The Cursed Crusade Review
Publisher: Atlus / Developer: Kylotonn Games / Price: $39.99 / Played on: Xbox / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence]
The most fun I had with this game was coming up with lame jokes I’d use to start this review. Not able to settle on one, here’s a partial list:
1) Cursed Crusade is an appropriate title for this game, considering all the cursing you’ll do while playing.
2) The Crusades were a long and horrible blight on history that left a lot of pain and sadness in their wake, and it seemed like they would never end. Just like this game.
3) Cursed Crusade? More like Worst Crusade.
Enough. Here’s why the game sucks:
You control Denz de Bayle, a Frenchman joining the Fourth Crusade with his Spaniard companion Esteban Noviembre (controlled by the computer in single-player, or by a friend in split-screen or online co-op). Denz and Esteban share a demonic curse—which offers powerful attacks and flame powers, but will kill you if used too long. The pair hack and slash through medieval Europe. Combat earns points, which are spent on stat and combo upgrades for over a dozen weapon styles, including axes, swords, maces, lances, shields, and various combinations thereof. When battles get tough, activate your curse powers for an edge on your foes.
And that’s it. You walk around and kill repetitive enemies with busted, unresponsive controls and powers that don’t work when you try to use them. One of the first powers you learn is “heal,” which you activate by hitting Y when near your partner. Despite these simple instructions, I managed to make it happen exactly twice out of countless attempts. I don’t know why it didn’t work. It just didn’t.
Furthermore, the difficulty is inconsistent. Encounters randomly swing from manageable to ridiculously overpowering. Either you win handily or enemy soldiers will swarm you to death. Success seems arbitrary.
A perfect example of how broken the game is occurred right at the beginning of my playthrough. I had to run toward the church’s consecrated grounds before Death could catch up and claim me. As I walked, quick-time button-pushing events popped on-screen, leading me to hit the corresponding buttons quickly, though it’s never clear what they’re supposed to do.
Confusingly, when I hit the right buttons, I actually stumbled backward, as though I’d done it wrong. Death caught and killed me at least ten times. Counter-intuitively, I started hitting the buttons later, and was “rewarded” by making it to the church and continuing the game. I should’ve taken the “Game Over” screen seriously and turned off the console then. But I forged ahead.
As I played, I found the game riddled with bugs. During a castle siege in Constantinople, Denz and Esteban take cover behind a rolling shield so they can approach and set fire to wooden towers—the second such sequence in the level. My first attempt made the game lock up, forcing a restart. My second attempt locked up the game again. I got around it by skipping the shield stuff entirely—a portion the game actively encourages you to play—and by taking out the wooden towers from afar with a flaming crossbow. When games promote creative problem-solving, it’s usually a selling point. But I shouldn’t have to think creatively to get around confusing, game-killing glitches.
Level design is bland and the areas are difficult to navigate. You can pick up your fallen enemies’ weapons throughout the game, and you do this a lot, since weapons break after every other fight. This makes choosing the weapons you want to spend points on pretty meaningless, especially when you max out your sword abilities and fight hordes carrying only axes. When that happens, your investment seems wasted, and you will die. Weapon selection is mapped to the D-pad, but assaults from enemies keep you from drawing new weapons while you’re fighting them off with nothing but a sword-hilt. You can’t pause and select weapons, and your inventoried weapons don’t auto-equip after your current one breaks. You will die.
And don’t think that adding a second player will improve the experience at all. The split-screen mode is not worth your time. It’s the same awful game, only squeezed onto half of your TV. In fact, if your friend actually still talks to you after subjecting him to this thing, then yours is a friendship that can withstand any hardship.
Despite all my hate, even a broken clock is right twice a day, so here’s a high point: sometimes Denz and Esteban fight Death in levels set in demon-infested Hell-nightmares. While they’re just as repetitive to play as the regular levels, your curse powers are unlimited here, allowing for faster, more powerful combat that almost resembles fun. But these levels are even harder to navigate than the rest of the game, a result of confusing layout and paths obscured by poorly rendered textures (more on that later).
My other high point? You get to use a two-handed great-axe sometimes, which is my favorite D&D weapon.
The game takes place in the early 1200s during the Fourth Crusade to Jerusalem, following the heroes’ efforts to find Denz’s lost father and expunge their demonic curse. Taking a page from Assassin’s Creed, the game attempts to tie historical events and characters into the plot. But none of the real-life figures you encounter are memorable or well-known. The result is a bunch of bearded guys with swords and an impossible-to-follow story. If you’re hoping to learn more about the Crusades or medieval Europe, read a book.
The dialogue is terrible. Jokes fall flat—there are at least two inexplicable references to cow piss—and every character is unlikeable. Denz is a one-dimensional “hero,” who delivers self-righteous lines about justice and honor, while sticking knives into just about everything that moves. But as bad as Denz is, Esteban is worse. He acts as the “comic relief,” offering what are supposed to be witty commentaries on the events of the game, but he mostly comes out seeming like a poorly drawn caricature of any Hispanic character with “attitude.” I hated everyone. I hated Denz, and I hated Esteban, and I hated all of the interchangeable villains you fight—and mostly I hated myself, because I was playing The Cursed Crusade.
The combat system, with its many weapon choices and combos, is ambitious… but broken. Activating finishing moves (including face-stabs, gut-shots, and decapitations) seems random. And triggering combos is likewise more a matter of luck than skill. The game responds poorly to commands, and pulling off a life-saving parry becomes impossibly difficult when you’re besieged by enemy swarms. Combat just doesn’t work like it should. It’s a shame, because if the combat worked properly, it could’ve saved this mess from total failure.
This game is butt-ugly. The graphics look like they belong to a previous console generation: lots of slowdown, fuzzy textures, and herky-jerky animation. Characters’ mouths don’t match with dialogue, and their motion-captured acting is made worse by a camera that swings every which way. Maybe they were going for a “realistic” style, aping handheld camera-work during cut scenes, but the result is sloppy.
Worse, the visuals frequently get in the way of gameplay. In addition to the aforementioned navigation problems due to blurry graphics, sometimes the camera simply swings wildly while you’re in combat. When you can’t see what you’re doing, you will die.
Other times, the camera’s lack of movement is what kills you. Sometimes the camera takes a static position as you progress, resulting in lots of obscured combat moments. When this happens, structures in the foreground like canopies or walls consume the entire screen. And since you can’t move the camera, you will die.
Characters also tend to disappear from the screen. Random enemies disappear when killed, making it kind of difficult to have a workable weapon since you have to pick them from their corpses. No corpse means no weapon, and you will die.
One cut scene features Denz becoming demonically angry at some soldier, ferociously terrifying the bad guy. At least, I think that’s what happened. I’m not sure, because Denz disappeared halfway through the scene. The soldier asked, scared, “How’d he do that?!” Maybe he wanted to know how Denz turned invisible.
Another time, while pursuing a villain through his palace, I got ridiculously stuck. I thought I’d encountered another game-killing bug. I’d cleared every room of enemies, and had retraced all my progress to see if I’d missed anything—a switch or a hidden door. Eventually I figured it out: I’d missed a staircase. Yes…an entire flight of stairs. Why? Because the camera was locked in a corner, and the staircase just looked like another blurry, unremarkable wall.
Oh, and there are also typos throughout, in written dialogue and upgrade-screens. Spelling, the absolute easiest thing to do right, still got royally screwed.
A glitch ensures that every time you load a saved game, all sound will be turned off. You can turn it back on through the options menu once you start, but there’s no point. I’m pretty sure there is only one song looped throughout the game, and it sounds like a soundtrack from a SyFy original movie about dragons. But, honestly, the music’s relatively inoffensive, since you’ll be too distracted by the worst voice acting in the world. No one sells the dialogue at all (likely a consequence of the terrible writing).
The worst part, though, is Esteban, who doesn’t sound like the loveable rogue with an authentic Spanish accent that he was written to be. Rather, he sounds like someone performing an epically long impression of the Taco Bell dog—who happens to have been gargling razor blades and smoking lots of unfiltered cigarettes. Esteban’s accent and overall performance is offensive not only to Spain, but to Spanish-speakers the world over. And also to people with ears.
Oh, there are also lots of sound effects of people getting stabbed and gurgling on their own fluids. If you want to hear that sound, play this game. You’ll hear that sound—the same exact sound—at least 600 times before you’re done.
I almost feel bad writing this review, slamming the game so hard. On paper, the ideas that went into its creation must have come from a place of passion and excitement for a rich period in history. But then I remember that I actually played this unlikable, unfair, and unfinished game for many, many miserable hours, and the only person I feel bad for is me. Don’t go near this thing, or else you’ll be cursed with damnation, too.
1.5 / 10