Patrick Blake stood atop a small wooden wagon clattering through the streets of Paris. The crowds cheered at the passage of him and his companions and he waved back, trying to wrap his head around the events of the past few months.
Let’s see, he thought. We travelled by ship to a far away land filled with mysterious foreign folk. Later, we gambled with ghost pirates alongside a mysteriously land-locked ship wreck. We stumbled across and defrosted a frozen lizard man in a cave, who we then unexpectedly befriended and brought with us. Finally, we fought a giant centipede and ended up fleeing through a tropical landscape, all the while being pursued by a terrifying and oppressive purple fog.
Now he thought about it, the events of their trip seemed a little bit far-fetched. He would have forgiven his fellow adventurers for calling him a liar, were it not for the presence of the recently defrosted lizard man at his side, who stood waving with much enthusiasm at the gathered crowds.
Curious Expedition 2 is a narrative driven exploration game by Maschinen Mensch, who despite their name are not a German Electronica group. After gathering a small team of generally brave explorers and accepting a task from one of three different explorer’s guilds, you venture across the ocean to distant lands, plunge deep into dangerous terrain and sometimes even return home to tell the tale.
At its heart, Curious Expedition 2 is a game of cursing your past self and bitterly regretting your previous decisions. Standing at the opening of a dark and terrifying cave, you’ll rue selling your only torch a few hours previously in exchange for some food. Facing off against a gigantic killer centipede, you wonder if perhaps a soldier might have been a better choice than the amusing-looking Parisian chef you chose for a companion. CE2 is a roguelike, or maybe it’s a roguelite, depending on whatever ridiculously pointless semantic argument you want to get into. It’s difficult, it’s random and at times you’ll starve to death and consider eating your dog.
CE2 is brutal. It’s not always difficult, but tragedy and death can come with very little warning indeed. It’s not uncommon for a pleasant run to unexpectedly plummet off a disaster precipice. Things may be going well when one little event will send the whole expedition cascading into a horrific nightmare. As a result, you’ll find yourself playing on a knife-edge, agonising over even the smallest decisions like whether to take a ration of chocolate or a climbing rope.
Important outcomes are also often decided at the whim of a literal roll of the dice. Although you can often nudge probabilities in your favour with the right gear, whether you succeed in dodging a deadly trap or calming an angry native is often out of your hands. You can hope to avoid failure, but if fate’s not on your side then there’s little you can do to stop it.
Even the act of walking itself has its downsides. For every step you take on the overworld, your party’s sanity slowly diminishes. As the morale of your team falls, things can quickly descend into dark territory, with arguments within your group rapidly spiralling into fights, unexpected departures or rebellion.
For returning fans of Curious Expedition, you’ll find the game is a lot more narratively driven than before, with an over-arching plot involving ancient machines tying your story together. While the more directed approach is definitely welcoming to newcomers, I worry that such a driven experience may lower the replay value somewhat.
Graphically, CE2 has abandoned the retro-pixel look of the original for a beautiful art-style reminiscent of Herge’s Tintin, remarkably fitting for a game of exploration and adventure. The result is a truly striking and at times beautiful game, that can almost make you forget the horrible, horrible things that are happening to your party. It’s now possible to see your characters holding the equipment you’ve equipped them with, and the previous game’s bouncing cardboard cut-outs have been replaced with animations, allowing you to experience your travellers fleeing in terror in a more hilarious manner than before.
When taken in comparison with Curious Expedition I, the sequel has in places taken directions I’m not always completely happy with. Expeditions seems shorter and combat less tactical, but CE2’s shortcomings are more than made up for by its beautiful stylistic choices and charm. Fans of the original game may prefer the quirks and depth of the first instalment, but for newcomers to the series CE2 is as welcoming as it gets. I have no doubt that over time the sequel will develop into a deep yet terrifying experience that’ll keep me returning for a long time to come.
The Verdict – Head Shot
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
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Review based on Steam key provided by Maschinen Mensch.