Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
First posted on 30 May 2011. Last updated on 31 May 2011.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth takes inspiration from different works by novelist H.P. Lovecraft, including The Shadow of Innsmouth, The Shadow Out of Time, and The Call of Cthulhu. The game explores the darker sides of horror, anxiety, panic, and fear of the unknown, blending them together in a typical Lovecraftian flavor.
As the game begins, you take on the role of Jack Walters, a private investigator, who is about to aid the police in a raid of an old house that is headquarter of a bizarre and aggressive sect. During the raid, Jack finds a house full of crazy worshipers but also experiences a disturbing encounter that subsequently leaves him insane and locked up in an asylum with amnesia for the next 6 years. When he finally regains his sanity, he is asked to track down a missing person in the town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. As soon as he arrives, however, he discovers that strangers are not at all welcomed in the isolated town, but more importantly, this case is somehow linked to the strange events from the old house years earlier.
Soon, creepy voices from the dark hallways tell Jack to refrain from pursuing his cause, while hostile eyes in the run down houses cast unwelcoming looks upon him. Eventually, Jack finds Brian Burnham, the missing person whom he is hired to find, and learns that Brian has put his nose into where it does not belong. Worse yet, Jack now begins to fear that he will encounter the same fate as Brian.
In a crescendo of tension and fear, Jack embarks on a horrific journey that will slowly unfold as he progresses onwards with his investigation. Reluctant at first, Jack ultimately manages to cope with the discovery of otherworldly creatures and finds out that he is the only that can fight those demons which have haunted him all these years. How will Jack fight against these creatures? Will he be ready to face the unspeakable fear at the risk of his own sanity? Will be he capable to withstand the terror that lies in the dark corners of the earth? After all, Lovecraft himself has once said, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
The uniqueness of this game is evident from the beginning. Although the game plays like a first-person shooter, it has no visible head-up display whatsoever. There is no health or ammo indicator of any sort. This means that each time you shoot you have to keep track mentally of your ammo reserve, or else you may find yourself suddenly empty without any ammunition in a critical fight. Aside from shooting, the game also mixes stealth, adventure, and puzzle solving. Frequently, you have given a choice to choose which approach to adopt. Feel like taking a low profile stealthy tactic? Try to sneak past your enemies without wasting a single bullet. Fancy making a good old shooting run? Choose your weapon and feed your enemies some lead. Beware though. Whichever style you use (a mix is recommended), your task can be difficult because of the emphasis of realism that the game places. For example, ammunitions are not abundant, so you have to conserve them carefully. If you hold up your weapon for too long, your arm will get tired and your aim will begin to lose accuracy.
The game uses a smart system to manage Jack's injuries. Every body part can be injured, and depending on the type and gravity of the injury, Jack's constitution will be affected accordingly, and a different treatment will be needed to restore Jack to full health. For example, if your leg is wounded, you will limp when you try to walk. If you do not heal your wounds or broken bones (often both) within a reasonable time, your reflex will slow down and your vision will begin to blur and fade into black and white as you bleed to death. Of course, Jack cannot withstand getting hit too many times either. A well placed blow to the head is all that is needed to end your life, literally. Fortunately, the same goes for your enemies. If you approach them unseen, you can deliver more damage. You can also shoot them in the leg to slow them down. This is a handy tactic, as Jack moves so ever slowly even if the most freakish creature is chasing after him.
Jack's behavior is also greatly influenced by his sanity. Every time you witness a horrific scene or encounter a scary creature, your sight will go blurry and shaky and your heart will begin pumping fast. You must then turn away momentarily to regain your composure. This can be very dangerous when you are surrounded by enemies, since you can no longer aim efficiently to shoot them. You will also experience fear when you are on heights, when you realize the danger that you may fall down. Although there is no real-time sanity meter, you are told at the end of the game to which degree of madness you have reached, depending on how many times you have lost your sanity during the game. You can even die if you lose your sanity too many times or too fast.
Thanks to this added physical and psychological realism, Jack may be one of the most humanistic characters in video games. It makes you feel great sympathy for Jack as a flawed human being who struggles to come to terms with what lies both within him and around him.
The puzzles in this game range from finding the right combination for a safe to combining objects to decode mysterious writings to gathering clues from different characters. Not infrequently, you are tasked to bypass a physical obstacle in order to proceed forward, such as activating an electrical generator, making an elevator to work, finding a key to open a door, or locating a hidden entrance to a hideaway. Although some parts of the game are quite linear and derivative in the proceeding, for most parts of the game you are given a certain degree of freedom in choosing which task to complete first.
A particular annoyance about the gameplay that has left me baffled at times is that the game does not always make clear on which objects you have to pick up and where you must place them. This is especially true for some vital artifacts, which you must first locate and then find the proper spots to use them. Another annoyance is the glitches in the AI (Artificial Intelligence) of your enemies. Sometimes, they can see you even if they not supposed to do so. Other times, you can pass almost in front of them without being noticed.
The game's graphic is decent, though they are somewhat crude even for its era. The grim, dark, and dim atmosphere serves well to compliment the Lovecraftian ambience as well as the many bloody and vicious scenes in the game. The otherworldly locales are particularly well rendered. The recurrent flashbacks, which are always rendered in black and white (except for the blood that is rendered in red) and set in the mental asylum where Jack is once held, can be triggered by a noise or a voice at the most inopportune time. Unlike typical flashbacks, however, you can control Jack to move him around, until you reach a certain spot when the flashback ceases and you are brought back to reality.
The game's sounds deserve some praise. Ambient noises befit the eerie environment, and the voices of the otherworldly creatures are frightening. Frequently, voices will appear to come from nowhere or from a distance to haunt Jack, and it is not clear if these voices are real or just inside his mind. These voices pervade through the entire game, and Jack sometimes replies to them as if he is questioning his own sanity.
Supposedly, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was to be the first of a planned series by Bethesda Softworks based on the Cthulhu Mythos. Soon after the game was released, however, the developer ceased operation. In consequence, development of the two planned sequels, Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End and Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness, was rumored to be canceled.
To conclude, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a very unique game. It brilliantly mixes in elements of action, adventure, and puzzle solving to offer up an exceptional survival horror experience. The story succeeds in delivering a tense psychological horror that is faithful to its Lovecraftian origin. Even if you are not a lover of horror fiction (and I am not), you will surely not be disappointed by this imaginative adaptation.