Some games stay with you because their story touches you on a deep emotional level. Others stay with you because they leave you trying to piece together any kind of meaning for what you experienced. Past Cure, sadly, is the latter. An obvious work of love and effort by the developers, Past Cure is a an action adventure game that dips its toes into the psychological thriller world to tell the story of a former super soldier named Ian who is trying to find out what happened during 3 years of his life that are unaccounted for. It’s an intriguing concept, especially as Ian developed some sort of special abilities that allow him to slow time or use astral projection without knowing how or why. Using these abilities comes at the cost of Ian’s sanity, and that is where things for Past Cure truly begin to go sideways.
If you were to attempt to describe the plot for Past Cure to a friend you may find yourself fumbling incoherently through a smattering of plot points that never quite connect. Ian is plagued by nightmares as a result of his mental powers using up his sanity. The first nightmare he experiences showcases the weirdly mannequin like Porcelain Men that haunt Ian, and serves as a tutorial of sorts so that players can attempt to adjust to the clunky control system. Ian can use astral projection to flip switches and disable cameras so long as they are within range, but doing so leaves him in a crouched and vulnerable state and drains his sanity. Ian’s time slowing ability affects everybody and everything in the area except him, but his movement is so slow even when running at a sprint that he might as well be slowed to a crawl, as well. Once Ian’s sanity meter drops below a certain point, it will refill if gradually when his powers are not being used. However, it will never refill 100% without Ian popping a “blue pill”, the medicine he needs that is supposed to keep him in check.
Sluggish, poorly controlled tutorial aside, I had pretty high hopes for Past Cure. The opening cutscenes are well done, and set up a potential story that is genuinely intriguing. Ian, despite being your standard issue protagonist, is solid and there’s a lot of promise for how this game can play out. Ian’s voice acting is stiff, but in the beginning you’re hopeful enough that you think the character might show something in the way of emotion eventually. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. That bland, monotone voice work carries on throughout the entire game. Even the graphical quality of the cutscenes that are so promising in the beginning quickly delve into PS2 era graphics later on. One particular scene with two miscellaneous henchmen near an elevator was shocking in how poor quality the graphics became. Motion blur, a little graininess, all of that can be forgiven. Even the rogue textures popping in and out are minor in comparison. The scene in question takes such an awful nose dive in quality that I literally restarted my system and played it again thinking something had gone wrong.
The world Ian maneuvers through is impressive at first glance, but you need only to go up one floor in the parking garage to discover that there’s a lot of asset recycling going on in Past Cure. The aforementioned parking garage sequence drags on entirely too long, and because of the constant reuse of the environment and props I stopped a couple of times merely out of confusion. It would take a moment to figure out if I had progressed forward or accidentally backtracked to a previous floor. This problem continues on in later environments, as I wandered around in office buildings and even a dilapidated prison nightmare.
Past Cure makes no secret about the fact that it wants players to explore these environments in a stealthy manner, but the tools to do this effectively are simply not there. Henchmen and even the dreaded Porcelain Men from Ian’s nightmares are locked into set paths with limited vision cones. Ian can easily stand at the end of a hallway with a few henchmen at the other end and they not see him. However, Ian can also be tucked safely away into a corner and a henchman will spot him. Unlike other games with stealth modes, the enemies do not lose interest if you tuck yourself away even more. Once they’ve spotted Ian they will chase him down until they can punch him, leaving the player staring at a “Mission Failed” screen. This leads to being thrown back to the last checkpoint, which will inevitably be way farther back in the mission than you might hope.
When stealth is not a requirement, there are only three weapons available to the player. Ian begins with his own personal pistol and one lone clip of ammo, but he can pick up ammo and weapons from dispatched enemies. That said, these weapons are limited to a pistol with a scope and a mini uzi. Trying to use the clunky controls to aim at enemies that can only be killed by a headshot was just one more shortcoming from a game that could have done so much more. Despite how much I wanted to like Past Cure, I felt as if the game was making a conscious effort to turn me against it.