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Curse: The Eye of Isis

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Wanadoo
Publisher:  Dreamcatcher
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Survival Horror
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Dolby Digital
Date Posted: 

3-22-04

Computer gaming geeks have ample reason to rejoice at the Xbox’s release schedule this Winter: with games like Baldur’s Gate II and Broken Arrow joining the roster to varying degrees of success and acclaim (no comment).  Fans of somewhat stilted survival horror designed for the mouse pad should be well satisfied at the latest curiosity to make the leap to console gaming: the budget priced Curse: the Eye of Isis has arrived, at a $15 price point, no less.  Dreamcatcher has ported the game to the Xbox, and fans of survival horror (like myself) may very well find themselves well scared (though not for the reasons one might hope or expect).

The game presents an interesting, if somewhat cheesy Scooby Doo premise.  Set in a foggy Victorian (or is it Edwardian?) London, you play as Darien Dane, son of Dr. Stanley Dane, the famous American Egyptologist and associate of Victoria Sutton.  You head down to the British Museum at night to check on arrangements for the big opening of the new exhibit tomorrow, only to find the place barred off and surrounded by strapping English bobbies (ok, so I’m being sarcastic).  Apparently, there’s been a murder (or two, or twenty), and the place has been cordoned off as a crime scene.  Being the intrepid knucklehead you are, you sneak in, and find yourself locked in with a few weirdos (a surviving security guard or two, a mysterious Arabic assistant of your father, who doubles as an item storage and traveling save point), and a whole load of undead victims and mummies.

A few things you’ll find out fast: 1. once you enter a particular wing, everything pretty much looks the same.  Trust me, this is like no museum you’ve ever set foot in.  One wonders, in fact, if anyone at Wanadoo ever did themselves.  2.  Your map is useless.  Absolutely useless.  In fact, in a genre that fairly well defines inadequate maps, Curse’s map is the piece de resistance par excellence of useless.  Therefore, 3.  You’re pretty much screwed, unless you’re really, really obsessive, and get to look forward to hours on end of annoying, wasted running in circles.  The game time, in fact, could literally be cut in half if they had just provided adequate mapping, better clues, etc. etc.   That said, on the second go-around (more on that later), I found myself a bit better acquainted with the place, and did in fact cut my game time in half or better - damning by faint praise, indeed.

One of the stranger things about the game, as mentioned earlier, is that the save point tends to move around.  In order to save, you must find Abdul Wahid, your father’s manservant, who also doubles as place to store unwanted items.  He tends to follow you around a bit, so returning to where you saw him last may not be the best option – stumbling across him semi-randomly appears to be the order of the day.   In case you haven’t figure it out, save whenever you can, regardless of how easy things are.  You never know when you’ll be able to do it next…

Although it fits, more or less loosely, into the survival horror genre, Curse: the Eye of Isis is not exactly a difficult game to survive.  The toughest challenges you’ll have to deal with are some rather glaring flaws in design.  An awkward combat system will have you slowly swinging at (and knocking down) some rather un-threatening reanimated corpses with your truncheon, only to find them magically levitated off the ground, just so you can nail them with one last hit.  Firing weapons is even worse: your load time is rather prolonged, with rifles, pistol and flamethrower proving slow and fairly impractical.  Even beyond the extended draw/load time, which gives foes the chance to clear any distance between you and themselves, you’ll find yourself waiting for slow moving dots (doubling as crosshairs) to meet before you can take a shot.  Best of all is when you go through all this, only to find your hard-earned shot go astray, because apparently, you fired too early.  Thanks, guys.  Great design work.

While Curse: the Eye of Isis may share stationary backgrounds and camera angles with Resident Evil, it does not, by any means, share the latter’s eye-droppingly beautiful graphics, well-animated cutscenes or smooth animations, substituting PC-quality blocky, choppy, at best average graphics and (slow) motion.  While I half expected this upon purchase, and thus didn’t really mind (for what it is, it’s really not all that bad, visually), the aesthetically obsessed need not apply.

Nonetheless, all these complaints become relegated to the category of “minor irritation” in comparison to Curse’s most insidious surprise.  At the risk of spoiling someone else’s innate masochism, here’s the scoop: about an hour into the game (perhaps two, depending on how lost you got in the museum’s distinctly samey corridors and doorways), you’ll encounter a crotchety old coward who is apparently the museum’s chief of security (no wonder there’s so many creeps running around the place at night).  After retrieving his glasses for him (the animation where the glasses magically slide under the airtight door is side-splittingly awful), he lets you into his hiding place…err, office.  And this is where you encounter, without any warning, the moment of truth, that decides whether you’re able to continue playing the game, or wind up forced to restart the game from scratch.

After informing you of the next spot you need to go to in order to continue to progress in the game, this idiot tells you he’ll have one of his people meet you there with a key.  For those of us who assume we’re to take this clown at his word, let me formally enlighten you: the bastard is full of it.  Should you believe him, and head to that area, you will indeed encounter said person, who will indeed offer to let you in.  Unfortunately, that person gets killed immediately thereafter.  Now, if this were any other survival horror or adventure game, you’d just search the guy’s pocket and get the key he just showed you, rather prominently, while attempting to open the door in question.  Not in Curse.  No, the geniuses at Wanadoo saw fit to force you to end the game right here, no further progress allowed – the guy, despite everything you just saw and were told, has nothing on him.  That’s right, the key he just showed you, which both guards specifically mentioned him having, is not on him.    Apparently, you were supposed, by osmosis, your highly developed powers of mind-reading, or through your inside contact at the developer’s office, to know that you were supposed to search the wall safe in the chief of security’s office, after he’d already given you something out of it, for the key in question.  No, there were no clues, no warnings, no indications that you should re-search said safe for anything, much less the key every indicator told you the now-dead guard would have on his person.

Now, the more practical minded among us are doubtless thinking, why not just go back and get said key out of said safe, now that we have this little mystery tidbit at our disposal (thank you, VGF)?  Because Wanadoo saw to it that you can’t.  Yep, you read right.  Even should you return to the old guard’s wall safe, you’ll find it and the room empty, making it impossible to continue, in any way shape or form.  Your only recourse, unless you’ve been keeping separate saves along the way, is to wipe out your entire game thus far and restart from scratch.  Best of all, this was apparently a known glitch on the computer version, which was not corrected for the Xbox version.  Thanks, guys.

And did I neglect to mention that, on your second go-around where you actually know to rifle through the wall safe for said key, triumphant music (never heard before or since in the course of gameplay) blares through your speakers?  So it’s like a “secret level”, only without finding the damn thing, you can’t go any further in the game!  Pure genius at work.  After playing through Curse (twice), I have no doubt how Wanadoo’s development team will be voting this election.  Like unto like; water seeks its own level, as they say…

Highs:

  • Nice atmosphere
  • It's a PC port with a $15 price point...what were you expecting?

Lows:

  • A tenth-rate combat system
  • Awkward controls
  • Fair, but typically stilted computer style graphics
  • Poor stationary camera angles make it hard to see around corners

Final Verdict: 

It’s a shame Wanadoo saw fit to ignore some very glaring, known flaws in the original PC version of Curse: the Eye of Isis before porting it to the Xbox.  In fact, it’s rather beyond belief, even at the notably low price point, and demonstrates just how little they care about the game (and the gamers who might be interested in purchasing it).  Definitely something to note for any future releases with the Wanadoo imprint.  While not quite raising the ire of a twelfth-rater like Punch King’s Full Fat, Wanadoo has definitely earned the designation of persona non grata around this gamer’s house, pending the development of some future masterpiece of gaming (which somehow, I just can’t see happening, all things considered). 

The bottom line is, taking into account my warning about the whole key thing (without which, you’re restarting this sucker…should you be so inclined), it’s not a bad looking game, with a bit of atmosphere carrying the game a longer way than it should have to.  In other words, survival horror junkies suffering the pangs of withdrawal may want to give Curse: the Eye of Isis a second glance.  While not on the level of Resident Evil it’s still enjoyable enough, if you can overlook its shortcomings.  Just keep repeating to yourself, it’s only a PC port.  It’s $15.  It’s only a PC port.  It’s $15…

Overall Score: 6.0

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