Review by Leper_Lord
"An enjoyable game if you can ignore some minor design faults."
First things first; if H. P. Lovecraft were alive today he would probably speak ill and pests about this and any other games influenced by his writing. Ye Olde Man of Providence was a passionate enemy of sports and games or any other form of distraction that wasn't meant to exercise the mind and culture of the individual. It is then an irony that the creations of this solitaire have leaked into the collective unconscious of popular culture and made themselves present in the forms and shapes of movies, books and games.
One thing is certain, this game is not 100% undiluted Lovecraft; this is not Shadow of the Comet, Prisoner of Ice or the original Alone in the Dark, this game is a mixture between Lovecraft's creations, the action pulp Chaosium's own Dealt Green RPG campaigns and August Derleth's gratuitous interpretation of the Cthulhu Myhos.
You play the role of Jack Walters, a private detective from Boston with a rather unusual ability to crack open difficult cases where no evidence could possibly be on sight. Despite of being plagued by strange nightmares of hallucinatory landscapes and cosmic horror, he is asked to bring his experience ASAP to deal with a cult of nutjobs that is locked up in an old mansion at the outskirts of Boston, a small, rather unusual case that will end with Jack Walters suffering of a six years long amnesia and a brief stay at the Arkham mental asylum. Just when things seem to be a little less shaken, but back to normal, Jack has a new case on his hands, simple detective work, really; he just needs to search for a person gone missing at the fishing port of Innsmouth, a secluded community with no real love for strangers. As the bus drives Jack into the town plaza, what could be a simple missing person case will begin to turn into something far more complex and sinister.
Dark Corners of the Earth started development since the late Jurassic, if not earlier. It was first announced in the short lived Next Generation Magazine and it was subject to a series of cancellations and revivals, engine changes and graphical improvements, more cancellations, further rebirths, you name it. For all that was intended, most of us considered this game vaporware by the time it was finally released on the Xbox and PC and it is somewhat of a surprise that despite the time invested in the creation of the game, the developers didn't include some of the elements promised or missed small details that, although not fatal, do take away some of the enjoyment. One that comes to mind is the promise of having to open the guns or check your pockets to see how many bullets you have left (the game doesn't have a HUB), but instead you need to check a stats screen lame
As anyone familiar with the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft knows, a close encounter with the creatures that populate the Mythos usually leads to a state of insanity so intense that death becomes a pleasant and desirable slumber. Borrowing a few elements that Eternal Darkness borrowed from the Mythos, DCotE features sanity effects, a feature that plays a very important role during the game. For instance, suppose that you are locked in a smelly and claustrophobic sewer, surrounded by skeletons and rotting corpses and in the company of something else of unknown nature and intent; you'll probably begin to shake and whisper nonsense, or perhaps your vision will become blurry making any movement through the sewers difficult and dangerous. You'll have to take a deep breath and calm down if you want to recover your normal state of mind; usually you do this by avoiding unpleasant and horrific views. The problem is that you'll be facing plenty of these monstrosities through the entirety of the game, usually when you're fighting them, so blurry or trippy moving vision will make combat very difficult when you're trying to aim your weapons, usually resulting in plenty of missing shots and blood. Not only that, but you'll experience sanity effects even when you're not openly faced by cosmic horrors, just the mere sight of a corpse or heights will be enough to turn you into a mumbling drunken idiot.
By the looks of it, it might seem like I do not like that inclusion of sanity effects, but that is not the case. These effects do ad an extra challenge to the game and are very nicely executed when you experience them, but I cannot help but think that the developers took a lot of liberties with them you can die if you loose too much sanity, die by your own hands, and it really is a pain when you kill yourself after loosing too much sanity and there is no immediate saving point from where you can restart, meaning that you'll probably have to repeat whatever painfully long task necessary before reaching your intended objective again, hoping that this time you'll be quick before you go insane and blow your brains off or rip your throat open.
And this gets me to another problem, the save system. Like many other games, you can't save anywhere anytime; there are save points scattered through the world and you'll have to find them. This is a nice system, and I like it, the problem is that sometimes save points are not available right after completing a difficult task, so if you die right after it, you'll have to repeat the task again. Cases such are this are actually rare, perhaps just a couple, but they are still a pain in the ass.
Any damage you get can be fixed with the appropriate aid in the appropriate area, instead of using a standard medkit that'll fix all of your ills. So for example some monster slashed you in the chest and you fell five meters to the floor, you'll probably need to bandage your chest and apply a splint or two, depending if you injured one or two legs. Now that you are a limp, if you don't help yourself you'll loose blood over time and you won't be able to walk correctly, let alone run. This is exactly the same health management system found in Metal Gear Solid 3. You'll need to watch your steps, though, since you can really survive for long if you run out of bandages or splints, but don't you dare running out of sutures or you'll bleed to death in no time, and that is a shame because you can carry only five sutures, no more.
The gameplay is pretty much straightforward FPS logic, with an emphasis on stealth. There are times where stealth is the best approach to situations, specially when you're unarmed and stealth kills (such as knife stabs) are more effective than ordinary attacks, and even though you can go in guns blazing, going Rambo against the Innsmouth folk is not the most advisable approach; sometimes just plain running is the best way out, at least until you get your hands on better weaponry, which ranges from steel bars to Tommy guns and a sophisticate weapon of Yithian design.
The game has a good soundtrack, very in tune with the atmosphere of the game, ranging from standard and chaotic instrumental tracks to eerie ambient music. All of these tracks kick in right when they are needed and you'll see that each one complements the environment perfectly; you'll visit not just public Innsmouth but also various areas around it that are off limits, including a refinery where you'll find one of the Elder Things' abominable creations, sewers, Devil's Reef and even an underwater city where deep within its rocky cortex lay dormant alien monstrosities from before the time of man.
Overall Dark Corners of the Earth is a fun and very respectable game that even though it does not feel 100% Lovecraftian still gets the job done and becomes an underrated gem of horror gaming, so you'll do best getting hold of it before it becomes rare or if you're remotely interested in the fiction of that solitary man of Providence.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/06
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