One of the numerous perks/darksides of the Xbox is the ease of porting over PC games to Microsoft's console. Seeing as the Xbox is effectively a PC inside its plastic casing, the process is almost as easy as selecting File/Save As: and burning it onto an Xbox DVD. Thankfully, most of these ports turn out pretty decent, especially compared to the PlayStation 2, which carries a huge weakness of being a tad deficient in porting prowess. One of the latest, and quietest PC to Xbox ports is Curse: The Eye of Isis, a budget-priced game developed by Asylum Entertainment and published by Dreamcatcher Software. With the Xbox lacking many survival horror releases, Curse is a solid addition to the Xbox library, especially at the inexpensive price point of $20. There's nothing groundbreaking, or even outstanding, but horror game fans will find a game that's playable, and actually a bit better than its price tag might indicate.
Curse takes place in England, in the late 1800's. You begin playing as Darien Dane, a Boston native who's invited across the pond by his friend, Victoria Sutton, to view the Eye of Isis, an ancient Egyptian artifact. Upon arriving across the Atlantic (by boat, naturally ? I don't think British Airways ran many flights back in the 19th century), Darien sees the museum where the Eye is to be exhibited is a bit?weird, with people being turned into zombies and a strange lack of lighting and civilization. At first, Darien's lone quest is to find his friend, but as you progress, the story moves along to revolve more around the evil forces, be it goons looking to steal the eye, or the supernatural happenings that's threatening to drive Darien and his friends insane. You don't always play as Darien, however, as on some occasions, you'll play as Victoria. Along the way, numerous other characters, friend and foe, will be encountered by both characters ? most notably Abdul, a middle-eastern man who not only has a wealth of information for the duo, but also is the lone method of saving your game. Don't fear too much, however ? while Abdul will stay in some spots for a period of time, he moves around often enough that you'll have numerous chances to save ? and he always appears before critical situations. Nothing about the story is gripping, and the different characters are a wee bit?boring (Darien has the personality of a thumbtack), but it suffices given the genre.
Granted, horror games are usually about solving bizarre puzzles and killing zombies, and Curse has it. As the curse itself (which serves as the main evil force of the game) manifests beings and moves them from dead to undead (and not just people, we're talking bringing taxidermy-enhanced grizzly bears to life, and they're not friendly like Winnie or Yogi Bear), you never know whether something will come to life in a room. While enemies like mummies are pretty easy to spot and eliminate, when the curse takes over and makes a zombie, it can catch you off guard. Thankfully, Darien and Victoria have numerous weapons; from basic baseball bats to even a nice fancy flamethrower, which can slowly burn enemies to death. Puzzles range from activating and deactivating ancient traps, to finding the proper key to unlock a door to a different area. Nothing groundbreaking, many times a bit disappointing, but it does keep the action flowing well without too much aimless head-scratching.
Think of this whole ?curse' thing as like the sanity meter of Eternal Darkness. If you run into the yellow mist that represents the curse, your little curse meter goes up. If you don't attend to it in due time, you'll be overwhelmed by the curse and the game shall end. There's a pair of ways to ease the curse though, by either using menthol-healing items, or using amulets that tend to fall off mummies that you've blown to bits. Preventing the curse from getting to you is pretty simple ? just avoid the yellow mist, by either not going near enemies as they're killed (as the curse then leaves its host), or avoiding huge barriers of mist that occupy the areas you play in. As such, the curse is more of a gimmick, though in some points it becomes more important in storyline senses. On the other hand, Darien and Victoria can also be injured, which can be healed with smelling salts or using an amulet (it does both kinds of healing, as you notice). There are lots of healing items around the game, which does unfortunately make it a bit easy, but it prevents the title from being too disjointed when telling its story.
Curse employs a small version of the ?zapping' system that Resident Evil 2 introduced on the PlayStation in 1998, and feels a bit like the trading system of Resident Evil Zero. With different playable characters, the game still makes you use the same item pool, sharing items and weapons. The only way to transfer is to press the Black button by either Darien or Victoria, and then take the items and weapons you wish to take. You can only hold so many items per character too, which makes this all the more important. Thankfully, you can also store items with Abdul, serving as a living version of the item box, with a fez hat to boot. It's a bit frustrating though, when you find a cool weapon but are unable to take it because you have all the 4 weapon slots filled, meaning returning to Abdul to store one, meaning lots of backtracking.
The place where Curse kinda struggles is with its sluggish controls. Employing a familiar survival horror layout, the controls themselves aren't too bad (though using the left trigger to aim a weapon is a bit odd seeing as the right trigger is more common) in terms of being easy to use, but instead it takes a bit of work sometimes to get your character running around. A unique little thing is weak-spot aiming ? if you can wait it out while it targets, a little yellow reticule will home in on a weak spot, for maximum damage. It's a bit annoying to wait a little bit while enemies are hunting you down, but it's a nice concept. You can even aim manually if you want, or switch weak spots if there are multiple targets. Only some weapons don't employ this, such as the flamethrower that is pretty much random wild mass chaos when unleashed on the hordes of evil.
Despite these control flaws (after all, this is more adventurous than horror in many places, making for a bit more laid-back game), Curse: The Eye of Isis is a decently fun game, as it's a good old-fashioned zombie shootin' and strange supernatural causin' horror game. It's not particularly scary or creepy in any way (probably because most horror games have used all the good clich?s already), but the uneasy atmosphere does make for interesting fare. The game itself is largely derivative of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and whatever other horror games are out there ? and with a clunky interface straight out of many PC games (menus and item screens are boring and unintuitive), Curse never really breaks free of its budget-based origins despite being better than its $20 price tag. Despite this lack of creativity or innovation, Curse does its job as a fairly long, well-paced, and fun action/adventure game that will keep Xbox horror fans occupied a little bit while waiting for Silent Hill 4 to release later this year. Long as you remember you paid $20 for this one, you can forgive the unoriginality and ugly presentation and play a well-built game in an unusual era and premise for this genre.
As a PC game ported to Xbox, Curse has the look of a lot of PC games ? technically sound, but artistically challenged. Nice textures, good character designs with some animations, and decent effects (the smoke coming from a gun after a shot is a nice touch), but most of the areas are bland, repetitive and lacking much personality to it. It doesn't help that the game is extremely dark, though it's a cheap way of showing off the nice lighting of the oil lamp that lights the way for the characters (all we need now is a radio and this could be a prequel to Silent Hill or something). Compared to new Xbox games built for the console like Ninja Gaiden or Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow however, Curse lacks merit aside from the polished look that is a strong point. It just doesn't have that artistic ?oomph' that makes a game actually look pretty instead of looking technically accomplished.
There's not much to write home about in terms of audio either ? it does its job but never stands out. There's little to no music, and when you get some, it's fairly pedestrian ?suspense' music that you've heard a hundred times before. Sound effects are very audible, and sometimes they'll come out of nowhere in an attempt to scare you. Nothing outstanding again, but it gets the job done in workmanlike fashion. The voice acting is a bit hokey though, with equal parts bad British accents and people with British accents who don't know how to act in a video game. We're not talking Resident Evil 1 on PlayStation bad, but we're not talking Ninja Gaiden (which of course didn't exactly have high-quality voices) either.