Remember Resident Evil? Although the Capcom series achieved legendary status in the mid-1990s, both it and the survival horror boom which it spawned have decidedly quieted down in the past couple of years. However, Asylum Entertainment is not following the prevailing trends. The small British developer, best known for a handful of kid-friendly PlayStation games, like Powerpuff Girls: Chemical Xtraction and Teletubbies: Play With the Teletubbies, has just released a very mature-themed survival horror game called Curse: The Eye of Isis. Despite the company's lack of experience with this sort of game-making and a few noteworthy miscues, the designers have traced the footsteps of Resident Evil as carefully as a chiropodist. This leaves the end result without even the tiniest smidgen of originality, though it is an acceptable memorial to a classic genre.
Curse veers outside the lines just enough to stave off Raccoon City déjà vu. Stereotypes, like genetic-experimentation-gone-wrong, have been exchanged for an Egyptian theme that combines a Victorian penny dreadful with The Mummy series of movies (the ones starring Brendan Fraser). The year is 1890, the place is the Museum of Great Britain, and the mystery involves a gang of thugs who are out to steal a statue called the Eye of Isis. You play as Darien Dane and Victoria Sutton, childhood friends who met in the land of the pharaohs while their parents were supervising archaeological digs. Just before a reunion, and during a private showing of the Eye, something strange happens involving the relic and a custodian is killed. Darien then sneaks into the locked museum and begins to investigate.
Unfortunately, what initially seems like a fresh take on an old standard goes nowhere new. This may be the first use of Egypt as a survival horror plot device, as it seems the Eye of Isis is best at--wait for it--animating zombies! And animating mummies that act like zombies in rags! In addition to looking for keys to locked doors, you seem to spend the entire adventure shooting, beating, and flamethrowing the undead back to the grave. What few puzzles have to be solved are made simple by the inclusion of a gleam of light that spotlights important objects. If you've got the gray matter needed to install this game, you can effortlessly solve the puzzles!
The only significant change to the Resident Evil formula is an Indiana Jones-style chase that leads from the museum to the London sewers to a train station to a cargo ship headed to Egypt. Fittingly, the finale takes you to a pyramid. Since all the locales you visit later are explored in the same fashion as the initial museum, there isn't anything that really stands out, aside from some slightly different enemies and some slightly different gloomy backdrops.
There are also a few issues with mechanics, as Asylum has mirrored the clunky Resident Evil control system for the PC. Camera angles are more about being cinematic and are not about ease of use. You typically face the camera, with no idea what's in front of you, and often run into unseen objects and battle offscreen enemies. Even worse, you can't reassign the movement keys. Although the action and inventory key settings can be changed, movement is locked on the directional arrows. As a result, you feel like you're playing a game designed for southpaws. Thankfully, you can ditch the mouse and keyboard if you have a gamepad.
Adding to the awkwardness is the inability to save on demand. This isn't a serious problem, as you can save frequently, but it remains irritating because there is no reason (other than the pending Xbox port) you shouldn't be able to save anywhere. Also, the save point is provided by your friend Abdul Wahid. Though it's nice that he follows you around, providing both this service and an extra inventory, it's jarring to fight your way to a new location only to discover that Abdul is already waiting for you. Finally, the map makes it hard to find your way around, as rooms aren't labeled. It's best to ignore the map altogether and trust your instincts regarding the fact that rooms are going to be in logical locations--since they usually are.
Fit and finish problems cause more aggravation. Enemies frequently get caught on corners and walls. This quirk really messes up the grizzly bear boss battle, as touching the trapped animal can cause instant death. Foes also tend to forget they're in the middle of a scrap. Move into an adjacent hallway, and they often just walk away until you fire a couple of rounds into their backs.
At least two quests are buggy. If Darien takes the water bucket outside the medical exhibit before Victoria's rescue attempt, she can't apply the medicine needed to continue the game. Additionally, if you leave the museum office without the Osiris room key and save your progress, the key vanishes. The former bug caused us a few moments of panic, as it also crashed the game and seemed to wipe out the entire save directory. Thankfully, a restart brought back all of our saves, safe and sound.
Curse is really a better story than it is a game. Despite the hackneyed design elements and flaws, the plot unfolds like classic pulp fiction. You've got a hero with a mysterious past, a gutsy heroine, and a collection of enigmatic bad guys and creepy monsters. Atmosphere is tremendous. Every location is shadowy and eerie, thanks to hardware transformation, lighting support, and a handheld lantern that illuminates everything from below--like a flashlight held under a person's chin. Echoing footsteps and melodramatic voice acting contribute more chills to the haunted corridors. Well-drawn backdrops set an attractive stage, even though there are too many doors to open and there's a tendency to pad out playing time by reusing hallways. Character and monsters also look great and boast lifelike animations.
So, you can best consider Curse: The Eye of Isis as something of a trip down memory lane. If you didn't get enough of the survival horror phenomenon back when it was the biggest thing in gaming, this is a worthwhile play--even with the design miscues. If you did get your fill of zombie-smashing, this is a tedious walk over familiar ground. For better or worse, Asylum hasn't made a fresh new game so much as it has fashioned a tribute to Resident Evil with hieroglyphics.