dtp entertainment’s The Cursed Crusade is a curious title. Developed on a clearly more limited budget than many of its peers, the videogame seems to have been haphazardly slotted into the release schedule amongst some of the biggest franchises on current-generation consoles. Having launched within weeks of Gears of War 3 and Forza Motorsport 4, within a month of Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, you might be forgiven for overlooking The Cursed Crusade, but in doing so you’d surely miss a rendition of a traditional third-person action videogame that is actually worthy of note.
While The Cursed Crusade is clearly a ramshackle production at times, it does have a number of interesting ideas up its sleeve. Playing as a young Templar by the name of Denz de Bayle, with his thief companion Esteban, you enter a land bathed in war as the Pope has launches a new crusade in order to conquer the holy city of Constantinople. However, not everything is as it seems. The order of the Templars performed a ritual many years ago that sees the player imbued with a dark power. This power has remained a secret until now, as you join the crusade in the hope of finding your father, meeting others along the way that also carry the secret, and have a far greater knowledge of both its potential and its curse.
And it’s this dark possession that gives The Cursed Crusade its hook. The videogame is played on two fronts – though at entirely scripted intervals – between human and demon planes. At specific points in the adventure, the screen takes a much darker perspective of the same environment that was lit by a bright shining sun only a moment ago, and is now only visible under the hateful flicker of burning wreckages. The structure of the combat remains the same, though in this new demonic guise the manoeuvres available to player essentially cast you as a brand new character.
The core gameplay mechanic is the combat of course, though The Cursed Crusade does provide a few additional touches to make things more varied. A levelling-up system is including, as would be expected, and the player can collect any weapon they so choose from the battlefield though may only carry a limited number. Through this ability to learn new combos and acquire new weapons, The Cursed Crusade offers one of the most expansive combat systems offered in third-person action videogames on the current generation of consoles. Boisterously stating that more than four hundred different attacks are available on the back of its box, after just an hour with The Cursed Crusade this becomes a more than believable claim.
In addition to the basic gameplay premise The Cursed Crusade can be played in a two-player co-operative mode, both on- and offline. Of course, the second player picks-up the baton of our thief associate, who is equally skilled at armed combat. Despite the storyline somewhat skirting around the issue, Esteban is also capable of fighting during the moments in which the curse is active, so while you may feel as though you’re just making up the numbers there is actually no penance for being the second player: a grand step ahead of the disappointing co-operative gameplay in the Fable series.
The Cursed Crusade features a number of distractions to shuffle the gameplay presentation and make the videogame more than a simply case of hack, slash, kill, repeat. The inevitable rummaging for hidden items is present-and-correct, but more important is the long-range combat, the one-time initiatives using environmental objects and the often dramatic progression of the story. However, while it’s commendable that the development team at Kylotonn Games have gone this extra step to add variety to the videogame, it’s also one of The Cursed Crusade’s biggest stumbling blocks. The pacing is simply awful at times, with the player given a scripted event, cutscene, scripted event sequence that can last over half an hour between bouts of combat: for an action videogame, the amount of action that can be experienced at points is decidedly limited.
Visually, The Cursed Crusade is a flawed production. While it remains above average throughout, it’s clear that the videogame hasn’t been blessed with the biggest budget around. In a single screenshot it looks perfectly acceptable, though in motion some of the animation sequences stutter into action depending on your proximity to enemies or environmental items. Weapon physics can be ridiculously chaotic at times, having you chase your desired weapon around the floor for a few moments before being given the option to pick it up, and the collision detection can be very questionable at times. Looking beyond this however, The Cursed Crusade does manage to present a vision of a videogame well placed for the modern industry: not excelling in any one regard, but using the budget it has to create a believable world.
While The Cursed Crusade isn’t about to storm the all-format charts, it does offer an interesting alternative to the big budget productions doing the rounds at present. For gamers looking to adopt most of the big names this autumn, The Cursed Crusade is unlikely to get a look in, and as that applies to most of the market it’s almost a guarantee that The Cursed Crusade won’t find the audience it deserves until it’s relegated to the bargain bin. A shame, for sure, as while the videogame isn’t the most dynamic of presentations, it’s never less than enjoyable in it’s fast-paced co-operative combat challenges.