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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth (PC)
Member Name: Sephirdorf
Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth (PC)
Date: 19/06/11, updated on 20/06/11 (58 review reads)
Advantages: Interesting atmosphere and sanity effects
Disadvantages: Clunky acting, characters, bad AI plus many bugs
Howard Phillip Lovecraft, with his work on the Cthulhu Mythos, remains one of the most influence authors of all time. His stories of the Eldritch horrors of the cosmos whose very existence can cause insanity shall always have a significant impact in popular culture. So it seems unlikely that there are actually very few games set in the world that Lovecraft has made. Many games contain references such as "The Eye of Cthulhu" in the PC game terraria, the Necronomicon making an appearance in the DS game Scribblenauts and the excellent Eternal Darkness would never have existed if it weren't for Lovecraft; but an actual game that fully embraces the Cthulhu Mythos and sets itself within that world remains quite a rare sight. There's alot of fantastic themes and storylines within Lovecraft's writing too, which makes it a sad case when there's plenty of unused potential here.
Unfortunately, bugs are quite a frequent guest in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth; such as the rain water falling down my characters sight looking like polygons, giving the appearance of transparent kites gliding down my screen, to audio errors such as characters only speaking half of their subtitled lines before the sound abruptly shuts out and turning to the other character's lines. It's a disappointment that this game actually appears unfinished as a result, with many game breaking bugs and glitches getting in the way of the experience. This game is very notorious for its huge number of them: One battle in particular requires you to shoot several blue lights, though there is a chance that the graphics wont process them meaning you wont see any of the targets, thus you will be unable to progress any further in the game unless you load from a previous save or download another save file which has gone past that point. However, I personally found most of it relatively stable, especially in comparison to other reviews and forum posts - some calling the game unbeatable due to some really awful cases, such as the blue light incident mentioned earlier - though I ran into more than a fair share of problems.
Despite being named after the Lovecraft story, The Call of Cthulhu, the Old One Cthulhu himself makes no appearance in this game. Though other Eldritch horrors do fill the void in his place, in actuality this game is most in tune with another Lovecraft favourite, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, where the game is set.
There is no HUD in this game, instead your character's state of mind and body is represented visually. A broken arm will leave you unable to aim straight, a cut leg will have you limping. As you suffer more hits you will start breathing heavily and colour will drain out of the screen as your character stumbles towards death. By entering the inventory you can visually see where your character is hurt and what medical item is required to heal it such as sutures and bandages, even a syringe of morphine which gives you a swift boost of life in an emergency but the sideeffects from overuse may harm you. You do this by looking at a third person view of your character and selecting what items to use and where. It can be quite violent too, with the protagonist having broken bones literally stabbing out of his body, though it's quite jarring to see that a needle and thread can completely restore such wounds within the space of a few seconds.
A First Person survival horror, the concept at first glance appears really good. Being set in the Cthulhu Mythos it was guaranteed that the theme of insanity would be prominent here. There are a lot of really interesting moments, with your character's mind entering this dark and broken hospital at certain points in the game and the mangled corpses of the dead looking at you during particular moments. Your sanity is affected by the many nightmarish creatures and mutilated corpses throughout the game. As your sanity lowers your vision becomes blurred and the sound drowns out. If your character goes even closer towards madness he will start whispering to himself about the people that he has seen die, the alien abominations he's witnessed and the feeling of utter dread that his death is coming. Your character will even kill himself if he sees too many horrific visions. There's some really good imagery in this game too, the developers capturing some of the creatures and the madness that comes with it quite well. There's just not enough of it though. This is based on the work of an author who wrote extensively on the unimaginable creatures of the cosmos, whose impossible appearances creates incurable hysteria and madness. It's so disappointing that Dark Corners of the Earth decides to forsake all horror in exchange for a standard First Person Shooter throughout the game. Being set in the 1920s the weapons are your standard affair of revolvers, a Thompson submachine gun, rifle etc. All the guns pack quite a punch to them too; the first gun you see turns you from helpless loser to the biggest badass on earth. The freaky moments do come back however and make dotted returns, but there's quite a number of "here are some people with guns, take cover and shoot them" moments. All sense of horror and fear is removed during these sections as there is no more horror. Being able to easily kill every single enemy that comes your way creates no fear.
Until you obtain weapons you're forced to avoid patrols and sneak past foes, being unable to fight while unarmed. In most games with stealth elements, like Far Cry 2 for example, the game is criticised for the enemies being able to see you from half a mile away and hurl a wiffle bat at you with lethal accuracy. Not this one though, the residents of Innsmouth have trouble hitting targets at point blank range. You can walk right past an entire group of shotgun and pistol wielding foes without taking a single hit. The human enemies in this game have absolutely abysmal AI too. If one sees you behind a crate, just duck and all of them will start spouting "Spread out!" and "Search the area!" like you have just vanished out of existence even though you've only ducked behind a little block. You will hear those two phrases repeated infinitely throughout the game and it gets so annoying to keep listening to. The guards lose sight of you incredibly easily; just turning a corner is enough for them to be completely bewitched by your Solid Snake powers, causing them to turn around to see if you happened to teleport behind them. In one particular encounter four enemies were after me so I ran out the room and closed the door while all four of them were staring straight at me and firing. Soon as the door shut they started repeating those two phrases constantly and started searching for me in that building, not one of them bothering to open the door. Strangely enough, enemies can open doors and even break them down if barricaded so it just screams bad programming. Once, while crouched in a corner, one man ran right up to where I was and crotch thrusted me before turning away at a run, oblivious to my presence.
It's really disheartening with some of the decisions the developers chose to make with this game as several of the scenarios in it are utterly ridiculous and don't treat this story with any form of respect. The problem isn't with the monsters though, they look quite good and the environments have some interesting locations which make a nice job of bringing the Cthulhu Mythos into an interactive point of storytelling. The scenes where your character appears to be going mad is always a welcome sight too, with twisted flashes to a forgotten past and the creatures of madness creeping towards you. The problem is the dialogue and the voice actors hired to deliver it, which are utterly atrocious. The protagonist in particular says all his lines with no appropiate emotion at all; screaming for his life while being ripped to shreds in the same tone of voice he would purchase a carton of milk with.
In the game you are Jack Walters, a police detective who has the habit of solving cases which have practically no evidence, apparently due to hidden psychic powers. The start of the game has you with a group of other officers attempting to communicate with a death cult called the Fellowship of the Yith, well we say death cult, so far we only have the officer's word for guarantee and considering how illogical this game's dialogue and story gets I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually a secret Fathers For Justice rally. Anyway, these people have held themselves off inside an old house and have requested to speak with Jack personally, presumably because they've discovered where Johnnie Cochran has been after all these years. All of the officers are armed with rifles, except yourself who inexplicitly carries no weapon with him at this point. Upon walking to the front door the cultists decide to open fire, killing one of the officers and forcing the others to start shooting back. You are then told to enter the house alone, with no weapons, and seize the heavily armed and deranged cult members all by yourself while the rest of your team keep all the rifles to themselves and decide the best thing to do is spend the next 20 minutes blindly firing at a window, missing every single shot until you enter the room yourself. The scene destroys all logic, why would the police have an unarmed man enter a house that contains bloodthirsty insane death cultists all carrying guns. It wouldn't be to try to talk to the madmen and try to calm them down as the police outside show no hesitancy to shoot at the cultists themselves, so the only decision to send you in would be to kill or arrest them. The fact you carry neither weapon or handcuff makes this quite an impossible feat unless you are actually the reincarnated spirit of Bruce Lee come back to kick arse in the name of the Lord. It would make as much sense if the police decided to bring out a fully loaded cow launcher and blast a bovine into outer space Earthworm Jim style hoping it crashes down on the house before the end credits. Venturing within the house, Jack is welcomed by several religious texts worshiping some strange and weird monsters, a load of corpses and a little note board filled with pictures of our protagonist, The Fellowship of the Yith having somewhat of a stalker's interest in Jack and his psychic legal system powers.
Hoping to speak to one of the men upstairs you approach the armed maniac firing out the window, who swiftly turns around and mentions that he recognises you. But before he can tell you the very important piece of story information like ""Soylent Green is people!" the dreaded bullet of plot convenience pierces through his skull. At that point, Jack says in a very emotionless tone "He knew who I was. How strange." While I'm sure the detective has seen a strong amount of crime and violence due to his line of work, actually having the chunks of a man's brain smack you on the cheek warrants a little gasp at least, but no, nothing short of balls of steel for our hero. Heading down into the basement we see some friendly chappys, including a shirtless orgasming man who moans like he's just been turned into the Human Centipede and a disembodied person hung against the wall, his beating organs all placed in glass jars and hooked to him via a number of tubes. Still making moans and grunts despite the fact his lungs are shown to be clearly removed, someone having taken a sudden interest in the animate taxidermy, apparently a snow globe on a stick is a bit too mainstream of a hobby for our local villains.
The game soon forwards by six years. Jack, being so disturbed by horrors that lurked inside the house, has forgotten the last five and a half of his life, some of that time spent within Arkham Asylum, where a number of Lovecraft characters end up. Having wisely left the police force due to their apparent lack of cow launcher missile propulsion systems, he has now taken up freelance work as a private detective, whilst attempting to find out just what he has been up to since he regained his own mind five months back. He gets a letter from a person asking him to visit the town of Innsmouth, where an associate of his has gone missing. Seeing it as an opportunity to pimp it up something fierce with the party-happy locals and also to get back into his old life, Jack takes the ill-fated journey to the town via bus, loaded with nothing but a heart of logic, a journal and a syringe full of morphine. Innsmouth swiftly proves itself to be nothing short of a fun for all the family resort which contains all sorts of men looking at you with fish-like eyes and making foreboding growls in your direction. The general local greeting traditionally involves everyone aiming sharp bits of wood and metal towards your posterior while you're not looking. They also have a tendency to all call you "Stranger" with a slightly unsubtle hint of creeping hostility. It's nothing short of inevitable to think that you're going to be attacked while you sleep in Innsmouth. A bit like how the GoCompare adverts will eventually jumpstart the Rapture.
A few minutes searching around asking people for the missing associate brought me towards one of the town's police officers, who looks like what would happen if Dory from Finding Nemo raised a lovechild with Lurch from the Addam's Family. Also all the people here sound like pirates; I'm sure the Merchant from Resident Evil Four decided to have a dirty weekend here thirty years before the game started. It would certainly explain that everyone is calling the outsider "Stranger" and laughing every two minutes between their usual bouts of threats towards any person not sporting the fashionable "Innsmouth look." The look of the townsmen is actually quite a disturbing image; they are all fat pale people with faint yet dark blue veins round their body, apparently caused by many generations of inbreeding and plague. They also have the habit of keeping their mouths open more than necessary so it looks like they're smiling/glaring at you like they intend to bite. The eyes of the people also look widened, like someone's done surgery on them Clockwork Orange style. All of the locals openly hate you on sight and any attempt to talk with them just ends with the usual tirade of "we don't care for people coming here; leave if you know what's good for you". It's blatantly obvious that the people here all want you dead and gone and are lying when they tell you they have no idea who this missing person you're looking for is. While roaming through Innsmouth you'll see people talking to each other, saying things like "Tell the outsider anything and the Order will have you hanged!" Strangely enough they will say this even if you're standing right in front of them, jumping like a bunny hopper. Though a similar event happens later and your attempt to hoppity hop with all your might to get their attention results in their conversation being cut short due to you being there.
Your quest for the missing person leads you to the grisly sight of a hung woman, the corpse still dangling in a basement, which you can clearly see via a big gap from the outside of the building. Our former police detective makes no attempt to tell anyone, not even the local officer from earlier, and happily carries on as it she never existed. Scenes like this are all over the game. At one point you enter a hotel and eavesdrop on the bus driver who brought you into town talking with the hotel owner. They say that you are forbidden from leaving the town. Soon as the driver and the hotel manager stop talking you can speak with the driver, only to be told that the bus has inconveniently broken down, so you have to stay the night in the hotel. Instead of trying to flee, your only option is to spend the night there, the hotel which your character actually says upon first entering "only a madman would sleep in this place." In this place you get the chance to snoop around the office, revealing a room with several severed human heads, a sliced up heart and a diary in which the hotel owner happily writes about the time he tortured several people by cutting them apart. Upon speaking to the manager you do not attack him, or run away, or hide. You instead take the most obvious and clearly logical choice. You spend the night there, writing in your journal that the place "gives you the creeps" and that "the people here are hiding something." Several murdered corpses and all our hero can say is that the place is a bit weird. It's so incredibly stupid; if someone cut open a person's stomach and removed his heart Kali-Ma style would you ask to spend the night with him? Would you say that a man who works next to bloody dismembered heads is "a bit creepy"? Well our former police detective would, he's all too happy to have a nap next to the mass murderer. The resulting scene with you being chased through the hotel is really well done however. It's tense, contains a good level of panic and is really good fun to run through. Sadly, even this has one ever-present flaw with it. The protagonist cannot sprint. Getting chased by axe wielding psychos and you only ever manage a soft jog at the very best. You'd think a game like this would incorporate some sort of fast run feature, but no, he moves like there's never a sense of urgency to be had. Compare this to a game like Amnesia. In that game your character can sprint when needed, resulting in some fantastic chase scenes which really bring the sense of urgency to fruition. The fact that you always move at a somewhat slow speed, no matter what, does break away some of the experience in Call of Cthulhu.
This game has its problems with the AI and graphical/sound issues, but they are small compared to the utter stupidity that these characters consistently portray. Say you tied someone up and tortured them by punching them and applying shocks with electrical pliers. You then threaten to keep them drugged and tied up in a padded room for the rest of their lives. Would you then give that person a gun and bring him along to an armed raid so he can give you backup. Well that happens. Say that a group of crazy cultists beat you up and locked you in a cell. One day a man comes along and rescues you. Would you halt the escape and order he walk past heavily armed and hostile men to get you a locket containing a picture of a woman so he can give it to that very same woman as a present. That situation also occurs, and like all stupid heroes your character agrees to it. He risks death just to give a lady a friendly picture of herself, while being chased by vicious cultists. Probably the silliest moment comes when you encounter a woman on the second floor of a building, screaming that she needs help as the floor is about to collapse. Only the part she's standing on however can collapse, all she has to do is literally walk three steps and she will be completely safe. She won't though for no reason whatsoever, only standing there and shouting at you to hurry, making no to attempt to move. Only when you walk to up to her does she finally move, and she does this with the most casual walk, like there was no danger to begin with. If you take too long to reach her it does collapse, leading to her death, but the danger should not exist considering how only the exact small square she's standing on can break. She stands there for a good four minutes too, and it makes no sense whatsoever.
There are better games out there, such as Amnesia for its First Person horror and escape sequences, and Eternal Darkness for its absolute genius use of "videogame insanity." With all its faults though, honestly, I would at least recommend that you give Call of Cthulhu a try. Innsmouth has a nice oppressive look going on, and there's some great moments to be had within the sewers too. The mythical locations and enemies sport some impressive appearances and there's some fun scares to be had. The game did keep me interested with its sanity effects and I remained curious throughout to see what they would do next. If the game can accomplish anything though then hopefully it will be to get more people interested in Lovecraft's own fantastic creations.
Summary: Worth a look for its subject material and how the books are translated into interactive media
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