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Indie Nation: Curse

9:30 PM on 06.26.2009 // Anthony Burch

Every week, Destructoid highlights interesting, innovative, or just plain odd independent games for its "Indie Nation" series.

After three weeks of heady, combat-free first-person shooter modifications, what say we detox with a Half-Life 2 mod primarily about smacking mummies in the skull with a mace?

Curse -- or at least, the first episode of Curse -- is a free mod that alternates between intense, mouse gesture-based action and environmental puzzle solving. It's surprisingly polished, and has enough new mechanics so that, apart from the physics and enemy animations, I wouldn't have realized it was a Half-Life 2 mod if no one had told me.

You can get it here, or hit the jump for my general impressions of it.

Curse seems to intentionally have no story whatsoever, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, you can't have a crappy story if you have no story at all. On the other hand, I was constantly confused about what I was doing, and why. At one point, I found myself nearing a portal that allegedly lead to the land of the dead. But did I want to go to the land of the dead? Is going there a good thing, or should I stay away from it at all possible times?

In keeping with the lack of story, there's also no tutorial whatsoever. As Curse seems to take place in a bizarre-but-compelling universe where Egyptian structures, the undead, and magical, gravity gun-esque spells all exist simultaneously, it's hard not to feel a healthy dose of culture shock upon first booting up the game. You want to collect triangles to open doors, but only certain kinds of triangles, because other, similar-looking triangles are actually barriers that you can't pass through...that may be deactivated if you collect another kind of triangle. A lack of overt designer explanation can lead to some great surprises (Passage, Braid, Spelunky), but I never stopped second-guessing myself out of confusion during my time with Curse. Everything I did to successfully progress through the levels felt like a weird accident, and I was never quite sure of what I was trying to accomplish until I'd already accomplished it.

That's probably the game's biggest overall problem, but it's relatively easy to ignore given the unusual and viscerally satisfying combat. Your only weapon is a purple, magical mace controlled by the mouse -- and when I say "controlled by the mouse," I don't just mean that you click the left button to activate a predetermined strike animation. Instead, you have to actually move up, down, left or right to change the mace's location, using sharp and quick movements to swing the weapon. If you swing fast enough and in the right area, you'll slaughter zombies by the truckload. I'd liken it to wielding the sword in Wii Sports Resort thanks to the simple 1:1 motion control afforded by the mouse. The mouse movements you'll be making aren't quite as frantic and exhilarating as those you might make in Noitu Love 2.

Curse also pleased me in that, like Knytt Stories, it takes a mechanic I absolutely hate (Metroidvania gameplay) and mitigates its inherent frustration through smart level design. Yeah, there's some backtracking involved in this first episode of Curse, but the levels are so small and generally circular that it's tough to get lost for very long. You get all the fun of exploring a location and the satisfaction of unlocking an area you previously could not get through, without the tedium of massive backtracking or the irritation of having to remember where in the world everything is.

Even though I had no idea what was going on, the ending was also quite cool.

Get the game here.

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