The Eye of Isis
Review by Old
Curse: The Eye of Isis (let's call it Curse) has
been hanging around the gaming world for at least two years, as
an unreleased product. References can be found to interviews and
previews from the fall of 2001. Usually this suggests some problems
in completing the game in a way satisfying to a publisher, and it
did serve as a cautionary flag to this reviewer. Further, even with
the game being out more than two weeks at the time of this writing,
this is likely the first review you will see.
Having said that, though, the survival/horror genre is one of my
favorites, and I was quite looking forward to this Dreamcatcher/Wanadoo
release. Unfortunately, Curse proved to be rather a disappointment,
although it does have a few almost redeeming qualities. Let's examine
"The Pursuit of Knowledge Can Carry the Gravest Price"
The Eye of Isis, a priceless Egyptian statuette, has mysteriously
disappeared from a London museum in 1890. It was protected by an
ancient and evil curse that causes madness or violent death to all
who come into contact with it. Mummies, but not daddies, are raised
to exact revenge on the idol's desecrators, as well as anyone else
standing arounddesecrator or not!
You play the hero, Dr. Darien Dane, summoned by his friend, Vicky,
to find the artifact before it completely wipes out greater Victorian
London! You'll spend considerable time in the museum, ride a steam
train to the coast, board a huge cargo ship, pass through a desert
village, and finally enter the dreaded labyrinthine pyramid where
the Eye of Isis statuette must be returned. Without your success,
the angry deities will never get back to eternal sleep. Heavens!
Along the way, you'll encounter a few helpful citizens, a few not
so helpful, a twist in the plot, and hordes of very nasty mummies.
Do you see now why this game was of interest? In fact, while writing
this, I'm wondering anew why I felt let down. Let's move on.
"Sorry, I'm Afraid the Museum Is Closed to the Public"
After checking into your fine hotel, you proceed to the museum
to meet Victoria, only to discover there's a problem. But a simple
sign certainly doesn't deter our intrepid Dr. Dane, and you begin
your frightening quest with an entry into the main hallway. At this
point, things start to get really creepy.
Indeed, the ambience and atmosphere of Curse, especially
initially, is most impressive. Doors close loudly and unexpectedly,
suggesting a nearby and not particularly welcome "presence."
Random lightning and thunder makes one jump. The eight available
graphics choices range from 640×480 16-bit to 1280×960
32-bit. Curse ran smoothly at 1024×768 on my midrange
Except for a pervasive, and understandable, darkness, especially
in the museum, the graphic quality of Curse is excellent.
The touch of Wanadoo is evident, and one thinks of the Dracula
pair of games. Cutscenes are well done, using the game engine,
and special effects are very fine. The movement of the foggy green
Curse is foreboding; the raising and death twitches of the inhabited
mummy/zombies is "realistic;" and the barbecuing effect
of your flame thrower is grimly satisfying.
Darien is controlled in third-person with a mouse and keyboard
combination. The mouse smoothly rotates our hero, while WASD or
arrow keys provide direction. However, and it's a big however, the
management system gets quite complicated after that effective beginning.
True to its console orientation, Curse has a convoluted inventory
approach. First, Darien needs to perform a number of actions and,
with all of these, including securing and even using inventory,
it is necessary for his head to be turned towards the desired "target,"
whether door or enemy. Then you find yourself introduced to a series
of F keysF5 to access inventory, F1 to use or equip within
inventory, F2 to view a not very effective map, F3 to combine items
within inventory, F4 to leave the inventory. You also need to be
concerned about shooting and targeting the mummies and others. Right
mouse button is needed, plus F12 to reload weapons, F9 to change
targeting with multiple enemies, F10 to target particular weak spots.
Frankly, I've never experienced either a survival/horror game or
even a shooter with this convoluted an approach. The net result
takes away considerably from gameplay, particularly in the heat
"You Cannot Proceed Without a Key" Abdul
Not surprisingly, many doors are locked, and you spend considerable
time and energy looking for keys, accesses, letters giving ideas,
switches to activate. This is expected and acceptable, but oftentimes
the setting where the key is to be found is so dark as to make it
very hard to distinguish a hotspot.Fortunately, playing on the easier
of the two settings, you are given hints, such as, "You cannot
proceed without a key" (duh) and "You have found an oil
lamp; do you wish to take it?"
As regards oil lamps, the developers have taken justifiable pride
in not only the 19th century setting, but also what they term "Victorianized
components" in the inventory. Although there is a flamethrower
available at one point, you're as likely to be using a policeman's
truncheon in your confrontations. The museum rivals the best of
classic haunted houses, with its Atrium, Torture Room, Science Exhibition,
Disease and Medicine Room, and claustrophobic sewers! Unfortunately,
the included and developing map is not especially precise, and you
can easily become lost or disoriented.
"Great Scott! Poor Devil!" Darien
Although shocked by the first "zombification" he has
to dispatch, Darien soon realizes he will spend a good part of his
adventure fighting, and possibly dying. Here, too, we find a serious
awkwardness with the control scheme. Some of this has to do with
the roving camera, occasionally painting you into a corner without
clear visibility of nearby attackers until too late. As mentioned
above, the actual act of fighting can be awkward. In my first go-round,
with a possessed guard, I seemed to get stuck in a lethal embrace,
and I couldn't pull back to effectively wield my truncheon. Part
of this is camera control, part is the weird targeting scheme mentioned
above, and it's possible part may be a bugnot of the zombie
type, but of the program type.
Speaking of bugs, the fine sound effects dropped to an almost inaudible
level during my confrontations with enemies. Hopefully, this will
be corrected with a patch.
Combat isn't as frequent as in those games where hordes of zombies
are continuously rushing at you, but it is a major component of
Curse and is difficult to judge, soon becoming button-mashing
with one eye on your health meter. By the way, you'll want to pick
up all the menthol and smelling salts you can find to increase your
health. It's during this frenzied combat that you start to think
about your last saved game.
"Abdul, Where the Heck Are You?" Old Rooster
Curse is one of those games where saving is done at a particular
location or, in this case, a traveling locationin the form
of your enigmatic associate, Abdul. When first met, he kindly gives
you an initial orientation. You discover that not only can you not
carry all of your inventory, but you also have to leave excess pieces
with him (or Victoria) and locate him or her if you need to reaccess
those items. Further, saving a game can only be done by speaking
with Abdul. Now, although this isn't as bad as the old Resident
Evil typewriter approach, sometimes Abdul just isn't nearby
or readily found when you need him the most, as at the beginning
of a fight with a possessed bear! Terminal depletion of health and
curse levels (as in losing) then takes you back to your last save
(at least 15 are allowed), and a repeat of the steps to that bear
confrontation. Of course, now you'll be on the lookout for Abdul,
with that ineffective map not being of much use even if you do remember
in which room you saw him last.
And is Victoria of much help? Game descriptions suggest a two-party
affair, much as with Alone in the Dark 4. However, Vicky
is very much the assistant, giving a few helpful ideas, possessing
a couple of unique weapons, but mostly of use in holding inventory
items. She does come more into direct play later in the game.
"Curses, Foiled Again!" Old Rooster
There is a website that sometimes rates games as "for fans
of the genre only." Curse: The Eye of Isis falls into
that category, I'm afraid. What initially is frightening and most
impressive soon falls into a routine of frustration, key-mashing,
even relative boredom.
A good deal of this letdown has to do with the "consolitis"
disorder with which Curse is infected. Even though this PC
version seems to predate the console releases, it is clear that
this is yet another title designed for consoles first, PC second.
Although control of the characters is not as problematic as in some
console-to-PC conversions (cf. Silent Hill 2 and In
Cold Blood), there is still considerable difficulty in precise
maneuvering, particularly in the critical fight sequences. There
are also too many F keys (as in F4, F5, etc.) to worry about, especially
with inventory management. Finally, there is the cursed save game
system, reminiscent of the infamous Resident Evil typewriter.
In this case, it's usually Abdul, your trusty associate. You either
have to find him to save or hope that he shows up nearby. Otherwise,
it's repeat the sequence from the last save.
Curse is given one of our new "maybe yes, maybe no"
ratings (as in 3 of 5). It's a darkly beautiful game, with fine
acting and sound effects. But also it quickly becomes a game of
"find the key, open the door, pull the switch, read the letter,
slay the monster, save game (hopefully), find the next key, next
letter, etc." Gameplay is mundane, not especially involving,
let alone inspiring. The Victorian setting is interesting, and the
gimmick of the Curse moving about is novel, but locations are not
especially varied and the storyline is quite dull and predictable.
Clive Barker's Undying continues, without serious challenge,
as the hallmark of survival/horror gaming, at least for the PCwith
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem the best console title
of that subgenre I've experienced.
I finished Curse in about ten hours, admittedly with the
occasional help of a walkthrough. There is no replay value. For
console owners (Xbox and PS2 versions are on the way), I would suggest
this as a rental. For PC version buyers, Curse comes with
a guarded recommendation. Understanding the limitations of weak
story, consolitis, and mundane gameplay, you may still opt to try
yet another survival/horror game with an impressive atmosphere and
novel approach. Remember, I've given you fair warning. Please don't
point your own curse in my direction!
What I Liked Most About Curse
- The Victorian setting and story
- Excellent graphics
- Fine voice acting and sound effects
- "Victorianized" weapons
What I Liked Least About Curse
- Poor player control in fights
- Too much F key finding/using
- Wandering save game points
- Game soon becomes humdrum
Release Date: October 21, 2003 (PC); PS2 and Xbox versions coming
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 600 MHz
128 MB RAM
4X CD-ROM drive
Direct 3D compatible video card with true hardware transform and
DirectX 8.0a compatible sound card
700 MB free hard disk space
Where to Find It
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