The Cursed Crusade

[E3 2011] Currrrrrrrse!

We give The Cursed Crusade a go. No mummies in sight... yet.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 16, 2011
When one wants to make a third-person action game set in medieval times, particularly one where combat is front and center, it behooves one to offer the player plenty of variety. In this respect, The Cursed Crusade's three dozen-plus missions and over 130 individual weapons yielding some 90 different attacks is off to a damn fine start.

It helps, too, that the game is set in a fairly rich era from which to pull at least a basic kind of historical accuracy. A holy war has been declared by Pope Innocent III -- one on Jerusalem itself -- which of course means lots and lots of bloodshed in the name of a deity. Oh, and curses, like the one poor Denz de Bayle carries as a Templar. Thankfully, Denz has a little help from buddy Esteban Noviembre (normally controlled by the game's AI, but easily replaced by a buddy over the Interwebnets) and has apparently found a way to channel the curse toward the pair's means of finding a way to break it.

By getting all hacky and slashy, Denz can build up his aptly-named Curse Gauge, and unleashing it not only gives the brawler more oomph to his strikes and boosts his speed, but transforms the world itself into a hellish, ever-burning landscape and renders most enemies as skeletal husks that are easily dispatched. Ah, but a curse is a curse, and when Death himself is waiting for the last of Denz's life to be scorched away, using that awesome power is quite the double-edged sword. Or a mace. Or a bow. A spear? Maybe an axe?

See all of these weapons (and, obviously, plenty more) are available to Esteban and Denz as they clatter to the ground from downed foes -- an important advantage given that just using a weapon will slowly cause it to weaken and eventually break. By constantly mixing up the different types of weapons, the duo can unleash plenty of tag team finishers and meaty strikes alike. And if that shield seems a bit too, y'know, "protective"? Yeah, it can be ditched for a second weapon. Nothing says "convert" like a dude stomping around with a big ass mace in one hand and a nice, sharp axe in the other.

These aren't cosmetic differences, either. Each weapon has its own speed and damage ratings, which in turn change the movesets that Denz and Esteban have. Finishers shift, the timing of attacks changes (yes, it's most definitely timing-based; button mashing is just a good way to dull the weapon faster) and the animations diverge with each weapon or combination of weapons. Environmental hazards also factor into things, allowing enemies to be kicked down an open well, for instance.

It's an interesting take on normal combat. Brutal, heavy and with more than a little flair even in its early state, The Cursed Crusade seems to have just enough story to complement all that decapitation, dismemberment and bloodletting. The idea that Death is literally lurking in the shadows, ready to collect Denz when the curse finally takes him (or if he falls in battle for too long before his partner can revive him), and the fact that the curse is passed down to his son offers a tantalizing risk/reward setup. And, of course, Denz isn't the only Templar that has been cursed. Normal grunts might turn to weak little skeletons when the Curse Gauge is unleashed, but other cursed Templars are going to get very big very fast.

Though the game doesn't quite have the level of visual polish that we were hoping for, French developer Kylotonn Games gets a nod from us for using their own in-house engine rather than licensing one of the few ones seemingly being used by everyone else this generation, and so long as the combat stays as varied and the story manages to thread itself through the game's many missions in a way that keeps us wondering about Denz's fate, we're more than willing to give it a chance. As soon as we've gotten a little more time with things, we'll keep you in the loop.