Pyramod: Curse Episodes

By Alec Meer on June 11th, 2009 at 9:55 pm.

Are you my mummy?

Now we’ve been all introspective with clever HL2 mod Polaris, let’s go for another HL2 mod that indulges our more bloodthirsty side. We are nothing if not balanced. The hotly-anticipated Curse is an improbably lavish total conversion, booting the Source engine into a particularly shiny and towering ancient Egypt. There are mummies. There are physics puzzles. There is a floating spectral hammer with spikes. There is a whole lot of Doom.

It’s always a happy shock to encounter a mod with presentation values like this. Almost all the visual and sonic elements are bespoke, the menus brand new, and the credits sequence is like the opening to a Bond movie, only with tumbling mummies instead of silhouettes of women covered in baby oil. Oh, and the combat system is all based around physics manipulation.

Your character has two modes – in one, he fires a sort of concussion blast from his hands, which clears a route through debris, smashes health containers, drags mysterious orbs across archaic circuitry and triggers the occasional out-of-reach switch. Unfortunately, it does diddly-squat to the angry mummies who teleport in when you activate certain glyphs. To deal with these shuffling cretins, you hit the right button to switch to your other mode – a hood drops over part of your vision, and your usual blue-tinged right hand switches to a crackling purple lefty and righty.

If there are no enemies around, you can’t do anything in this mode. If, however, the dead are walking, an ethereal mace hovers in the air in front of you. When you swing the mouse, you swing the death-club. If you can gesture it in such a way that it collides with a mummy, that mummy will be hurled across the screen and instantly killed. Crunch! Biff! It feels good.

It’s a system immediately reminiscent of the Wii, but its integration within a game that otherwise uses traditional FPS controls makes it feel that much more coherent and practical: it truly feels like controlling a floating spectral mace even as you remain in control of your own body. Less happily, the enemies are so few and so easily dispatched that there just isn’t an opportunity to either master or truly delight in the hammering. It’s tight and it works, but it never goes for it in the way that, say, Zeno Clash did with its similarly unorthodox combat. Obviously, that’s a paid game and this is a free mod, but it seems like a bit of a waste to not really let the combat rip, given its impressive structures are all in place.

Gawk like an egyptian

Meantime, there’s coloured-key based progression that brings back fond, Doomian memories – but in such an open and unhurried way that it doesn’t suffer from the misery of Locked Door Syndrome. The grandiose levels shift and transform as you activate glyphs and switches, so there’s a sense of striding through an unearthly land that’s unwillingly granting you passage, rather than muddling through backtracking and missed keys. On the other hand, I was never entirely sure what I was doing or why – I just pushed on until I ended up in the next of the three impressively large, lavish levels. It could do with more context.

Still: not for nothing did this win an Editor’s Choice trophy in last year’s ModDB awards. It’s an aesthetic triumph, and slick fusion of the oldest FPS values with those of the newest, physics-heavy upstarts, and as such I can confidently recommend its 60-90 minutes of exploring and smacking to each and every one of you. That it’s largely the work of one guy, Gábor Dósa (with sound, music and weapon programming muscle from three other chaps) is flat-out astonishing.

Let’s hope it takes off, as I’d love to see its ideas explode into a sequel or retail reworking that tightened the pacing and upped the action. I appreciate that it’s very deliberately more of an exploration game than an action game, which is the kind of approach I usually applaud – it’s just that in this instance there’s a great action mechanic in there, and it’d be great to see it really made the best of. More episodes are due, I believe, and based on this they could achieve wondrous things.

I really should have filled this post with Egyptian gags. I have failed you. I am sorry.

Grab Curse from here, to the tune of 250Mb. While you wait: vidaction.

, , , .

35 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Blast Hardcheese says:

    Yes, but how many Peggles is 250mb!

  2. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    ARGH… FilePlanet! Is this available anywhere else?

    Edit: Found it – http://www.moddb.com/mods/curse1/downloads/curse-episodes-v101

  3. Lewis says:

    Oh! Cursed is out!

    Anyone catch the mini-riot after they pushed back the release date on the release date? It was quite a remarkable thing. People were really fucking angry for some reason, claiming they were really looking forward to it but now would boycott it and stuff. Bizarre.

  4. Krondonian says:

    The first time I saw a video of it I thought it simply wouldn’t work.

    However, it’s already waiting for me on Steam due to the positive responses I’ve heard. The screenshots above look fantastic. Can’t wait to play tomorrow.

    On an unrelated note, it made me think about TF2’s Egypt, and how cool it would be to have a single player mod in TF2’s style.

  5. Hybrid says:

    It’s out?!? Downloading…

  6. Theory says:

    I was very impressed by the entire thing. It looks brilliant and is very coherent. I do wish that the mace had a bit more weight to it though, and I hope that there’s more to do than running around looking for keys in future releases.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    On a purely aesthetic and quality level this is very good. Excellent use of sound and graphics.

    Gameplay wise I was less convinced. The idea is good, and I think that the focus on the puzzle elements is the correct way to go (besides the collecting keys there is also a timed move a ball along a path game and a couple of jumping moments – I expect these will be expanded upon in later episodes.) The combat though was really lacking. The idea is quite a novel one but in practise it doesn’t seem to work. Instead of feeling you are wielding a large weapon you just end up swing the mouse backward and forward battering everything in your path. Sounds like it would be satisfying, but it really isn’t.

    I must admit though, I found the ending a little creepy.

  8. Jazmeister says:

    This was my test review! :D

  9. Alex says:

    How is FilePlanet still in business? A seventeen minute wait to download a 250 meg file? This isn’t 1999. >:I

  10. Chris R says:

    wow… its only 250MB?? Is it super short or something?

  11. Lim-Dul says:

    @Alex – like Vandelay said you can download it at full speed from ModDB.

    Anyways – this MOD is actually very interesting and incredibly polished for a first release.
    It’s also… incredibly short… 60-90 minutes? It took me around 20-30… I’m not kidding or bragging – it’s how much time it’ll take you if you’re experienced in FPS-es and are good at memorizing paths.

    The game has a very Soul Reaver 1/2-ish feel to it and I like how the puzzles don’t require too much backtracking since new paths are opening all the time. I’m not sure if I saw EVERYTHING the game has to offer – perhaps I left some paths unexplored – but I reached the end without breaking a sweat.

    Still – I hope those guys will keep up the awesome work. If this were to become a fully featured game with financial backing I’d actually buy it since I saw some pretty interesting puzzle concepts in it already.

  12. Ging says:

    In terms of presentation, he’s done a cracking job making use of the new particle system in Source to provide a load of nice sparkle effects and their artwork is top notch – but in terms of games design and on a more technical level (ie, the code behind it) it’s pretty basic as it stands. That’s somewhat understandable though, with it being one guy doing the majority.

    The snap of your view between enemies is irritating, why can’t I select who I target via a button? They should really smooth it slightly too, so it takes longer to change the view – I spun close to 180 degrees at once point which got pretty disorientating.

    As others have said, the mace really needs to feel more meaty – I know there’s no real feedback as you’re holding it with the Egyptian equivalent of the Force. I suspect having some enemies be tougher to kill would help quite a lot. As it stands, you can just run at them with it held low in front of you to guarantee the kills (well, unless it glitches out and doesn’t let you touch the mummy in front of you… but that’s a quick fix by flicking back to the phys gun mode and back again).

  13. Robert Yang says:

    That animated maggot texture on the displacements – I think I actually said “Whoa” aloud when I saw my first maggot pit. And that snake bridge! Such stunning set-pieces… and awesome color correction settings that I’m going to have to steal.

  14. Zerotime says:

    Ancient Egypt… collecting “vials” to power your abilities… wait a minute – this is Hexen 2!

  15. Max says:

    The combat was a bit lacking, but it was excellent otherwise! Great level design, great art design, great puzzles. The main puzzles were so-so, but finding the switches to open the green rooms was where it got really fun.

  16. BlazerKnight says:

    Just played through it. Love the visuals, music and general atmosphere, does get quite creepy at points. A bit of nitpicking though, despite the detailed textures, there are still some hard 90 degree angles on wall corners that look quite harsh. Don’t know why but it really stands out in otherwise good looking Source mods. Due to the level design, you can actually reach the ending and still miss major parts of gameplay, which I only realized on my second play through. Make sure you unlock all the green and red chamber stuff in each necropolis if you want to see everything. And yes, I agree that the mace combat is flimsy, and I’d rather see more physics-based combat. Despite this, there are some genuinely heart-pounding moments which I won’t spoil. Finally, it’d be nice to see some context – they’ve created such an atmospheric place but with no explanation of who you are, why you’re there, etc. It’s a technically accomplished total conversion but may not be as fulfilling as some of the HL2-based single player mods.

  17. l1ddl3monkey says:

    This mod is great and I would like more! Always been a fan of well made mods, hope to see more of this quality (hurry the fuck up Black Mesa Source!!!!).

  18. pepper says:

    Looks great! Reminds me a bit of the gate, the HL1 mod that also set you into egypt.

    http://www.moddb.com/mods/the-gate

  19. -Spooky- says:

    Thx for the hint.. !

  20. MonkeyMonster says:

    I like how his footsteps really do sound like sandals…

  21. Flint says:

    Slightly daft that it’s been nearly five years since HL2’s release and only lately have we been starting to properly get singleplayer TC mods. Or at least ones worth mentioning.

  22. Idle Threats & Bad Poetry says:

    It’s really worth watching the demo playthrough of the first map to see the hidden content. I thought the sky changing color was a fantastic effect. The roach floor was creepy, even if it was nothing more than an animated texture.

    It’s a good mod with great potential in its future episodes.

  23. MultiVaC says:

    I must be missing something… I’ve banished all of “the evil”, and now I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing once that’s done.

  24. Alloflifedecays says:

    It’s official, I can’t even look at screenshots of an Egypt-themed game without hearing Nile songs in my head.

    I’m SO getting this when it’s released.

  25. Smeghammer says:

    @Alloflifedecays

    Masturbating the War God anyone?

  26. FunkyLlama says:

    Ultra-meh. *uninstalls*

  27. Psychopomp says:

    Aesthetically amazing, and that ending creeped the hell outta me. Creepy things inexplicably doing something strange… *shudder*

  28. Garreett says:

    Alloflifedecays, it was released days ago.

  29. Johnny Law says:

    I’ve played through the first level so far (and unlocked the green room and “banished all evil”). Fun so far; exactly the kind and scale of experience I am happy with from a mod. It’s not so much that it has great action gameplay, but the quirky/creepy bits of presentation, mild puzzles, and exploring around are entertaining in a relaxed sort of way.

    The only nitpick I have is with the mace combat, or specifically the transitions that happen after one enemy is killed. Your view is either immediately snapped to another enemy (a little disorienting) or else if that’s the last one, you’re released back into normal freelook while you are still swinging the mouse around (more than a little disorienting). If the mod author(s) make more episodes hopefully they will polish and tweak that system a little more.

    Congrats to them… I still love seeing a unique mod make it all the way to release. My view of mods is still largely what it was in my “formative” Doom/Quake years. I applaud anyone that hands me a complete, free, fun little experience rather than spending years trying to mimic some commercial AAA game and failing to produce anything.

  30. Johnny Law says:

    …and now I finished it. Well done. I like the way it “ramped up” a little from one scenario to the next, and I got more accustomed to using the mace.

  31. GB says:

    I have finished it the last day, is one of the bests mods for HL2 I’ve ever seeenn!!1!!!!!!1!!1!!!ONE

  32. jk says:

    Yay, I was excited about this, didn’t know this was coming out so soon, thank you ;D I’m gonna play now ^^

  33. Will says:

    Is it just me who was put off by the ball-on-a-path exams? The first time I failed one and a glowing hand pushed me away I thought it was totally sweet, but they’re only difficult because the interaction system is so floaty/weak; i.e. not difficult, just frustrating.

    So really, I’m not saying anything negative about the mod author’s work (jaw-droppingly, italicised sweeeeet looking mod), the source engine brings it down. Which is a shame, because I always before felt that source games felt more “concrete” than games made in other engines.

  34. Scandalon says:

    Will, I’m with you – I’m stuck on the more complicated ball slidy thing in “Level” III – and thus, I can proceed no further. It should be noted I ignored the 2nd slidy thing due to the frustration, and the first I got just by brute forcing it. I really don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing – is it just a timed puzzle? Are you not supposed to hit the walls w/ the “ball”? What am I doing “wrong”? I tried turning up my mouse sensitivity, turning on mouse smoothing, going fast, going slow…

    Perhaps related, I don’t get Alec’s love of the combat – it’s horribly floaty, I just end up waving left and right until all the baddies are gone, usually to end up facing some random direction, later to find the last baddie on the opposite side of the courtyard/room , so I guess I flung him like, really far?

  35. Wedge says:

    Oh wow, the combat is amazing. They’ve managed to simplify the w+mouse1 of the Pyro and make it into w+mouse. Seriously, since mouse movement waves the mace instead of looking and you go into autolock, combat consists soley of holding down w and waving the mouse around. It’s thoroughly the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but at least it’s easy.

    This does seem to be mostly an artist’s project though, and it is quite pretty and fun to walk abouts in.