The Cursed Crusade seemed, on the surface, to have a lot going for it ahead of its release. Screenshots looked nice, the altered historical setting seemed interesting, and combat appeared to have variety due to the abundance of weapons and customization. Topping it all off, the game featured two player co-op, in both local and online flavors. Indeed, it sounded promising upon first glance, but the game falls far short of these expectations upon even the briefest scrutiny.
First, let's consider the graphics. The main characters, an odd pairing of a noble knight named Denz and a mercenary Spaniard called Esteban, have great models, and since they can carry around a veritable arsenal of weapons with them, they look imposing most of the time. But as soon as the pair begins to move around, you notice poor animations, filled with jerky movements. A noticable level of repetition of the combat animations sticks out like a sore thumb. Finishing moves, which are obviously meant to be visceral and awe-inspiring, fail to impress due to their buggy implementation. Swords might poke in an opponent in one direction, and poke out from another, unleashing a red fog that only loosely resembles blood. From a graphical standpoint, there is a hint of potential but the finished product looks as if it was completed in a hurry and with a low budget, which I am certain was the case.
The stiff animations and rough graphics are most noticable in The Cursed Crusade's cut scenes. It's obvious that the developers intended to feature these lengthy cut scenes, as there are so many of them. Each level has between two and four scenes in between, in which the generally confusing and often ponderous story is presented. The voice actors do a passable job, though Esteban's accent and mannerisms are woefully stereotypical, but there just isn't much for them to work with in the first place. You will be quite thankful that the cut-scenes are skippable, as after a certain point, the story becomes so loosely strung together that you can safely ignore it.
Ahead of the game's release, much attention was given to the dark, hellish parallel world of the protagonists' curse. At first, it is indeed cool to enter the blazing, ember-filled realm to proceed to beat down your enemies. But you cannot stay in the curse for long, and many of your opponents, including almost every boss, are also cursed, which takes away from your unique nature. There are a few flashes of solid design choices, like walls that can only be broken in the cursed world, but these minor touches are repeated far too much. I was expecting puzzles like those of the second Metroid Prime game, where your actions in one world impact the other, but sadly, this was not the case. It's a shame, as this could have been a sorely-needed highlight for the game.
Considering that The Cursed Crusade is a hack-and-slash brawler, a good clean combat system is of the upmost importance. Unfortunately, the characters' jerky motions and awkward animations make fighting quite difficult. Controls feel sluggish and muddy, not sharp and responsive like a good melee fighting system should be. Denz and Esteban are able to use a huge range of weapons, from swords and maces to axes and spears, in various combinations. But all weapons play almost exactly the same, differing only visually. Stabbing someone with a spear thrust should not feel the same as bashing them across the helmet with a mace strike, but they play out in much the same way. Having such a variety of armaments available means very little when the only differences between them are purely cosmetic.