Waking from a nightmare of evading expressionless porcelain mannequins, the player finds themselves in bed in a beautiful beach house bathed in moonlight. This is Past Cure in a nutshell; the two scenes are interesting, but don’t seem connected to each other. The eight person team at Phantom 8 studio had a lot of interesting ideas for this game, but the problem is they tried to include all of them without successfully crafting them into a cohesive game.
Past Cure brings us rather late into Ian’s story, right after a three year blackout. As a government agent, Ian was experimented on to provide psychic abilities like slowing time and astral projection. These powers do not come without a cost, as he hallucinates during the day, and has vivid nightmares when he sleeps or is otherwise unconscious.
This forms the two divergent settings of the game. In the waking world, Ian is trying to track down a doctor who has medication similar to the blue pills that restore his sanity meter. Except this doctor has mysterious black pills. The plot is really just a thin device to give Ian an excuse to alternatively sneak past or mow down baddies in very generic settings like parking garages and hotel lobbies. All of the real world settings were very disappointing to me, with the exception of the beach house in the beginning. Unfortunately there is not much time spent there, and we are left with boring hallways filled with mind-numbingly boring corporate art. The parking garage level was particularly hilarious, because the cars were strewn in ruthless abandon just to provide the player with sneaking corridors.
In contrast, the nightmare levels are developed very well. The lighting and set design is suitably creepy, and there are some interesting puzzles that involve the environment and Ian’s psychic abilities. I never wanted to wake up from these levels, as they were much more interesting than the real world.
Past Cure seeks to provide a cinematic experience to tie these two worlds together, but the story is never completely fleshed out, characters appear out of nowhere with no background given, and many threads are left hanging unexplained. Most detrimental to Past Cure’s storytelling is the voice acting. I don’t know what they were going for, but Ian sounds flat and uninterested in every scene he speaks, and in contrast the big bad revealed at the end of the game is hammy and overacted. The main character’s voice acting is so flat, it destroys whatever emotion the scene is trying to convey.
I’ve been fairly negative so far, so let me pause and say that Past Cure is often fun to play. Shooting took a second to get used to, but once I learned how to line up the near and far reticles, it was pretty satisfying. There isn’t a huge variety of guns available in the game, but there was enough that I could select the type needed for the situation. Enemy AI is pretty basic, popping in and out of cover to shoot at and occasionally rushing the player. Since enemy aim is incredibly accurate, and Ian takes forever getting in and out of cover, I found myself using the time slow ability a lot in firefights. When the enemy swarmed me in close quarters, I would usually have to start over after being overwhelmed because hand to hand combat is sluggish and unresponsive.
I’m most frustrated by the stealth aspects of Past Cure, because when it all comes together, it’s great! The enemies have invisible cones of vision, which become visible during astral projection, and they follow predictable patterns. From a place of safety, I could astrally project, survey the scene, and plot my movement to the next safe area, or time my assassination of the enemy closest to me. In earlier stages, there was no penalty for being caught, and I was allowed to fight my way out after being spotted. In the nightmare levels, sometimes the porcelain mannequins cannot be shot for some reason, and you are killed instantly when they caught up with me. This lead to a bit of tedium for me as I solved some areas by trial and error. More frustrating were the levels in the “real world” where being spotted meant instant failure. These areas often involved 5-8 enemy takedowns, and Ian’s killing animation was long enough that I was spotted by a second enemy while killing the first. Getting near the end of an area and having to start all over after being spotted got rather old. A midway checkpoint or allowing combat after being spotted would have made some sections of the game less frustrating for me.
Past Cure is really two games tied together by a threadbare plot. The nightmare levels that focused on stealth and puzzle solving in a dingy creepy environment are the strong part of the game, while the real world levels suffer from generic environments, identical character models, and uneven combat and stealth. The supernatural powers were underused and the voice acting was truly sub-par. The small team at Phantom 8 shot for the moon on this one, but unfortunately the components separated and burned up on re-entry. I saw glimmers of brilliance many times while playing Past Cure, and I hope the team at Phantom 8 is able to learn from Past Cure and launch a different game soon that soars high.