Questioning one’s sanity and the perception of reality has been an age-old plot from Hollywood thrillers, to tense TV series, to heart-pounding novels, and more. Phantom 8 Studios’ upcoming project Past Cure is built with this idea in mind from the get-go
We had the chance to check out an early preview build of Past Cure for a closer look at the upcoming sci-fi thriller/action game, which gave us roughly around two or three hours’ worth of gameplay (around a third of what the final game will offer, according to the developers).
In our time spent with the game, there were certainly some elements that some players will find familiar from several of the game’s influences, but under the surface of Past Cure there are some interesting mechanics and ideas that tie in well with the game’s cinematic presentation.
Past Cure is a third-person action title that happens to be mixing in quite a lot of other elements, while mainly taking its form as a sort of interactive psychological thriller. The developers themselves have pitched the game as “Inception meets John Wick meets Fight Club,” and in the few hours that we spent going hands-on with the game, it’s clear that Past Cure has an ambitious scope, but we’ll have to see a bit more if the game can fully deliver on its interesting premise.
That premise is composed from the story of the main protagonist Ian, a former soldier that endured years of testing (and by turn, torture) in a secret covert black site undergoing experimentation on humans’ mental capabilities. Ian came out of these experiments with a variety of telekinetic powers well beyond the capabilities of normal human beings, but at the cost of his well-being and sanity.
As a result of these inhuman tests and experiments, Past Cure leads Ian on a quest for revenge against those that left him a changed and emotionally-scarred man.
The idea of Ian being unhinged is an important factor in Past Cure, as his mental instability comes into play both literally and figuratively throughout what we played of the game. Over the course of our preview, we were able to get a close-up look at Ian’s extraordinary mental powers while also witnessing how, gradually, he is losing touch in identifying reality with what is in his imagination.
Both reality and illusion are tested throughout Ian’s journey by putting the player primarily into the “real world” and a “nightmare world” concocted by Ian’s imagination.
During the segments set in the former, Ian has to take action against a variety of agents and armed gunmen while hunting down the men that experimented on him, leaning heavily into stealth and relying on players’ cunningness to figure out the best path ahead with minimal detection.
The nightmare segments, on the other hand, swing far more into the realm of survival horror as Ian comes to grips with his own sanity. Of course, that’s while he is under the pursuit of horrific, stark white mannequin monsters that pursue the player throughout these sections.
Given their blank, expressionless stares and nude appearance as they clamber menacingly towards you, these sections provide genuine tension as players must successfully guide Ian to find an escape route without getting grabbed by one of and resulting in Ian’s instant death.
Juggling between these two disparate styles of gameplay, tones, and settings could make for an unwieldy experience, but Past Cure has set up an intriguing blend that (mostly) works. During the sections set in reality, Ian has a variety of weapons at his disposal such as pistols, submachine guns, and more, while he can also throw punches and counter-attacks if an enemy happens to get up-close.
A lot of this will feel fairly similar to most typical third-person action games, but where things get interesting in Past Cure is when Ian utilizes his telekinetic abilities. The two main abilities we had to play with during the demo were a bullet time-like ability where Ian could slow down time to either take on enemies more efficiently, and the ability to send out a spiritual projection that can fly around and interact with objects in the environment (such as taking out security cameras or hitting switches during puzzles).
The application of these powers both inside and outside of combat provided me with a lot of options. The time slowdown ability helped a lot in taking down multiple enemies, but also was useful in taking on puzzles by slowing down objects and giving time for Ian to cross a rapidly disassembling bridge.
By the same token, the spiritual projection ability is the main way for Ian to find and hit switches from far away during the game’s puzzle segments, but also allows players to see enemies around them and plan a strategy for taking them out.
Both of these abilities prove to have their use in multiple scenarios, and I think it will be interesting to see how Phantom 8 continues to explore their use throughout the rest of the final game.
Overall, there are definitely some solid mechanics at play in Past Cure, though my main concerns with the game stems from the controls and finesse of the gameplay. The controls in particular can feel a bit stiff and not quite up to the task of the more action-heavy scenarios that it demands, especially when taking on large groups of enemies during the real world sections, where I died more than a fews times due to Ian’s somewhat sluggish moving speed.
In the case of the nightmare sections where Ian is facing off against the mannequin monsters, this actually somewhat works in the game’s favor to increase tension when being chased by one of them.
However, this is perhaps where the biggest breaking point for Past Cure comes in to play as it tries to straddle the line between survival horror and action thriller, and the only area I feel where it has a little bit of difficulty trying to take on both at the same time.
Past Cure clearly has had many influences in bringing its vision of a reality-bending, sci-fi thriller to life, and for the most part, the game seems to be blending its elements together successfully.
Despite some of the issues I had with the controls not being caught up to the task yet of handling its more action-heavy scenarios, Past Cure caught my attention with its story and horror elements, and looks to be delivering the type of horror that is meant to get more under your skin than scare you outright. In that sense, I look forward to seeing how the rest of the game plays out, and where Ian’s fears and imagination take him next.
Past Cure will release later this year for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.