I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems that never got a fair shake. Venetica, Velvet Assassin, and even the Game of Thrones RPG are great examples of what I mean, those being games flawed enough to turn most reviewers off, but that have oodles of charm once you can look past their shortcomings. The Cursed Crusade is a game I thought might belong on that list based on some user reviews on Steam, and I purchased it in the hopes that it would dazzle me, but this game was panned for good reason and has little to offer anyone. It’s tedious, unfinished, unfunny, ugly, unoptimized, and worst of all, a complete bore to play through.
“Hey guys, let’s not finish our story!”
This is the last flaw you’ll notice while playing through the game, and yet it’s the first one every potential purchaser should be aware of. We’re not even talking about an Assassin’s Creed or Witcher 2-esque cliffhanger where just enough is resolved to hold you over until the next installment, either—the game literally ends in the middle of a cutscene without tying up a single plot thread. It’s hard to say whether this is the result of the developer having inexplicable confidence that their game was good enough to merit a sequel or simply running out of money, but either way, you shouldn’t expect the game’s story to ever be finished.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing
The plot of the entire game revolves around wronged highborn Denz de Bayle and mischievous Spaniard Esteban Noviembre. After being saved by Denz, Esteban follows him around with the enthusiasm of a pet dog, even going so far as to follow him as he enlists in the crusades in an attempt to locate his Templar father. Eventually, however, the two get sidetracked and spend the game helping out the villain and killing a bunch of innocent people for no reason. Why? To illustrate how evil the crusades were is my guess. I can’t really say for certain, but the whole thing ends up being painfully pointless. Driving this home are the intermissions, which are overlong sequences of lengthy exposition about the crusade and characters that answer questions like “what did the Pope think about X and Y?” rather than actually revealing anything about the eponymous curse.
The stupidity doesn’t end there, though. The catalyst for the game’s nonsensical chain of events hinges on a cutscene early in the game where one of the good guys (who you’ve conveniently just slaughtered for the bad guys, being a mercenary under their command) reveals to the villain that you’re the son of the person who has the magical item that will allow him to crank his evil up to 11. Seriously, he just blurts it out instead of keeping his idiot mouth closed. Even more amusing is the fact that he does so immediately after mocking the villain for thinking he was stupid enough to keep the magical item with him. This is the level of writing we’re dealing with, so the game lacking a conclusion is unexpectedly merciful.
Combat is tedious
First off, the game throws you into combat before actually teaching you how to fight. You have little tooltips that pop up while you’re trying to figure things out, but they’re every bit as worthless as they are difficult to read in the chaos of battle. Once you actually learn how to fight, you quickly realize that the entire game consists of parrying attacks and hunting down weapons. Parrying is really the only practical way of hitting enemies (they can and do block) and avoiding their hits, so much of the combat boils down to repeated sequences of parry-hit-hit-hit, hope you get a cutscene finisher. At least, that’s what combat is like when you’re actually able to parry; all weapons in the game deteriorate as you play and break after you’ve used them to finish off 3-4 enemies, so you’re constantly having to run around the screen and look for a new weapon whenever yours breaks. You can technically fight with a broken weapon, to be fair, but broken weapons do significantly reduced damage and leave you unable to parry.
It’s a QTE-fest
Did you attack an enemy at the same time they attacked you? QTE time! Running away from Death in the intro? QTE time! Need to move a cart or operate a battering ram with Esteban? QTE time! Does a boss need to be weakened by you and Esteban shooting fire at him? You’d better get ready for button-mashing QTE time! That last one is unique in that it locks you in the QTE without granting you invincibility, so if you accidentally enter into it while there are still enemies around, they’ll sometimes beat you to death while you’re powerless to do anything about it.
The save system is garbage
Calling it a “save system” is a bit much, though. There are only autosaves, and you only get these at the end of stages. There are rare checkpoints in missions (though sometimes you’ll die in a boss fight only to be transported to the beginning of the level, making you wonder why there are checkpoints at all if they’re not going to actually use them), but these disappear the second you quit the game. There are no quick saves. There are no manual saves. You have no ability to save your game midway through a mission should you need to step away. The save system, much like the game itself, is complete and utter trash lacking any kind of saving grace.
Setting computers on fire since 2011!
The Cursed Crusade isn’t a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but it runs my GPU harder than much prettier games like Witcher 2 and Remember Me. That’s with Vsync on, too, and it’s worth mentioning that you have to turn it on manually by messing with the config file or else deal with your graphic card rendering so many frames that its temperature goes up to 90 Celsius and beyond. This actually happened, and I’ve never seen this in any other game.
That’s hardly the end of it, either
First off, the camera is a huge problem and it switches from dynamic to fixed camera angles suddenly and without any warning. When it does so, it tries to get around the awkwardness by changing the controls so that whatever you were pressing before keeps you running in that direction. This leads to weird moments where you’re trying to run forward but your character instead moves left.
Then there’s the inconsistency of certain stages. Up to one point, all enemies are finite and have to be defeated before you can move on. This suddenly goes out of the window without any warning as you’re left to figure out that the enemies in one mission spawn endlessly, forcing you to run past them to trigger a cutscene that progresses the mission. As though that wasn’t annoying enough on its own, this happens to be a mission where Esteban isn’t helping you with enemies.
Even despite all of that, I didn’t hate this game until it shoehorned in a random 300 reference that was every bit as cringe-worthy as it was forced. It’s the kind of thing that causes you to exit out of the game and just sit around, wondering what could have possessed someone to put something so lame and unfunny into their game.
But wait, there’s more!
The game doesn’t exactly play well on a controller (you can only navigate menus using the pad—the analog stick does nothing until you’re actually in the game), but that’s nothing compared to the ugliness of the game’s keyboard and mouse controls. For example, you shoot your crossbow with the right mouse trigger. The whole thing is a mess that was clearly designed to be played with a controller, and nothing illustrates this quite as well as an early mission where the text instructing you to press the space bar reaches outside of the tutorial prompt.
The graphics and music are uninspired
One of the things I noticed while playing was that all of the areas I was going through looked identical. You spend 99% of the game running around the same generic-looking tan walls and textures, and it’s fatiguing. Inside the curse is possibly even worse, with reds and oranges and blacks making it difficult to tell where things actually are. As for the characters themselves, their models are acceptable enough, but their mouths move in awkward ways when they speak. Then there are the minor characters like the mute princess (who I’m pretty sure is the only female in the entire game), who are complete and total messes. Her feet are giant blocks painted to look like she has toes, and this is the kind of technique that should have died with the Nintendo 64.
The music fares little better, being the same kind of uninspired orchestral score you’d expect in a game that has absolutely nothing unique or interesting about it. It’s decent enough background noise, but the soundtrack isn’t likely to hold your interest or affect your enjoyment of the game.