The Average Gamer

The Cursed Crusade Review (360)

The Middle Ages weren’t a good time to be alive to be honest. Not that I was around back then, but I’ve heard it sucked pretty bad. Unless you were a Knight of the Realm, it was all hacking and slashing through the Middle East on a mission from God to find the Holy Grail or the key to eternal life… all in the name of honour. It sounds like a damn good idea for a video game.

French developers Kylotonn thought so too and so they created medieval 3rd person RPG hack-and-slash-em-up The Cursed Crusade.

The action takes place in Jerusalem at the end of the 12th Century. You play Denz de Bayle, a young knight on a quest not only to find his father, but also on a journey to discover his true self. Joining you on this noble quest is the ridiculously-named Esteban Noviembre, a cocky Spanish pirate/soldier who’s in it for fame and glory. However, you both harbour a strange curse where you can summon the Fires of Hell at will to dispatch your enemies and guide you to salvation.

It all sounds solid but the way in which Cursed Crusade delivers this narrative is too complex and meandering to keep you interested for long. Towards the end you may even consider skipping the many cutscenes just to get back to the action, which is a shame as Kylotonn have obviously spent considerable time researching the history of the era.

De Bayle and Noviembre make interesting partners. The banter they exchange with each other is meant to add a light side to the killing. However, a weak script and bad delivery, coupled with the glitches of cutscenes ending suddenly at times leaves you with a sense of profound disappointment.

The Cursed Crusade blends the RPG elements of Warcraft with the hack and slash mentality of an action adventure title, with mixed levels of success. The X and Y buttons control the majority of your attacks and it’s only a matter of time until you’ll be mashing away at those buttons trying to strike the nearest enemy that has the unfortunate job of taking you on. When your opponent’s health gets low, you automatically perform a finishing move. Which move you do depends on what configuration of weapons you’re holding at the time.

The action starts well at first, however soon the repetition kicks in. Killing is pretty much the same time and time again, becoming somewhat of a chore very quickly. That said, the finishing moves are quite satisfying and reassuringly gruesome as you lop your opponent’s head off with one big cleave of your two-handed death sword.

The more enemies you kill, the more your Hell meter fills up, enabling you to activate it at will with a press of the Left Trigger. Once pressed the world around changes dramatically to resemble the fiery pits of Hell and De Bayle is turned into a demon himself, harnessing the fire around him to his advantage to burn enemies in the real world. This provides at least a little relief from the monotony as you move from enemy to enemy. Activating the Hell Power also reveals hidden objects such as chests and the souls of warriors that have come before, waiting for redemption.

As you slash away, your weapon becomes worn and loses its effectiveness before eventually breaking, rendering it useless. This can lead to many bouts of aimless running around the level searching for a weapon that – not only is difficult to make out in the muddy textured floor – you have no idea until you find it whether it’s less broken than the one you hold in your hand. Also, there are no statistics for the any of the weapons in Cursed Crusade as you would expect from an RPG. I found this to be a glaring omission from the game. Even though there are plenty of different swords, daggers, shields and maces to pick up, they are too similar to cause you to care which one you pick up, taking a lot of the tactics out of the gameplay. On the plus side, the mixing up the weapons types can lead to some cool-looking finishing kills.

As you progress through dungeons and castle sieges, you’ll pick up artefacts and hidden objects which count towards your Victory Points. These points translate into levelling up combos and special moves for you to use in the next zone. They’re also used to increase your health and stamina, which refreshingly is more akin to the RPG that Cursed Crusade claims to be. However as I’ve mentioned before, you’re too busy button mashing to try and pull off the moves you’ve just unlocked. If only they’d looked at the way Batman: Arkham Asylum handled the combat, relying on timing rather than random button pressing to execute attacks. It’s much more rewarding. I imagine Kylotonn have put secret items into Cursed Crusade to increase it’s replayability factor, however you’ll find little motivation to go back to the game as you watch those final credits roll.

You can have someone else control Noviembre on Co-op or over Xbox Live but this adds little to the overall gameplay. Several sections in Cursed Crusade require both you and your AI or human companion to work together to accomplish certain tasks and missions. This is controlled by accurately-timed button presses as shown on the screen when appropriate. In practice your partner will lag behind fighting an enemy that seems invincible until you track back, find them both and kill his enemy with one blow. There were some cases that this didn’t even work, leaving you flailing your weapon wildly when all you want to do is open a door.

The AI of Cursed Crusade also leaves a lot to be desired. There are times where you will be fighting with some allied soldiers who freeze up and don’t move to help you, leaving you all exposed to the wave after wave of the same enemy and resulting in many annoying and pointless deaths. Enemies and friendlies alike get stuck in walls, or behind ramparts causing you to retrace your steps until you find and deal with the culprit only to start yet another cutscene. There are no checkpoints and the only autosaves happen at the end of the level. If you die at the end, you’re going all the way back to the start. Checkpoints have been with us for decades, folks, why have they been omitted here?

Graphically, Cursed Crusade is not without it’s issues too. Cutscenes suffer from some of the worst screen tearing I’ve ever seen and the clipping of scenery or a broken chair floating five feet in the air is simply unforgivable at times. The camera angles change almost at random, leaving you disorientated and vulnerable to attack.

Despite its best efforts, Cursed Crusade is rife with glitches and inconsistencies. It really worries me why Kylotonn would have released such a game with these errors still present. One such glitch is that when you get to title screen the game has completely muted itself, so you have to go into the options menu and manually turn the volume back up again. This is but a minor inconvenience when compared to the massive unresponsiveness of the controls. On paper, the control system works well. In practice there can be huge delays between button presses and action, sometimes not even responding at all. This results in you taking unnecessary damage and caused me a lot of frustration.

Cursed Crusade’s potential from the outset was evident however graphical inconsistencies, glitches and bland, repetitive gameplay tell an altogether different story. It does teach us the value of accurately testing a game before release and not to be complacent with developing even the most basic of gameplay and plotline mechanics before you release it to the public. It also shows us that just because a topic has been researched thoroughly to try and develop an interesting backstory, if you don’t make it varied and engaging to the player, that effort means absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, the creators of Cursed Crusade have banished this game to a bargain bin Hell from which it may never, ever return.

The Cursed Crusade is available now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

Curious about the verdict? Read our review policy.