Past Cure has an inherently intriguing premise. Former soldier Ian has lost the last three years of his memory from some experiment that has given him the ability to slow down time and cast an astral projection. Sounds great right? Well, he also has recurring nightmares where he’s being chased by mannequins with glowing eyes, he’s not that fond of these so he sets off to find out what happened to him back then.
From here there’s a number of directions the game could go. There could be all out action as Ian guns down anyone who stands between him and the truth. Or perhaps a more nuanced approach where he tries to understand the meaning of the dreams he’s having through survival horror dream sequences or maybe a more espionage focused setup where he infiltrates various corporations to stealthily learn about the experiments. Past Cure attempts to do all of these things and does none of them well.
It all starts with the most painfully slow tutorial in recent memory. Ian wakes up after one of his classic nightmares and proceeds to give us a tour of his house. First stop is to get a glass of water to allow time for a couple of hallucinations so you can learn all about the sanity meter. It’s pitched as the necessary popping of these blue pills to keep Ian’s grip on reality. But it’s not nearly as interesting as it sounds, the sanity meter is effectively the mana for using your abilities and will always regenerate to half after a bit so it’s never that important. It doesn’t affect your mental state whatsoever if you never take one, making the whole shtick feel a little needless.
So after that, you head down to Ian’s basement where he has a fully kitted out shooting range and a boxing ring where we learn how to shoot and press the melee button. This is probably done for a bit of world-building as Ian natters away to himself during the whole process but most people know how to shoot and punch in a video game so the glacial pace of this section seems unnecessary.
After that tutorial, Ian heads to bed and as you can probably guess, has another nightmare, but this one acts as a tutorial for the powers he possesses. This is just as slow as Ian’s episode of MTV Cribs just with a few more dreamlike tropes thrown in like giant talking heads and floating platforms that make bridges as you cross them. It also serves to lessen how cool his powers initially sound. Astral projection is only ever used for pressing switches or disabling security cameras, whilst slowing down time seemingly exists solely to make up for the games clunky combat.
After waking up from the nightmare that is that tutorial it’s off to a hotel to track down a doctor who supposedly has links to the experiments conducted on Ian. This inevitably leads to a shootout and your first taste of the aforementioned clunky combat. The shooting mechanics themselves serviceable, though they feel a little outdated, the real issue comes from inconsistency.
Some enemies will require multiple shots to the head where others will be felled with a single bullet. There’s seemingly no logic to this and some shots don’t seem to register at all. If you want to beat someone to death instead, you better make sure you’re standing closer to them than is socially acceptable because Ian apparently has the reach of a newborn baby.
This is made worse by the setup of the environments the shoot-outs take place. You slowly make your way up the worlds tallest multi-storey car park where everything looks exactly the same. After clearing out one area and climbing yet another flight of stairs you’ll get a strong feeling of Deja Vu. After a few floors, I thought this might have been deliberate and it was actually a dream sequence trying to make a metaphorical point, but no, it was just a very tall car park and unashamed repetition to pad out the length of the game.
It’s a similar story upon reaching the hotel lobby. Ian runs around similar looking corridors gunning down blokes until it eventually ends. There’s the choice to play through the never-ending car park and hotel stealthily but honestly, it’d just make that section even longer than it already is with no effect on enjoyment.
The developers may have figured out that would be the case so they threw in a few forced stealth sections in the hotel lobby because there’s no in-game reason I can for why you have to be stealthy. Ian will declare there are simply too many enemies to fight head on, even though there aren’t any more knocking about than there usually are. If you get spotted you’ll get a game over and have to start again. It’s incredibly frustrating because it just doesn’t make any sense to arbitrarily restrict you like this.
There is a section where this is a little more understandable and is probably the best, relatively, part of the game. Ian finds himself in a seemingly abandoned facility where, of course, the power is out. This is where Past Cure tries its hand at a bit of horror and for the most part, it works quite well. Armed only with a torch and plunged into near darkness you sneak your way around the facility solving puzzles and finding switches. These puzzles are nicely varied including riddles, mazes and other brain teasers which are fun to solve.
Crucially, there is no combat, in this area, there is a special variant of the mannequins that can’t be killed so you have to sneak your way around them. This makes things surprisingly tense as you attempt to avoid their gaze whilst figuring out where you need to go. It also fills out a lot more of the story than the rest of the game does, though nothing is ever truly answered.
The story has a few intriguing moments and it’s probably the main driving force for Past Cure as it does pique your interest when you reach the end of the hotel level. But ultimately, it fails to deliver, partly because nothing is ever truly explained. Leaving a lot to interpretation is fine but it doesn’t really work here because there’s not enough to build up the full picture yourself. That aside, the main reason the story doesn’t land is down to the voice acting.
Everyone in this game sounds like they’re reading the script for the first time. There is rarely any real emotion in the delivery and Ian, in particular, comes across as quite disinterested. It’s a shame because the writing of his lines is occasionally quite good. He is constantly in conversation over a headset with his brother and it’s clear they’re supposed to have a jokey relationship but it just sounds too literally phoned in. In truth, if you muted the voices and just read the subtitles you’d probably enjoy the dialogue a lot more.
Unfortunately, Past Cure is an example of a game that is a little overly ambitious. It tries to cram in so many different ideas that none of them works very well. The story is interesting at times and the level where you’re sneaking around in the dark is incredibly tense but all of this pales in comparison to clunky combat mechanics, poor voice acting and needlessly long tutorial.