A little-known title from an unproven publisher being released at the budget price of $US39.99, The Cursed Crusade doesn't seem to have a lot going for it, but in the ringing of an iron mace against an enemy's plate-covered head, I found promise.
Set in the time of the fourth crusade, The Cursed Crusade follows a pair of unlikely heroes (they're never likely) as they travel across Western Europe, seeking answers to familiar questions and a means to rid themselves of a curse that has death nipping at their heels. The story is an odd mix of the historical and supernatural, much like the strange combination of the holy Templar Denz and the Spanish scoundrel Esteban, polar opposites bound by a common cause.
Though you wouldn't know it by the way they fight.
I've not been engaged by the story of The Cursed Crusade. If anything the horrible voice acting and sloppy graphics are actively trying to push me away from Kylotonn Games' creation. It's the damn fighting that keeps pulling me back.
This isn't a game about dancing about your opponents, performing outrageous acrobatic manoeuvres while slicing effortlessly through layers of impenetrable armour. This is a game about code iron against steel. It's about slow, deliberate movements. It's about killing one foe and moving onto the next with a brutal efficiency. If you want to take down a fully armoured foe with a mace, you're going to have to beat that armour off his body before getting to the soft, chewy centre.
There is complexity lurking beneath the savage beatings. I can counter my foes' blows, leaving them open to attack, and they can do the same. I can break their guard with a kick to the midsection, raining blows while they struggle to regain their balance. And yes, I can warp into a cursed realm of fire and bone and dispatch them more readily there, though I prefer a more human approach.
I've only played the game a few hours now, and the combat has yet to grow stale. There are still plenty of points to distribute, styles to unlock, and techniques to perfect. I find myself replaying one particular chapter of the story over and over again, simply because I know it leads directly into a massive battle where my skills will be put to good use. I might be playing The Cursed Crusade for a long time coming.
Yes, there is reason to be wary. It's a budget title, after all. I've seen my share of graphical glitches and imperfections. Luckily it's a budget title with a demo now available on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, so you don't have to go blindly rushing in, unless that's your style.