The Cursed Crusade has got its work cut out. Kylotonn Entertainment's cooperative medieval slaughterfest will be releasing into the busiest and most brutal part of the sales year; vying for attention amidst the bulk of this year's most anticipated titles. The real-world setting, brutal combat and hundreds of weapons will do most of the talking when the 16th rolls around, but many gamers are still unsure about exactly what to expect and why they should part with their hard earned cash.
To cut straight to the heart of the matter, I sat down with Kylotonn Creative Director Yann Tambellini after trying out some of the weapons in real life. It turns out that their project was designed as much more than just a 'me too' hack and slash title, with influences as diverse as Golden Axe, Streets Of Rage and Max Payne. The Cursed Crusade has an extremely exciting mission statement and some excellent features... most of which involve killing, burning and working together with a mate.
Jonathan Lester: Let's start with the elevator pitch. What is The Cursed Crusade all about? What are you trying to achieve?
Yann Tambellini: What we wanted to create and to focus on was to find the the spirit of the beat-em ups we used to have fifteen years ago: Golden Axe, Streets Of Rage, these kind of games. What we wanted was to play together. The whole game can be played cooperatively. It was very important for us to find this convivial feeling of playing with a friend, a brother, a sister, in front of the same screen.
Jonathan Lester: What challenges did you face thanks to this cooperative focus?
Yann Tambellini: Okay. It meant that, for example, it was not really possible to create an open world. If you are playing cooperatively and the world is open, maybe both players will move in opposite directions. It breaks the cooperation. We wanted the players to play together, so there are many actions that need to be carried out by both characters at the same time. So we have had to create a mission-based game. Mission after mission. It was not possible to play open-world, even though we previously singled it out.
Jonathan Lester: How open are the levels, then? Is there scope for exploration?
Yann Tambellini: Yes, there is a little bit of exploration to do, but mainly it's like Golden Axe. You'll generally go through the missions, but there are also some secondary objectives that, if you want, you can try to complete. If you don't want to, you don't need to. Sometimes it's very simple, like some chests that are hidden in the environment, and sometimes it's a little bit more complicated than that. For example, you might need to free all the souls in the environment - and you can see these souls only when you activate the Curse vision.
Jonathan Lester: Speaking of the Curse: it's an extremely important part of the game. What inspired you to add this mechanic and how does it affect the gameplay?
Yann Tambellini: First of all, we didn't want the game to be a simulation of knights. The history of the first crusade is for history books! We didn't want that, we want The Cursed Crusade to be a game first. So since you are a Templar, we said "okay, what's happened with the Templars?" Everybody knows that the Templars keep many secrets. In the first crusade they tried to reach Solomon temples very quickly for mysterious reasons. There's something hidden, like the Da Vinci Code, and we decided that for this game the Templars are Cursed.
It's not only for the storyline. We didn't want it to be only visual, we want it to be fully interactive for the gamer. Our inspiration was Max Payne. You push one button to slow down time. You push it again to go back to the real speed. You do it. You master it. You feel it. Your fill your gauge by killing enemies and we wanted that exact feeling. We want something visually impressive as well. That's why you'll press one button to change the vision of the world. You're in the same place, but everything looks different; like you're in hell. Push the button again and you're back in the real world.
We have worked very hard to make it a gameplay feature. Firstly it is a 'berserk mode' but moreover you will learn some abilities during the storyline. You can burn the enemies from inside, because when you enter the vision, you see everything very differently. The characters won't have any skin, only muscles and bones. Everything is burning! You'll see the souls of the enemies escaping and going up into the sky. I'm not quite sure how to express it in English, but I'd call it a "deep vision."
Jonathan Lester: "Deep vision" sounds good to us. Right, onto the combat: which seems to be the main feature of The Cursed Crusade...
Yann Tambellini: Oh yes.
Jonathan Lester: ...could you tell us how many weapons and fighting styles will be in the game? Can we upgrade them?
Yann Tambellini: It's a melee fighting game, so we want you to choose the way you fight. Sometimes you will have a sword. An axe. A mace. Two maces. But in a lot of game, the moves are the same. And we said no! It's not the same weapon, it cannot have the same animations. So when we recorded the motion capture, we said that the moves have to be different for every weapon. By mixing all the weapons together - shield, axe, spear, mace and everything - we have sixteen different techniques. Sixteen different ways to fight. And for all of these techniques, the hits are different, the combos are different and the fatalites are different. There are 400 moves to learn in the game and more than 100 finishing moves.
Jonathan Lester: Sweet. We noticed that the combat is driven by a combo counter. Does it factor into the gameplay?
Yann Tambellini: Combos are very important. If you are able to release a five or six-hit combo you can stun the enemy with the last hit. You'll fight many enemies around you, and if you don't receive any hits, the combo counter continues to increase. There are many rewards. First of all, you have a rank. These appear step by step as the counter increases, warrior, crusader and these kind of things. The higher ranks are very difficult to reach. At the end of each level is a statistic screen, and according to the rank you are, you will earn more or less Victory Points.
Jonathan Lester: Victory Points? Is that part of the upgrade system?
Yann Tambellini: Victory Points are used to upgrade your character. Even though it isn't an RPG, you can still upgrade your skills. I think it's very important because, this way, it becomes your character. Not the character of your friend. One of the things we've done is to make sure that improvements can be seen on the character, for example if you improve the armour mastery, you will see new elements of your armour on your character. A pauldron on your shoulder or something.
Jonathan Lester: When you play online, will your character actually be your own? Or the person who's hosting the match? A lot of games don't actually let you play as your own character.
Yann Tambellini: What we have done is that you play with your save game. If you play with another player, you use your save game. If you play a mission that you haven't unlocked yourself then you won't earn any Victory Points, but you can play it anyway. Otherwise, you can play with your own upgrades and take the Victory Points away at the end of a match.
Jonathan Lester: Awesome. Right, sorry, I have a couple of boring numerical questions for you. How many levels will there be, and how long do you think it will last?
Yann Tambellini: There are more than thirty five missions to play. We estimate that someone who's just discovered [The Cursed Crusade] will take about ten hours to finish the game. Even us - we know the game exactly from A to Z - take about seven or eight hours. To finish the game once, probably ten hours I think. However, when you finish the game for the first time, you can start from the beginning with your saved game and improvements or play online to earn more Victory Points.
Jonathan Lester: There are a fair few cooperative hack & slash games on the market already - and more are coming out over the next couple of months. How will The Cursed Crusade stand out from the pack?
Yann Tambellini: Very often, in these kind of games, you are a knight. You fight in dungeons, forests, caves... dungeons... forests... caves. We can create other environments than caves and forests! The Cursed Crusade will travel to Europe, you'll visit Constantinople. The architecture of Constantinople is very unique for a videogame, no videogame has already done it.
The second thing that is very different from most games is that, very often, the storyline is very common. In fantasy games it's always about the evil demon who... err... wants to destroy the world, and you are 'The One.' No! The crusades are a real storyline with more than two hours of cutscenes explaining it. It's the storyline of a young Templar retracing the steps of his father. There are also a lot of jokes between the two heroes and they always tease each other. You often don't get that in these kind of games.
The last thing is the Curse effect!
Jonathan Lester: One last question. What, in your opinion, is the coolest and most badass thing you can do in The Cursed Crusade?
Yann Tambellini: Err... heh. There's a lot, but one of my favourites is when one player grabs an enemy and the other player comes to finish him off. There are fatalities that need to be done by the two players simultaneously. It's cool, but it's also one of the moments where the two players really need to work closely together. It's one of the moments when you really appreciate the cooperative mode.