Past Cure Review

By Mark Delaney,
For independent game studios, understanding limitations and working within them is the key to success. For the indie hits that release to great acclaim, virtually all of them were built on premises that were attainable for the studio and conducive to minimizing weaknesses and maximizing strengths. To not do this would be to bite off more than you could chew. To not do this would be a near-certain fatal flaw in a game's design. To not do this, you would probably be making Past Cure.

past cureDeveloped and published by Phantom 8

Past Cure is a third-person psychological thriller with cinematic aspirations. The game was made by Phantom 8, a new indie developer comprised of just eight people. That fact explains seemingly all of Past Cure's many issues. The game begins rather promisingly. Players take the role of Ian, a former soldier now recovering mentally from inexplicable amnesia that erased the last three years of his life. Being supported by his doctor brother Marcus and on a quest for answers, Ian follows a lead that may point him to the ones responsible for his nightmares and his bizarre abilities, like astral projection and slowing time.

The first hour or so of the four-hour story is ultimately misleading given how troubled the rest of the game is. Early sequences like a horrific nightmare that works as the game's tutorial, as well as a long story-heavy sequence that was surprisingly comfortable with relaxing gameplay that let the narrative and characters build, were both reminiscent of Alan Wake. Things were looking up for this debut. Disappointingly, the game's trajectory unceasingly plummets from there.

Shooting gameplay is rough and inaccurate with default settings, although more manageable with some adjustments to the analog stick sensitivity. Melee combat is even worse. It's built on the now standard framework of active counters and combos. Although the combos are extremely limited, the results would have been passable if not for the game's refusal to cooperate. You'll miss punches just inches away from enemies and when you counter theirs, the timing never seems right, thusly ending in you taking damage due to broken gameplay.

Most levels play out using a combination of stealth and action sequences, and you can usually choose which style to utilize. The stealth mechanics are also troubled because of a needed but absent cover system. Instead, crouching awkwardly behind waist-high barriers will often lead to you being sighted even as the game implies you're doing what you're meant to do. Using your abilities, a lot of the action and puzzles come from astrally projecting to a distance to deactivate cameras and slowing down time a la Max Payne to gain advantages over foes. These mechanics actually work quite well, although the astral projection ability is part of the game's narrative problems, too — even in a world where astral projection isn't pure fantasy, how does one project into a long dead person's mind and recover memories?

Past CurePast Cure is memorable for all the wrong reasons

Moments like this gradually erode the game's narrative props that, for a while, keep things interesting even as the gameplay fails to do the same. Sadly, it feels like every chapter of the story is worse than the one before it, all culminating in one of the biggest head-scratching letdowns of a boss battle ever put into games. What begins as an intriguing and rather mysterious indie with "quiet hit" potential ends feeling like a tragic waste of talent. It feels like the first-time studio has a great appreciation for story-driven games, if only they worked within their own limitations a bit better.

Past Cure is a game that could have filled a void in the indie scene for third-person action-adventure games, but instead, it shows us a likely reason they're so rare in that space. Without the polish needed, the gameplay suffers greatly, and the good graces of an early narrative hook are ultimately abandoned to a story that can't decide if it wants to be Inception or Silent Hill, does poor imitations of both, and concludes with an ending that feels like it's from an entirely different script.

As harsh as these words may read, there is some cause for salvation with Past Cure. It feels like it could earn some cult status among the same crowd that appreciates the wonky but lovable Deadly Premonition. Its similar lack of polish in all areas and story that bemuses and amuses in equal measure is perhaps the recipe for someone's favorite weird game of the year. Of course, just playing those early moments before stepping away may help too, as doing so allows you to depart before it goes off the rails, wondering what could have been. Even with expectedly mediocre visuals and voice acting, and a forgettable soundtrack, Past Cure maintains a flair for the movie world that indicates the creators' adoration for that format. It's mimicked fairly well in this game, even as so much crumbles around it.

On the achievement front, Past Cure can be quite generous thanks to it having so few achievements in total, although it should be mentioned one achievement is unobtainable with a fix "coming soon." The rest of the short list is made up of a few specific unlocks and some story chapter achievements that mean you'll likely get at least half the Gamerscore by the time you make it to the end credits.


Past Cure is a game that tries to do too much at once to the extent that it ends up doing none of it well. To varying degrees, it lacks polish in every area. Shooting needs some help in the options menu, melee is borderline broken, stealth is missing key features, and the story abandons a strong start and gets worse with every chapter, all while it weaves in and out of several genres and forgets to make it coherent by the end. In one light it's commendable for a rookie studio to aim so high by designing a game akin to Max Payne or Quantum Break, as they obviously intended to do here. Sadly, Phantom 8 seems to have rejected reasonable restraint in their design aspirations, which may have been the cure for what ails this game.
4 / 10
Past Cure
  • Cult-like quality may be present for fans of really strange games
  • Interesting first hour with which you can finish the story in your head
  • Lacking necessary features and polish across all aspects, especially combat, stealth, and narrative
  • Ending that feels like it belongs to an entirely different script
The reviewer spent five hours in the tortured mind of Ian. He's still not sure how you astrally project into a corpse's memories. He collected 10 of 13 achievements for 600 Gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.