There are very few mods that catch my eye as I scroll through the queue of projects awaiting authorization. Curse was one of those few. While still early in development, it showcased screenshots that spoke volumes. As time went it on, this was made all the more impressive by the fact that the majority of the mod’s visuals, game design and PR initiative are attributed solely to one person. Does Curse live up to its promises? Yes. What you’ll find is an experience that will leave you craving more.
Curse’s first episode pits you inside of the Necropolis with little explanation of how you got there. Equal parts puzzle and action, the objective is to make your way through each section, clearing it of evil mummies and, yes, even a worm demon. The mod is non-linear to a point; you can jump back and forth between levels with out totally completing them and the game will remember the state you left them in. However, as a reward for finding all the hidden switches, you can unlock a final climactic battle for each section. Probably the most interesting of all is Dosa’s level design. Each section is constantly reconfiguring itself as you press buttons to unlock new areas. Final “nightmare mode” battles feature a drastic change, going so far as to darken the sky blood red. Re-treading the same areas doesn’t get frustrating though, since most puzzles are cleverly laid out. It’s an efficient map layout that manages to keep the player engaged.
If you’ve followed the media trail that led up to Curse’s release, you might have been impressed by the work-in-progress footage. Once in-game however, you’ll quickly realize that the Necropolis is more detailed and ornate than you were lead to believe. Every corridor and courtyard is a visual feast for the eyes. Whether it’s the sunset bloom flaring back as you exit a tunnel to reveal statuesque surroundings or the slight hint of a red glow highlighting the carved hieroglyphs adorning the tomb walls; you’ll find yourself stopping to take in the view more than once. In short, none of the media does Curse any proper justice – you just have to experience it firsthand.
Of course, the other half of the reason to jump into this total conversion is the stellar sound design and music. Enlisting the help of both a sound fx designer (Robin Arnott) and a composer (Rich Douglas), Curse is a perfect example of how much value great audio can bring to a mod. The custom audio lends credence to Dosa’s new world created on the Source engine; no stock Half-Life 2 sounds here (beep beep beeeeeeeeeee-). The soundtrack is used sparingly with chilling effects. When it does come into play, you’ll steel yourself for an upcoming encounter. Any way you look at it, the audio in Curse matches the same high standard its visuals attain every step of the way, which is a rare case among mods.
All of this points to Curse as being a tour-de-force within the modding scene. If there are any flaws to be found, one might say that it’s much too short and missing a good story. However, Curse is planning on following an episodic release schedule. For some, this might bring comparisons to that other puzzle-based mod set in ancient ruins – The Ball. If Curse can deliver on a similar sort of a timeline, it may just be a matter of months before we can explore more of the Necropolis.