Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
Lovecraft’s stories on Cthulhu and the Old Ones still manage a collective stranglehold on our imaginations despite their age. His writings had quite a cinematographic and literary influence during the past century – Steven King cites Lovecraft as his main source of inspiration, and references to the likes of Miskatonic, Arkham and the Necronomicon all stem from his works. The Cthulhu universe as a gaming setting wasn’t that widespread, as surprisingly few openly identified themselves as Cthulhu titles. Alone in the Dark used its mythos to some success, and two adventure games – Prisoner of Ice and Shadow of the Comet – helped further popularize the setting on the home computer.
While many horror computer games are only loosely inspired by isolated elements of the mythos, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is thoroughly grounded in it. You play the role of a private detective out on a missing persons case in the decrepit port town of Innsmouth, a slight departure from the original narrative where the protagonist was a traveling antiquarian, but with the same result. The denizens of Innsmouth are at best suspicious and at worst openly hostile towards your inquiries. You hear disturbing rumors of rituals and cults, incessant talk of the ‘old ways’ and how you should have hitched the last bus out of town.
As with the famous Cthulhu-based pen-and-paper RPG, Dark Corners of the Earth pays special attention to sanity. When players are in the presence of Things That Should Not Be, or are exposed in any way to the Mythosâ€”this includes merely seeing certain artifacts or manuscriptsâ€”his sanity starts to go. In first-person terms, this takes the form of visual and auditory hallucinationsâ€”blurred vision, for example, or hearing voices and other wrong soundsâ€”and a degraded ability to focus, move or fight
Dark Corners of the Earth is a lot of things. It first starts off as an exploration-heavy adventure game, then it’s a survival horror, then a first-person shooter complete with shotguns and Thompson SMGs. There’s a good deal of variety to be had here, but this ‘all you can play buffet’ comes at the price of consistency – it might have been better to stay more focused. And while the combat segments are actually tolerable, Cthulhu really shines when you’re placed in the most dire, defenseless situations – mowing down rows of bad guys with machineguns can never really capture that feeling.
The gunplay is handled quite creatively nonetheless. There’s no onscreen interface so you have to make mental notes of your remaining ammo, and the lack of a crosshair means you must aim down the sights. As in real life, your grip gets more wobbly the more you fire aimed shots, especially with handguns.
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Health is yet another interesting topic – injuries are represented realistically, so a splintered leg will affect your walking speed and a busted arm will negatively affect aiming. Med-kits come with various live-saving paraphernalia to treat wounds of varying severity – bandages, sutures and that sort of stuff, but applying them takes time.
All of this adds up to a fun horror game with some gnawing annoyances. The melding of genres has some merit but lowers the scare factor considerably. There’s but one strict path to follow in the heavily scripted levels, yet too often it’s easy to miss the correct route and become inadvertently stuck till you locate it. And while the story is well treated most of the time, the acting is merely average – usually tolerable but at times laughably inept, and certainly not up to code to the subject matter at hand. But despite all of this I still recommend Call of Cthulhu. It may not be a spotless virtual rendition of Lovecraft, but it has many moments of creative design, promising a good time for those looking for an immersive horror shooter.
System Requirements: Pentium 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 2GB HDD, 128 MB Video, WinXP