Reviewed: March 6, 2004
Released: December 3, 2003
Released just two months prior on the PC, Curse: The Eye of Isis is the latest Xbox port of a PC title from DreamCatcher. Billed as an action-adventure hybrid, Curse offers just enough puzzles and conversation to keep this game from becoming a mindless action zombie killing spree.
With Nintendo and Sony’s exclusive rights to the Resident Evil franchise the Xbox has been sorely lacking a good survival horror game, so this is certainly a game that has been long overdue. Curse blends the horror/survival theme with a taste of Egyptian mythology so we get something along the lines of a “Lara Croft Meets Dawn of the Dead”.
The story kicks off with a late night (after hours) visit to the museum by a cat burglar who looks oddly like Sam Fisher. The target of the thief is The Eye of Isis, an ancient Egyptian artifact with a longstanding curse that is about to reveal itself in true supernatural fashion. When the idol is knocked to the floor a strange yellow mist is released and it doesn’t take long before we realize this mist is a sentient being. It quickly moves with purpose through the deserted halls of the museum and inhabits the body of the nearest security guard.
Flash forward to the entrance of our hero, Darien Dane, son of the late Dr. Stanley Dane who just so happened to have found The Eye of Isis many years ago. The police have sealed the museum but that doesn’t stop our intrepid adventure from gaining access to the interior and all the deadly challenges that wait inside.
You start off the game simple enough with a few exploratory puzzles, finding a key, unlocking a door, reading some notes for background information, typical adventure game stuff. It won’t take long before you encounter your first zombie, a typical human now possessed by the sinister yellow mist.
During your adventure you will have some invaluable assistance from Abdul, the Egyptian consultant and longtime friend of your father, who acts as your save point and also holds onto your excess inventory. Think of him as your “typewriter” and “chest” from Resident Evil only Abdul moves around the museum, usually waiting for you at just the right time.
The other primary character is Victoria Sutton, and you will actually get to play as her when Darien eventually falls under the influence of the yellow mist. Aside from being more pleasing on the eyes, Victoria plays exactly like Darien with the exception of a glowing gem that lights up when she is in danger.
Both Darien and Victoria share the same limited inventory so you will want to make sure each character has enough weapons, ammo, healing, etc. to survive on their own. This is where Abdul comes in particularly handy by acting as a common storage point for items used by both characters.
Both characters also share a typical health meter and an innovative curse meter that slowly fills the longer you are exposed to the yellow mist. You slowly lose health at a rate based on your curse level, but you can remove the curse by taking a swig of ethanol and restore your health with a dash of smelling salts. Amulets, found later in the game, will take care of both meters.
Curse features two or three variants of zombies, as well as some mummies and human thugs thrown in for good measure. You’ll get to fight them off with a nice selection of weapons starting with a standard issue police baton then moving on to the pistol, shotgun, crossbow, mortar, and even a flamethrower. These are dated versions of the weapons with lengthy reload times and difficult aiming making the combat quite challenging.
The control scheme offers a lock-on function, which allows you to single out an enemy, automatically sight him up, and blast away. You can also target specific body parts; a good idea, in principle, but apparently useless outside of boss fights. A typical zombie can take four or five shots to the chest...or four or five shots to the face. Similarly, human enemies have no reaction whatsoever - apart from eventual death - to being set ablaze with a flamethrower. They will stand there and reload their weapons while you torch them with a continuous jet of flame. Pretty flames notwithstanding, it's an awkward scenario that undermines the purpose of using different weapons.
The Xbox version has fixed many of the issues of the PC, namely the speed of the monsters and the pathfinding bugs. Zombies are now deadly fast and don’t get hung up on walls or objects. They also don’t wander away in the middle of combat.
The camera is automatic but handled fairly well. It definitely favors fear over function by displaying each scene from the creepiest perspective possible. There are a few instances where you will be stuck trying to fight enemies who are off-screen. Movement is relational to the camera and nearly every transition has the view “flipping” on you so that left will suddenly become right and up will become down, but as long as you don’t let off the stick the game keeps you moving in your original direction, even if it no longer corresponds to the new orientation.
Curse also features a smattering of puzzles, most of which are fairly straightforward. Bring plot item A to plot location B to access plot location C. All of this could get incredibly boring if it weren’t for the stunning levels you get to explore.
Starting off in the museum then moving on to the train station via the sewers, then a cargo ship and finally the Egyptian tomb, each and every level is gorgeously depicted with authentic and subtle details. The only shortcoming is the lack of interactivity. Unless it is directly related to the gameplay or a puzzle you can’t interact with anything in the game. Some things will give you a token description, but since there are no visible clues for important items you are forced to push the action button repeatedly on anything that “looks” like it might be useful. I really missed the “glimmer” used to highlight these items in the Resident Evil games.
As previously mentioned, the environments are stunning. The museum is littered with a series of exhibits; rows of relics, antique vases, treasures and priceless art from forgotten ages. The Egyptian exhibit steals the show. Towering Egyptian statues are reproduced with remarkable detail, and glass cases filled with timepieces line the corridors. The gloomy museum is brought to life with such authenticity that I had flashbacks to my 7th grade field trip to the Chicago museum to see the King Tut exhibit.
The lighting effects are particularly nice, creating realistic shadows that extend into every last nook and cranny. You will acquire a lantern early on, which will prove invaluable in lighting your way, but will also create some very spooky shadows.
Real-time cinematic cuts are used for dramatic effect and add to the rich story. Several of the cuts will also be essential in helping you solve puzzles, so you'll want to keep your eyes peeled and pay attention.
Where would the survival horror genre be without all those spooky sounds? Use of music and ambient sound is sparse, but applied with great efficiency and often to maximum effect. Echoing footsteps, distant wails and moans, mysterious creaking, grinding and shuffling, zombies that go "bump" in the night...it's all here. The designers were cruel enough to implement several sound cues that will likely send you rushing for the light switch.
The voice acting and interaction between characters is above average, and provides a touch of authenticity. The cockney thugs and their "Oi, you!" threats will give you a chuckle before you blast them into the next life. The dialogue between Darien and Victoria is convincing, and fosters the sense that the two are indeed familiar childhood friends.
Weapon sounds round out the mix, and inject a bit of life into the otherwise dull combat system. The pistol, rifle and shotgun provide a convincing range of "bang", "boom" and "pop". The crossbow will issue a healthy "whump" as you send a bolt streaking. You can also get up close and personal with your zombie foes and give 'em a satisfying "thump" with your trusty truncheon. Or light 'em up with your flamethrower, which emits a heart-warming low frequency roar.
Curse should take you about 10-12 hours to finish unless you die a lot or get lost. There are two difficulty modes available, and whenever you save your progress the game will stamp your playing time, so those looking to play the game through several times and establish a personal best will have something to look forward to.
Even though Curse is nothing more than Resident Evil with some Egyptian flavor, the Xbox is starving for a game like this and $20 is a reasonable price to knock the stuffing out of some evil zombies.
I really enjoyed Curse: The Eye of Isis a lot more than I expected, and the supernatural story infused with Egyptian mythology was a great spin on an otherwise stale genre. I have to admit there were a few shortcomings. The combat was overly simplistic, the gameplay was rather linear, and the overall game could be considered short, but that doesn’t take away from the chills and thrills that await anyone who decides to play.