Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth doesn’t even try to have a light atmosphere. The game starts out in a dilapidated mental hospital with an inmate trying to hang himself, and it continues with grisly murders, ancient rituals, and bizarre cults. The mood is effectively dark and there is always a sense of danger, but it’s just too bad the gameplay doesn’t shine like the atmosphere does.
Ouch – that’s gotta hurt…
Although Call of Cthulhu is based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, I can’t testify to the faithfulness of the text since I’ve never read anything by the horror writer. What I can say is that the story is certainly engaging. Set during the 1920s, you play as a tough-as-nails private investigator named Jack Walters. Short on cash, he travels to a secluded fishing town on what appears to be a routine missing person case.
Upon arrival it becomes apparent that the people of Innsmouth won’t be cooperative in the investigation. Not only is everyone infected with a strange disfiguring disease that makes them look half-dead, but they are also openly hostile. Jack encounters a couple friendly faces that tell him of the powerful Order of Dagon that controls the town and doesn’t take kindly to outsiders.
After a fairly productive day, Jack decides to call it a night and get a hotel room. In the middle of the night he is awoken by some villagers and police officers who had enough of this outsider. What follows is an incredibly intense chase sequence involving hastily bolting multiple doors, leaping across buildings, and trying to dodge a hail of bullets. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that poor Jack is unarmed.
Hey, it’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s dad!
The best thing about this whole beginning portion of the game is how the tension slowly rises. Jack gets off the bus and talks to the creepy villagers, which hints at something being wrong. The foreboding fog and the Revolutionary War statue missing its head also add to the mood. Instead of being thrust in the middle of a fight that never relents, the game makes you gradually more and more uncomfortable until the evil truly makes itself known. I wish more horror games would take this approach.
Even though Call of Cthulhu is in a first-person view, there isn’t much shooting. In fact, a weapon isn’t even obtained until more than one-fourth into the game. Even after you obtain weapons like the Tommy gun and rifle, there are still a few instances where you lose all of your weapons. Instead of shooting, the focus is usually on stealth and puzzles. Also, no information is really shown onscreen. Damage can be checked by going to the inventory menu or by blood spots that appear on the screen. The amount of bullets left is also never shown. It can be frustrating, but it works well since it grounds the game in reality despite the fantastical things that are happening.
Don’t come in, a Nu-metal band lives here.
Keeping with the ‘realistic yet somewhat frustrating’ theme is the sanity system. Looking down over a ledge causes a case of vertigo. Whenever something grotesque is examined, such as a mutilated body, Jack gets a little more scared. Of course, I found myself always examining various disgusting things out of curiosity, so poor Jack often found himself having panic attacks that obscure vision and cause the controller to rumble like his beating heart. If Jack experiences too much horror he turns his weapon on himself and blasts his own brains out. Having to deal with this in addition to surviving against enemies can be difficult at times, but it really does add a lot to the overall atmosphere. It’s also a welcome change of pace to see a vulnerable protagonist instead of the stereotypical superhero.
It truly is frightening not having a weapon to defend yourself against an angry horde of hicks. Unfortunately, the stealth elements aren’t as enjoyable as they should be. There’s a stealth mode that makes Jack less visible, but for some reason you can’t crouch and use the mode at the same time. It also doesn’t help that the A.I. is inconsistent, despite being advertised as advanced. Sometimes a foe can be evaded simply by shutting a door, but other times they prove to be almost relentless in their pursuit of Jack Walters.
“Gotta sing! Gotta dance!!
The puzzles are much more difficult than those “insert an object into an obvious spot” ones that used to be seen in survival games. The hints are sometimes less than obvious, and not being able to solve some of the puzzles results in a loss of health, or in some cases, death. The trail and error becomes annoying in a couple instances.
The puzzles can be unforgiving at times, and some other things do not make it any better. There are some instances of respawning enemies that prove to be incredibly annoying. Also, in at least one case, there was a severe lack of savepoints. I just defeated this difficult mini-boss that took me at least five tries only to find myself die a moment later after being spotted by some regular enemies. Expect a challenge even if you play on the easiest setting.
Despite the many stealth sequences and puzzles that sometimes slow down the pace of the game, there are still a few intense action sequences. One particularly memorable sequence involves a race through town in the back of a pickup truck. There are also some brief stints of fighting alongside the Marines and Coast Guard. Even the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover plays a big role, as ridiculous as that sounds. Though these sequences aren’t frightening at all, they’re a welcomed experience from the rest of the deliberately-paced game.
Watch out for those comedy collapsing chairs – they caught this guy out!
Although the graphics aren’t technically impressive due to a less-than-stellar resolution and some spotty textures, the atmosphere is where the game succeeds, as I’ve already said many times. The art direction is definitely solid, whether you’re in the nearly empty town or the caverns beneath the ocean. The insanity effects are particularly notable, from the blurred vision to Jack’s terror-stricken expressions. The music is appropriately intense during chase sequences, and the Innsmouth villagers sound fittingly hostile and frightening.
The survival horror genre has been improving with games like Resident Evil 4, and now, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Even though I was put off by the stealth sequences and the occasionally high difficulty level, it’s impossible not to admire how frightening and intense this game can be. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s also not a bad way to spend 10 or so hours.