On paper, The Cursed Crusade sounds like a very promising and long-overdue idea. Set in the winter of 1198 AD, the game catches up with two merry travellers each pursuing their own agendas until fate draws them together: Denz de Bayle, on the hunt for his Templar father who vanished during the events of the Third Crusade, and Esteban Noviembre, a petty thief with a heart of gold.
It's a game which wants to take us back to the good old days of sitting huddled around a computer, the prematurely arthritic fingers of a younger generation of gamers competitively clawing their way over the keyboard.
That immediately co-operative experience of hack-and-slash with all of the joys of sibling bitching - except now we can at least remove the physical agony and take advantage of split-screen, control-pad gaming. Players choose whether to play co-operatively, as the two protagonists, or as Denz with an AI-controlled Esteban.
But here's another nostalgia trip. Growing up, our annual school fete would regularly feature a bicycle that had reversed controls: steer left and the bike turned right, pedal forward and the bike would travel backwards. An endless succession of outrageously comical dads and granddads would clamber onto it. If they got across the 20 meter finishing line without suffering a concussion, they'd be rewarded with a prize.
At the moment, that's kind of what The Cursed Crusade feels like - except the prize is doing it all over again in the next level.
Or so it seems based on the five levels we've been able to play so far. There doesn't appear to be much in the way of a genuine connection or chemistry between the protagonist and his lighter-hearted mercenary companion.
Denz is a man who lacks the self-awareness necessary to balance out his melodramatic, burly rhetoric. At the other end of the spectrum, Esteban does everything but make lewd remarks at gringo chicks, take a nap halfway through combat and then ask for a shawd-a-tekeela.
And so a one-dimensional comedy foil finds himself partner to an equally flat man-on-a-mission, breaking all the Templar rules but getting the job done. The intention is clear, but the end result is open-mic night at the old Mexican Cantina – and the hecklers are getting restless.
While the dialogue isn't all that funny, it is very often crafted with cringe-making simplicity : "Let the curse... Do the worst," making the hero into a sort of 12th century Paddy McGuinness welcoming Satan onto the show.
Likewise, Denz's purportedly plaintive musings on the abrupt disappearance of his father are delivered in the manner of a man idly wondering where he might have left the hedge trimmer.
The good news is the meat and bones of the combat does contain some gloriously over-the-top violence (you can plant a sword through someone's eye before decapitating them, for example). However, at this stage in the development process, there's a distinct lack of tactile feedback between button-press and on-screen action.
As you constantly play catchup between your own input and the game's response, the natural position to assume is to simply mash the buttons and hope you at least pull off a violent finisher.
The thing is, though, the finishers are never all that violent. It's understandable that the developer wants to direct the title towards as wide an audience as possible. But to quote the late great Peter Cook – "If you're strangling somebody, there's no point pretending you're giving them a shave."
A game doesn't need to become an abattoir in order to satisfy the primal cravings of the hack-and-slash player. All the same, the Cursed Crusade team might want to look at the way blades currently seem to slip through textures without thrust or force. There's work to be done when it comes to the tangible feedback that connects a player to their weapons, and their weapons to their meaty targets.
There's the foundation for a solid combat mechanism here, in evidence when elements like the blocking mechanism work. But too often, Denv merely presents his wrists towards his blade-wielding enemies like a suicidal Emperor Palpatine.
Falling in battle transports you into the nether realm where you lay prone until Esteban finishes a fight and catches up to revive you. This can result in some frustrating waits. Occasionally enemies stand idle, disengaged with the combat at hand after delivering a block – or even failing to join in the fight at all when it starts.
The game's camera also needs sorting out in advance of release. At present it has a tendency to lurch about, switching recklessly between exterior and interior.
But there are reasons to be cheerful, such as new feature Soul Burn. This targeted, magical style of combat is rather enjoyable, allowing you to place a slow, simmering effect on the incoming hordes of demonic enemies. Slowly they wither under the magical heat and collapse satisfyingly to the ground.
Brighter notes are also struck by the variety of interactive objects which litter the environments of The Cursed Crusade: drawing an enemy nearer to these objects opens up options to either barbecue their face over a searing brazier or hurl your opponent into a well, for example. Here's hoping we'll see more of these in the finished product.
And here's hoping the development team fixes the niggles and bugs which currently stand in the way of this becoming a must-play game. There's an intriguing concept at its heart, but there's a long road to be travelled from the game in its current state to one that's fit for an audience already spoiled for choice when it comes to violent action titles.