the two companions constantly bickering about how their personalities are so diametrically opposed, their fighting styles are perfect mirror images. It would have been so simple to assign certain special moves to either of the characters and give some sense of purpose and individuality, but instead both players are dumped with carbon copies wearing different skins. The only advantage to playing in coop mode is to stop your useless AI companion dying which ends your game in single player mode.
Perhaps this is all being too harsh on The Cursed Crusade. It is after all being released at a slightly budget price, but the truth is that even at a price approaching zero it would not be a particularly attractive purchase. In a world where the the arcade game is no longer in limbo but positively exploding with true bastions of the indie cause, at much cheaper prices, a full price game being a few notes cheaper than a AAA title is no longer a selling point.
So, what to do with our sorry looking fellow dribbling in the corner of the party? Perhaps first we need to introduce him to fellow compatriots that tread, far more gracefully, along a similar path.
Look, here we have Ms Bayonetta. Notice her sublime sense of style and subtle timing, and the way she manages to enthrall and bewitch her audience with tales of her life.
Or just over there is Dante from the Devil May Cry company, he has been in your line of work for some time, look how extravagant and completely over the top he is. He is pure entertainment, just to watch. Then there is the bulging muscle of God of War's Kratos, the revamped Gabriel Belmont... even the four horsemen of the apocalypse are here... Can you not see how bustling and full of beautiful people this area of the party is?
The Cursed Crusade turns around to me and says possibly the only intellectual thing he has ever uttered: “But none of these people ever share the stage with another.”
And I turn, peer through the cobwebs into a dark and strangely empty corner of the party (save for a few bedraggled and hunted souls) and realise that, perhaps, he has a point...