Back in 2008, Viking: Battle for Asgard was released to an extremely lukewarm critical and commercial reception. I didn’t get it. Sure it had its flaws, but as far as I was concerned, this was one of the best hack-n-slash games I had played…..ever. Seriously, if you haven’t already played it, you can pick it up for next to nothing online. Trust me, it really is quite brilliant. Anyway, I digress. While The Cursed Crusade isn’t quit the game that Viking: Battle of Asgard was, I fear that it may suffer a similarly muted response despite the fact that it is a huge amount of fun to play. It may not have that immediate wow factor of many of today’s eager to please releases, and its somewhat ponderous combat and dialogue heavy cut-scenes may put off some gamers off, but stick with it and Kylotonn Games’, The Cursed Crusade reveals itself to be a rewarding and highly enjoyable slice of hack-n-slash action.
After an admittedly overly long intro in which we are introduced to Jean de Bayle, Cursed Crusade picks up years later with his son, Denz de Bayle as he joins the Crusades in an attempt to find his now missing father. With your co-op buddy – the mildly entertaining, walking stereotype that is Esteban Noviembre – along for the ride, you’ll essentially be tasked with cutting your way through a seemingly never ending collection of bad guys via the game’s rewarding and often brutal combat system. There’s little more to the game other than the vanquishing of your foes, but if you’re a fan of the hack-n-slash genre, there’s enough quality and depth here to make Cursed Crusade well worth a look.
Beyond the basic, but nonetheless enjoyable, two player co-op (available both locally and online), Cursed Crusade’s unique calling card is Denz’s use of demonic, supernatural powers. You see, Denz, along with having to save his farther, has to contend with the fact that he’s been stricken with a Templar curse…..rough day. In fairness though, as curses go, this is probably one of the better ones. Denz’s curse allows him to temporarily transform into a horned demon that, besides looking decidedly cool, can deliver additional damage to boot. I’m sure there’s a negative side to this (something about being damned to Hell I think), but as far as getting some good old fashioned killing done, it actually comes in pretty handy. While the transformation doesn’t radically change the gameplay in any way, it does come with some cool visual flourishes. Other than making Denz look all demonic and awesome and stuff, it also has a Silent Hill-esque effect on environments in which the walls peel away and everything starts to look rather hellish and decidedly aflame. The visual transformation doesn’t have the same affect on gameplay as it does in Silent Hill, but if nothing else, it sure does look ace.
Be it on your own or with a friend, the majority of The Cursed Crusade is spent in melee combat. About the only time you won’t be hacking down some faceless goon is when you’re listening to the rather dodgy voice work of yet another overly long cut-scene. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for story in games, but we’re talking Metal Gear Solid levels of cut-scenes here – which would be fine if the story held up, but sadly, The Cursed Crusade’s story and dialogue fall way short of the kind of quality that makes Konami’s espionage classic as much fun to watch as it is to play. The dialogue is consistently poor and the story and script so full of clichéthat it often beggars belief, but somehow, thanks largely to the voice cast’s obvious commitment to delivering this tosh with nary a sneaky wink or a smirk, it actually manages to become quite absorbing. The Cursed Crusade’s story may be utter B-movie nonsense, but it’s entertaining B-movie nonsense all the same.
The ridiculous story isn’t what holds this game together though, it’s the combat. Although home to a few glitches and a rather slow pace that does take some getting used to, The Cursed Crusade’s multi-weapon, combo-driven combat is varied and, at its best, quite fantastic. With over 130 weapons to choose from, 400 attacks to learn and well over 100 very cool finishing moves, this is a combat system with a great deal of depth. By allowing you to manually choose a weapon for each hand, the number of combinations really is quite impressive and with each choice having a marked affect on your approach to battle, your choice of weapon is more than a purely aesthetic one. The fact that you can spam basic attacks to defeat a large number of the game’s enemies does dilute the development team’s achievement quite a bit, and the initially cumbersome combo system is easy to dismiss as broken, but for those eager to delve into the games’ weighty, violent battles and master its tricky combos and parry-and-counter defensive system, The Cursed Crusade’s no nonsense approach to gameplay should prove a rather appealing prospect.
With so many weapons and armour options, The Cursed Crusade could have easily become bogged down with menu trawling, but thanks to the equipment radial that lets you change your weapons and armour on the go, the pace of the game remains consistently high. Sure, the array of cut-scenes do occasionally steal the game of its flow, but when out on the battlefield, there’s very little to slow you down. There are a few basic co-op puzzles that need to be dealt with but these are usually of the ‘stand-here-and-press-this’ persuasion and certainly won’t halt progression in any way. The implementation of the equipment radial is a touch on the clumsy side, but it’s a useful tool which allows you to change your approach on the fly.
You do have a crossbow which can be used to take down distant enemies but it’s quite clear that the emphasis was always on the game’s melee combat. The long range attacks are serviceable but offer little more than a brief distraction from the game’s infinitely more enjoyable close range combat. With awkward aiming and an overly powerful lock-on system, The Cursed Crusade’s ranged combat is something I’d rather forget to be honest. It may look like a medieval Gears of War in the screenshots, but believe me, it really isn’t.
While the weapons you pick do not develop as you progress (swapping weaponry is usually forced due to wear and tear), the Victory Points that are awarded at the end of each level do give the game an additional layer of depth by allowing you to strengthen your character based on your approach to battle and your own weapon preferences. From the Skill Points that allow you to upgrade your strength and health etc, to the Technique Points that are used to learn additional combos and finishers for each weapon type, this upgrade system provides an additional incentive for those uninterested in the story.
Visually, The Cursed Crusade is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some technical glitches and its mid-budget development is quite clear at times, but for the most part, this a very decent looking game. The characters all have a nice weight to them and feel fully connected to the world around them. The animations throughout are extremely impressive with the finishing flourishes in particular proving very slick. Demonic mode looks ace, and the environments have clearly been created with a keen eye for detail and historical accuracy. It’s not the most interactive of game worlds, but the option for environmental kills is a welcome one. An abundance of screen tearing does sour the experience somewhat but it’s certainly not a game-breaking issue by any means.
Some gamers will be put off by the incessant cut-scenes, others by the tricky to master combo system, but given the chance, I really do think a lot of people will be happy to forgive The Cursed Crusade’s faults thanks to the brutality of its combat, the enjoyable co-op and the huge selection of hard hitting weaponry. Sure, it has some rough edges, but this is a good looking game with a very cool visual style and a delusion of grandeur that I find extremely appealing in such an obviously mid-budget videogame.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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