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The Cursed Crusade (Xbox 360) artwork

The Cursed Crusade (Xbox 360) review

"This game finds a way to turn exciting-sounding historical events, such as the siege of the Croatian city Zara, into linear marches through static environments cluttered with a bunch of melee battles that all play out the same. This might not be the appropriate game for the quote "WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE", but it fits."

Buried deep within Atlus' The Cursed Crusade is a good game. At times I can almost see it.

However, most of the time, that goodness is buried below too much mediocrity to easily be noticed. Clunky action combines with perhaps the most cinema I've ever seen in a third-person hack-and-slash action game to create a title that feels more like a lackluster movie-to-game reproduction than an original creation. That's not what I want to see from a game possessing an intriguing premise.

What made that premise interesting to me is the historical period in which it takes place -- that of the Fourth Crusade. For those not in the know, this wasn't such a shining moment in history for Christianity or the Holy Roman Empire. The purpose for this event was "rescuing" Jerusalem from Muslim control. However, something went wrong. Very wrong. The Crusaders never made it all the way to their Holy City. Instead, these representatives of the Western half of the Roman Empire wound up sacking Constantinople…also known as the capital of the eastern half of that empire. In fact, all of their victories came against other Christian cities, as they wound up transforming from holy warriors to common mercenaries.

The Cursed Crusade delivers that historical period to players. Actual people involved with the Crusade, such as its leader, Boniface of Montferrat, have roles in the game (either as characters or simply as names mentioned during scene-setting interludes). I like history, so I liked this. In fact, I'd say it easily was the main thing that kept me playing through this game after the first hour or so.

At times I felt like I was being punished for liking history. This game finds a way to turn exciting-sounding historical events, such as the siege of the Croatian city Zara, into linear marches through static environments cluttered with a bunch of melee battles that all play out the same. This might not be the appropriate game for the quote "WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE", but it fits.

Yes, the curse. Your protagonist, Denz, is a templar knight whose father served in the previous Crusade before mysteriously disappearing. Denz also suffers from a curse which allows him to shift from the real world into a hellish one in order to access dark powers. Which seems cool, if not for the fact that Death is constantly pursuing him in order to take his cursed soul. As the game begins, the young knight is participating in an attack under the command of Boniface on some castle. He gets teamed with the Spanish mercenary Esteban and discovers he's not alone in the whole "being cursed" deal. The two forge an alliance and take part in the Fourth Crusade to find answers to many questions, such as where Denz' father is, if there's a way to dispel the curse in order to avoid Hell and exactly how much does the shady Boniface know about what's going on.

With the way this plot weaves through actual historical events, I was intrigued. Curiosity arose in me as the duo found themselves in opposition to many powerful warriors, all of whom also seemed afflicted by this curse. When not battling those guys, Denz and Esteban discovered there was no rest for the wicked, as their dreams turned into nightmares where they'd have to fight off Death or risk never waking again. I legitimately wanted to see how things were resolved, so I made this game a priority to play after settling in at home each night.

Unfortunately, the disc never seemed to stay in my 360 for long. When I think of the best games of this ilk, I recall intense battles against never-ending hordes of enemies, cool and devastating attacks and many other action-related things. With The Cursed Crusade, I remember constant cinema scenes and long load times. This game is up there with the Uncharteds and Metal Gear Solids as far as the "let's make an interactive movie" deal goes. Well, except for the lower budget and inferior gameplay, that is.

The game begins with cinema to introduce the major characters and then you control Denz for a brief fight to get used to the controls. And then you have more cinema. And then you briefly storm that early-game castle, followed by more cinema. And then take part in a tournament, which is essentially an expanded tutorial. More cinema, followed by fleeing a vindictive opponent's forces. More cinema. A nightmare featuring our heroes battling Death. More cinema interspersed throughout a series of short levels depicting the siege of Zara. Another nightmare. Still more cinema. And more. And more. Time to lay siege to another city between prolonged bursts of cinema!

A game has to deliver the goods for me to tolerate this many movie scenes. The Cursed Crusade doesn't. You deliver one kind of attack with one button and another with another. A third button allows you to break the guard of foes and another aids in parrying attacks. Oh, and Denz moves as elegantly as a senior citizen crippled by arthritis. That's the worst flaw. The controls simply are not fluid. You'll be punching buttons to watch him slowly react, while hoping the game doesn't mysteriously turn him away from the enemy you're trying to skewer (while hoping for some sort of hilarious kill animation where blood's flowing like water even though the sword didn't actually go through the guy's head like it was supposed to) into conflict with another that just happens to be in the area.

The play control really mucks up some good potential. You have a number of different weapons and can unlock tons of combo attacks for each one by spending points earned for beating levels. You can customize Denz to become stronger or more durable. Weapons gradually weaken and break, forcing you to constantly pick up replacements from the corpses of the fallen. Both you and enemies wear armor that deflects attack. As hits are taken, the armor gradually breaks, allowing those blows to reach skin and bone. There is a sort of satisfaction that comes from watching a helmet or something go flying off an enemy and then realizing your strikes are drawing blood instead of just making a clanging sound.

Sadly, that satisfaction fades when you do the same thing over and over with little variation. Occasionally, you have to switch to a bow to take out snipers from up high. Or guard a ballista. But most of the time, you'll be following linear paths and struggling through fights with a clunky swordsman. But wait! You do have an ally and a curse! Maybe their presence will improve things!

Or not. Esteban has two purposes. If you're hanging with a pal, he can be controlled by that person. If you're playing solo, at least on the normal difficulty, he's a game-breaker. If Denz takes too many hits and collapses, Estaban can pick him up to save him from death (kind of like how one ally saves the other from dying in Resident Evil 5). And the dude can take damage. My general tactic for boss fights was to let the enemy get distracted by my accomplice and then stroll up to stab him a dozen or so times. This is the best way to handle powerful and durable foes, since the play control sure won't let you glide out of the way of their attacks quickly. Rarely, he'd fall under an assault and I'd have to pick him up before Death ended his life (and the game), but for the most part, we brought the pain to many, many people with that tactic.

The curse, on the other hand, is little more than a puzzle-solving mechanism for much of the game. It plays a big role in the nightmare levels and boss fights, but for the rest of the game, you'll mainly be using it for its ULTIMATE POWER of…finding weaknesses in walls, so you can progress through levels. In other words, curse mode is essentially a novelty that gets forced on you at key points in the game.

So, apparently, I'm only recommending this one to history buffs who don't mind supernatural curses being added to the tedium of reality. But when the somewhat interesting plot is joined by clunky action in short, linear levels and that action often takes a backseat to long-winded exposition, there's not a whole lot to recommend.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 11, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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honestgamer posted November 11, 2011:

Sweet review, Rob, one of my favorites of yours in a long time. You really painted a picture of what it feels like to play this game. I feel sort of guilty now about sending it to you, but relieved to have dodged a bullet. I suspected that you'd do a great job covering it and you've proven me right!
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overdrive posted November 11, 2011:

I could have gone on more if I wanted to bloat the review. Because every time I think of a positive, there's a matching negative.

Like, I thought about bringing up how the voice acting is far better than you'd expect from a blah game. But then, I'd have to bring up how the mood whiplashes between "high drama in the Middle Ages" to "action buddy film bantering".


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