Saturday, June 7, 2014

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth review


    Is it better to do a bad game or a really good game that disappoints by becoming bad? This is the central matters crux when reviewing Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth which isn't a good game which becomes bad but a great game which is marred by a lot of very poor decisions.

    It is, to my knowledge, the only serious attempt to do a video game set in the Cthulhu Mythos. The only other game to attempt something so daring was Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. I never played Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and an unlikely to do so, but I may catch a Youtube video of it sometime since I've heard it's very faithful to H.P. Lovecraft's themes if not his specific universe.

    Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a game two generations behind on development so individuals expecting state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay will be disappointed.

The Innsmouth look is nicely reflected in the game design.
     One thing I think gamers might be interested in knowing is the Call of Cthulhu in the title does not refer to the titular story by H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, it refers to the tabletop role-playing game published by Chaosium. This is important because fans of the latter will note the game is a fairly close adaptation of the adventure module "Escape from Innsmouth."

    It incorporates the search for the missing Brian Burnham and the infamous Raid on Innsmouth, which was the one of the few times humans were able to fight back in H.P. Lovecraft's stories. The module was also, I should note, criticized for taking the Treasury Department's raid on a bunch of degenerate hybrids and turning it into D-Day against the Mythos.

The original "Escape From Innsmouth" module.
     Now, I was prepared for a Lovecraft-themed first-person shooter. I'm game for killing the Great Old Ones with guns and explosives. I mean, hell, I love Borderlands. The problem is the game starts with a slow-paced, very enjoyable detective story. THEN it becomes D-Day against the Mythos. Then it switches over to being about defeating invincible bosses by solving puzzles. Then it's back to D-Day.

    Dark Corners of the Earth is a very schizophrenic game.

    The premise is Private Detective Jack Walters is insane and suicidal after an event which we, the audience, don't know about. While he hangs himself in his cell, the story flashes back to the events which have driven him to such a sorry state. Honestly, I can't say I was too impressed with this. While insanity and suicide may work fine in short-story or novella format, it makes it hard to bond with a character over a eight-to-ten-hour game.

The Shoggoth's appearance took me completely by surprise.
    The use of the Cthulhu Mythos is quite well-done, incorporating not only elements from the Shadow over Innmouth but The Shadow Out of Time. The sight of a Yithian for the first time on-screen was something that got my blood racing as a Lovecraft fan. There's also the first Shoggoth I've ever seen in a video game.

    My favorite moment of the game, though, is the fact you actually get to fight Mother Hydra and Dagon at various points in the game. They may be the weakest of the Great Old Ones (in Chaosium's interpretation of the Mythos at least) but they're still members of that body. Getting a chance to fight them was a dream come true.

    The best parts of the game are the first third. The slow detective work and building of your knowledge about the Yithians, Innsmouth, and the various cults related to Mister Walters are intriguing. While horrendously difficult toward the end, the chase sequence in the hotel where Jack Walters is sought by every single Deep One hybrid in Innsmouth is also a triumph of game design.

    Unfortunately, the game has moments where I was completely lost trying to navigate the mostly identical houses, sewer-tunnels, and factory rooms which compromise a majority of the game's shooting sections.

Dagon was another triumph of visual design.
     Shooting Deep One hybrids in the face and bandaging myself up thereafter was nifty at first but quickly became tedious. The fact the game kept taking away Jack's weapons and gave limited ammunition would have been enjoyable if not for the fact the best monsters to fight are the invincible ones.

    One thing I will praise is the game has some truly excellent moments of horror. Things like the encounter with the little girl hybrid (no spoilers), the shredder incident, and Jack's frequent flashbacks to the asylum are quite entertaining.

    They just come too infrequently to really set the mood. I also love the game's incorporation of the tabletop game's insanity mechanic. If Jack looks too much at the Things Which Man Was Not Meant To Know, he'll start hallucinating and hearing voices. If it reaches critical levels, Jack will even commit suicide. That was suicide I could get behind as it happens as a result of the player's actions in the game.

    In conclusion, I think Dark Corners of the Earth was a good game but could have been tweaked to be better. I think players would get their money's worth by playing it, but they should expect some tedium after the first third.

7/10

2 comments:

  1. Nice review. :) I didn't mind the quick-shifts in style because it all tied together in the narrative. And to be honest if you jump from Escape From Innsmouth to Raid on Innsmouth it feels a bit the same way.

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    1. Thanks gladly you enjoyed it. I suppose you're correct on that as well.

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