Review: The Cursed Crusade (PS3)

Title: The Cursed Crusade
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (4.8 GB)
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Kylotonn Games
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: M
The Cursed Crusade is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 Blu-ray version was used for this review.

I don’t know if the Atlus name signifies quality, or a rich tradition of publishing a good product. For me the company has been a standard for the unusual, the atypical, the unconventional – the game experience a bit off the beaten path. With the release of Catherine this year, and the much lauded release of Demon’s Souls back in 2009, Atlus stock has been looking fairly strong in the last few years. With this October’s release of The Cursed Crusade has Atlus managed to drive another ball out of the park? Or has the brand finally taken a thunderous knee to the groin?

We gamers can get our hopes up. A game in development might catch our eye in a magazine, at an online media outlet, in a press event at one of these super-conventions like PAX, E3, or Comic Con… and we can let our guard down and find ourselves daydreaming about what this new game could be when it’s finally released – and upon daydreaming can find our hopes for the upcoming title flying higher and ever higher…

I allowed this to happen to me with Kylotonn’s The Cursed Crusade.

Am I embarrassed now that the final product sits – taking up precious oxygen space – on my entertainment cabinet? A little bit. If the game had been handed to me for free I’d be less embarrassed – by whatever the dollar-to-humiliation ratio demands of me. Now that I’ve played through the game and beaten it, I like to think of The Cursed Crusade as a symbol – as a sign that I can still believe in the intrinsic value of something without any evidence accommodating, or contrary to it. Though the warnings were all there – the 57 different release dates it bore, a twenty dollar drop in price a month prior to shelf date – I kept hope alive for this new Atlus game. This doesn’t make me Martin Luther King Jr, it just makes me less jaded then your typical online game writer.

Although… now that I think about it seriously, if I walk away from something as deflating and spirit-crushing as The Cursed Crusade without being slightly more jaded then I’ve become as blind and as disoriented as the folks responsible for the game. This is a game unworthy of hope. A game unworthy of play. A game unworthy of forty dollars. A game unworthy of the words we must spend reviewing all the reasons why it is unworthy.

The Cursed Crusade is as its name states. It is a cursed campaign of trial, error, and yet more error – signifying nothing. I walk home from the Holy Land neither a king, nor a sultan, nor carrying purses pregnant with riches and gemstones… instead, I walk home a disheartened son of a bitch who just spent the last forty dollars of his already stretched resources on what equates to magic beans.

The problem with The Cursed Crusade is that it has grand aspirations aimed at all of the least desirable components of an action game. Kylotonn plugged so much energy and inspiration into all the wrong places of this title. It is – in its pedestrian heart – a beat-em-up arcade game. Yet The Cursed Crusade’s story seems to have taken the full onslaught of every weapon Kylotonn had in its arsenal when developing this title. The preamble to this review – and I wrote it so I can admit it – is completely overwritten. It’s self indulgent, unrepressed, and at least ten or eleven sentences too long.

Believe me, the storyline in The Cursed Crusade is much more offensive than this rambling review of it.

This is a buddy game – where two guys fight and kill hundreds of other guys. This isn’t the light bulb. It’s not sliced bread. To try and treat a beat-em-up campaign as an epic tome to sin, redemption, and the glory of Christ Almighty is a waste of resources. For any one action sequence in this game there are at least three cut-scenes. The two characters – Denz and Esteban – share quips, tell tales of fortune and folly, and yammer on about bullshit anyone outside the guy who wrote this crud could ever hope to care about.

There was one four minute interlude on the personal histories of French crusaders (that had literally nothing to do with my characters) that the game neither warranted nor even seemed to respect. If I wanted to pay forty dollars for a history lesson I would have applied to a local Community College. What I wanted was to fight and kill digital opponents with precision and skill. I got the history lesson instead.

The combat system has its own ambitions. It’s a deep system, featuring multiple weapon combinations. Players can purchase add-ons for every weapon, shield, or combination of the two. If you’re carrying an axe and have a triangle-triangle combo (triangle in this game is designated for vertical attacks – square for horizontal) you can purchase more triangles and square button presses to build the aggregate into a much longer assault. Sometimes these combos can reach seven or eight button squashes in length. The problems this type of system creates are unwieldy and enormous. Since you can literally use any weapon (swords, maces, axes, spears, shields) you come across in the campaign – but cannot purchase any of them in between chapters(?!) – why buy any extra moves for a weapon you don’t even know if you’re going to have in the next chapter of the game? Why even try to remember an eight-button-combination for any of the countless armaments the game throws at you – especially when there isn’t much difference between any tool you use in a fight?

There’s a basic system to fighting anything and anyone in this game. Wait for them to glow bright white – this signifies a proposed attack on their part – parry the shot with R2, and then beat the opponent mercilessly until the dramatic “finishing move” animation (which might not always connect with your victim – but will still kill them no matter where they stand in the assault) kicks in. I’d be willing to wager that you could balance a Russet Burbank potato on the four buttons of your Dualshock controller, grab a potato masher, and then mash your way to a convincing victory in The Cursed Crusade.

In fact… I think you should run the campaign that way. At the very least there could be a nutritional benefit for completing this game. You could slide the crushed potato off your controller into a pot and whisk it with butter, salt, and warm milk as the final credits of the game careened up your television screen.

Kylotonn may have looked at what Ubisoft did with the combat in the Assassin’s Creed games, and what Rocksteady pulled-off in their amazing Batman titles – and probably felt that they had something to add to the sparring. But they don’t. What they have is clumsy and sloppy – and far too over-complicated to waste your time on learning properly. Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham games have a flow and an energy – they may seem simplistic at first glance, but what they give the player is the option to execute anything they can think of immediately, and then put that thought into action.

The Cursed Crusade is all about Tekken-esque ten button combinations and animated finishing moves that you’ll ultimately feel ambivalent toward. The game wants you to use objects (these will glow bright white as well) on the battleground during your melee, and your co-op partner can grab an opponent by the arms and hold them for you to finish off, and the game will toss in the occasional “crossed swords” sequence (or chainsaw dueling as they call it around Cliff Bleszinski’s bedstead) to try and liven up the party… but I couldn’t get the object-combat to work half the time, couldn’t care less if my partner had to hold an opponent down – they’re just as easy to defeat unrestrained – and grew quickly tired of pistoning the triangle button in a weapons-locked situation.

The more people I killed quickly, the closer I grew to another dreadful cut-scene. There are no rewards in The Cursed Crusade.

As an added facet to the game Kylotonn added “cursed” mode. During any combat situation hit L1 and you’re no longer the Templar knight you thought you were – you’re Satan’s boy-toy. You sprout horns, and have the demonic abilities to shoot fireballs, heal your partner, and detect what damaged walls hide passages. I wouldn’t hand over my soul to eternal damnation and unlimited torture for the ability to detect hidden passages – why these two guys did is beyond me. Lucifer’s pagan gift of passage detection illustrates everything terribly wrong with The Cursed Crusade.

It aggrandizes the menial.

As far as level design is concerned…? Envision Lindsay Lohan’s cervical canal, but with medieval battlements guarding the labial bloom and torches illuminating the passage. Your path is bumpy and linear – stretched out in spots and terribly dry.

The graphics look nice in photographs. When moving they’re less appealing. I dug the “Templar” vibe of the game – it’s one of the reasons I let hope consume me about this title. Kylotonn should have taken notes from Ubisoft and lifted most of their art direction from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. As it stands this is a bland, dark game – and the backgrounds look like pickled asshole.

The audio is one of the few less-cursed components of The Cursed Crusade. The voice acting is miserable, (“Denz… what are you doing in my dream…?”) but the sounds of swords ringing, guts being shoveled out, and hearts being skewered has never sounded better.

If you can hustle anyone online into joining you co-op on this journey into the arrhythmic heart of inadequacy you have the gift of salesmanship friend… quit playing stupid video games and go make yourself a million dollars. If you choose to go down this road with a partner…? Then expect to thrill each other with the symbiotic pleasures of pushing wagons out of the way together, and lifting each other up onto platforms far too high for a single man to scale by himself.

This is the microbiological entry point for what passes as a co-op experience in 2011.

From October 18th (Batman: Arkham City’s release date) till somewhere around Thanksgiving, this isn’t just another jam-packed video game release season. This is Pamplona Spain. And these games being released (Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Uncharted 3, Skyrim) aren’t just video games – these are bulls. To release a game with the obvious mental and physical handicaps of The Cursed Crusade into the crazed rumble of these bulls isn’t just stupid – it’s cruel.

Normally, if the game had anything at all worth celebrating, I’d feel the need to risk neck and reputation by throwing it a life preserver. But in the case of The Cursed Crusade I say let it get trampled. Let it get gored and plowed under hoof and horn. Drop a large, guacamole-tinged pile of fresh bullshit on it as well boys… bury it in the only substance worthy of its substance.


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