Review by KyleDW1

"Something smells fishy in the town of Innsmouth."

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth Review
By KyleDW1

The easy way of starting this review would be with a joke about Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth being as old as Cthulhu himself. After all, it has been in development since 2001, which in game development years is an eternity. However, there is a big reason why it won't be starting that way. Unlike other games that ended up long on development and short on fun, Call of Cthulhu actually seems to have put most of that development time to good use. Yes Lovecraft fans, you may rejoice, Call of Cthulhu is here, and it is good.

Now, just because the game managed to be good doesn't mean that it's perfect. However, let's put the good tentacle first, if you will. The game's storyline is perhaps the strongest part of the whole package, effectively taking locations and characters from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and transplanting them into a video game format. It starts in 1922, with the main character, an ex-private eye named Jack Walters, hanging himself in his cell in Arkham Asylum. It then flashes back six years to find a healthy and sane Jack investigating a house full of psychos calling themselves the Cult of Yith. What he finds there is so horrific that he goes out of his mind, literally. He wakes up six years later to find out that he took a half decade sabbatical, and he has no recollection of what he did in those missing years. From there on the game shifts to the small fishing village of Innsmouth, where Jack must try to not only try to solve the case of a missing man in that village, but piece together the fragments of his life that he has lost.

If the story sounds great on paper, wait until you actually play through it. The game play augments the story in every level, especially early on in the game. You never feel safe, largely due to the fact that for the first quarter of the game you never have any type of weapon. During this part of the game you are exploring Innsmouth, finding clues and following leads on your quest to find the lost Brian Burnham. When the fine citizens of Innsmouth finally tire of your constant meddling and decide to get rid of you, things really take off. From then on till you get a weapon the game shifts to a stealth style horror experience, started by a chase from your hotel room where you must push bolt some doors, push furniture in front of others, and jump out windows to escape the angry mob that would love to get acquainted with your internal organs. You must then sneak around dark corridors, dart across openings, and pray to God that nobody spots you. It has to be one of the most intense moments ever experienced in a survival horror game.

This is all helped through the clever use of sound and visual effects. For example, the game takes place in the first person perspective. However, the developers took it one step further by completely removing any type of HUD from the screen. The only thing you'll see is Jack's hands in front of you. You must remember how much ammo you have instead of having an ammo counter off to the side. This also affects your health system. Instead of a bar that depletes over time, you have visual cues that alert you if you're hurt or not. This means that if you have an injured leg, you start to limp. If you have an injured arm, your accuracy is affected. In order to heal yourself, you can't just use a magic med pack to heal up. You have to find a nice shady spot to hunker down and apply bandages, sutures, and splints to whatever part of the body needs repair. This takes a few seconds, so you can't heal if you're being attacked.

If you think the only thing that can be damaged in this game is your body though, you have another, slightly more disturbed, thought coming. Through sufficient exposure to disturbing images and other horrific stimuli, Jack slowly begins to lose his mind. This manifests in a variety of effects, such as screen blurring and voices in your head. What's more, Jack has a unique “gift” that allows him to at times see what others are seeing. So, throughout your investigation of Innsmouth, you sometimes see that something is watching you, as you watch yourself notice that something is watching you. As confusing as it is, it's creepy and effective, and it makes you tense throughout the game.

All of this insanity is helped by the graphics in the game. Now, being in development for so long, Call of Cthulhu does feel a step or two behind the competitors. However, all things considered, the game still looks pretty good. Character models in particular are highly detailed. You can actually count the scales on the Deep Ones. Not that you would, however, as they are constantly trying to kill you. The backgrounds are somewhat flat and bland, and the weapon design doesn't exactly stand out, but they are serviceable enough.

What the graphics lack, the sound design more than makes up for. The music is spot on perfect. Sound effects are likewise perfect, from the pops of your guns to the unearthly chitters and growls that come from your enemies. The only low spot is the voice acting. Now, don't get me wrong, it is really good most of the time. However, sometimes characters don't really sound like they're actually concerned with the events surrounding them. Part of this may have to do with the sometimes weak script though. I just know that if I had just learned about evil undersea gods and cosmic horrors, I wouldn't be making quite so many jokes and have such a jovial tone in my voice throughout most of the game.

So far, the worst problems that this game has had are bland graphics and mediocre voice acting. These are not the game's worst problems though. It makes big mistakes in two key areas: gun play and puzzle design. The gun fights in this game vary wildly in difficulty, being a horrid mishmash of fiendishly difficult and shooting gallery easy. Let's take for example two sequences in the game. The first is a chase in the game in which you are in the back of a truck and you have to shoot at passing enemies. This sounds fairly easy, right? Well, no, not really. The truck is moving so fast that you barely have time to aim at any one enemy, let alone fire at them, making it next to impossible to hit anything during the chase. Your enemies, meanwhile, are crack shots, being able to pelt you from great distances. This means that you will be seeing the game over screen a lot. This is not the fault of the player; this is the fault of sloppy game design. On the flip side, let's look at the Marsh Refinery level, which represents a good majority of the gun play in the game. This level is almost comically easy. Here, the shooting becomes a simple matter of hiding behind something, peeking around a corner, and giving some bad guys a bit of lead justice between the eyes. The only times that you have any difficulty is when they swarm you, forcing you to run, reload, and turn and fire while you are running. These few moments bring the game back to the tension filled moments that permeate it before you pick up a gun.

The puzzles in the game take the word frustration to an entirely new level. Most puzzles in games give you some kind of hint, and then throw the puzzle at you. In Call of Cthulhu, it's just puzzle, no hint. There were several times when I had absolutely no idea what to do, despite looking absolutely everywhere for a clue as to what to do. Sometimes this was because I couldn't see where to go because the path I had to go down looks like a piece of the scenery. Other times it was just obscure as to what I had to do. The developers seemed to think that a two second video of something happening would be a good clue as to what to do next. They thought wrong.

Overall, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has enough to recommend it. It has a great plot, creepy visuals, and a unique take on the first person genre. It is somewhat hurt by the dated graphics and just-off-the-mark voice acting, and is really hurt by the poor gun segments and puzzles. As long as you are looking for an adventure game, not a shooter, you will really get your money's worth from this genuinely terrifying horror game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/10/05

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