reviews\ May 16, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth - PC - Review

OK … unrelated to the game I’m writing a review for, I remember watching those goofy Reeses commercials where one person got ticked off at another for getting his chocolate in said person’s peanut butter, but then it all came out Ok in the end as they skipped off into the sunset together or whatever and enjoyed a peanut butter cup together. The reason I bring this up is because the latest Bethesda game, Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth (which I will call CoC going forwards to save my hands from cramping) mixes two game genres that don’t seem to go together … adventure/exploration and FPS. Typically, FPS games feature a lot of run-and-gun action while adventure games are a much slower-paced investigative type of style, so mixing two of these together seems like a bold move … and surprisingly it comes out pretty good in the end with a solid and really intense storyline to boot.

Cthulu is a game actually based on the writings of H.P Lovecraft, who wrote some really interesting and macabre horror stories which dealt with man’s fragile mind, insanity, and nightmares after they dabbled in dark things revolving around cosmic dark gods and such that they should not have been messing with, so you can imagine that this game gets pretty crazy. CoC actually begins in 1915, as you assume the role of Jack … a cop sent out to a run-down house to speak with a group of cult members who have actually requested you by name. When you arrive at the scene, a shootout begins between the boys in blue and the crazies inside the house. You enter, and are quickly thrown into a disturbing storyline which involves this aforementioned incident, then jumps to 1922, seven years later, where Jack takes a case to travel to the dark and creepy town of Innsmouth to investigate a missing person’s report. He’s been in the Arkham Asylum for those blank seven years, and the story revolves around Jack’s journey to find out what's going on in the town, a weird bunch of bizarre cult- and demonic-like goings on, and his personal mission to find out what happened during those mysterious lost years that he spent in solitude apparently dabbling in tomes and writings of a dark and twisted nature.

The controls and environment for a “survival horror” FPS style game are mostly all here, with standard W,A,S,D controlling, jumping and an action key, and mouse support to look around, shoot, or select items in your inventory. There is no targeting crosshair or HUD in the game though as we’ve seen in most FPS titles, and the game really does revolve a lot more around exploration, fact and clue gathering, and even stealth and cunning versus blasting everything in sight. As a matter of fact, you don’t even get a weapon for the first part of the game, which was interesting to me, since there was more than one time that I was REALLY wishing I had one. Later in the game when combat does happen, you have to rely on a picture of Jack in your inventory to check for damage from fighting, and getting hit will actually cause changes in Jack’s aiming, movement, or even vision.

Aside from the aforementioned combat addition which was a pretty realistic aspect to take, a game based on Lovecraft’s writings would obviously have to have something in it about insanity. Another unique twist that was tossed into CoC is the fact that Jack will begin to go insane if he is exposed to situations that would, in fact, probably make anyone start to go crazy. For example, one scene has you walking into a homemade basement morgue where Jack runs across a bunch of mutilated bodies, and as you look at them and try to inspect them, Jack’s heartbeat begins to increase, the screen blurred, and his breathing became heavy and somewhat erratic. The game will actually cause sound and visual issues to happen as Jack begins to freak out, so to speak, and it was a really unique aspect to toss in. Granted it stinks trying to free aim through double vision, but it added a hint of realism to the game and makes it feel as though you’re actually in there with him instead of sitting on the other side of the monitor.

One thing that a lot of FPS purists aren’t going to really get along with in CoC, and one thing that I didn’t think worked as well as I expected, was the whole “stealth” aspect of the game … primarily due to the FPS viewpoint. Since it’s first person, and the whole world is seen only from the character’s eyes, it can make it hard to see where enemies are or shadows near you to hide in can be, so you have to stop and look around, which of course takes time and possibly may lead to a do over. In addition, there are many parts of the game where being able to go old school and fire off a gun versus all the stealth stuff would have been a lot less frustrating and could have added a personal touch to the title based on your style of play.

Another issue that gamers may have with CoC is the fact that the action moves a lot slower due to the adventure style of the overall gameplay. Granted, as stated before, the game is presented in an FPS format but relies heavily on looking for clues and solving puzzles to move on to the next portion of the game versus killing off tons of monsters. Now, playing as an adventure fan also, the main issue that adventure gaming fans that play this may have is the fact that the clue finding is pretty simple if you check all areas of your environment, and the addition of having to try and aim on your own and kill periodic baddies while wanting a puzzle solving game may not make it quite as fulfilling as expected. The FPS aspect of the game also makes some of the stealth issues more difficult than they probably could be, and may cause a lot of frustration to both adventure gamers and FPS fans. Lastly, and MY personal complaint with CoC … there are only certain areas where you can save the game and as we all know, getting stuck on a certain puzzle or having to turn the game off for one reason or another may lead to having to go back and re-do parts that you’ve already done. 

Overall, even though the game isn’t perfect, CoC provides a great storyline, a creepy as hell environment, and a survival horror title that really did mean “survival” and “horror” to me for the atmosphere, the setting, and additions which kept me not only immersed for hours on end, but also on the edge of my seat most of the time and literally a little scared to go around the corner in certain tense areas. While there are elements that will both appeal to and frustrate FPS and adventure gaming fans both, there is enough of a solid storyline to entertain for a while and if you can suffer through some of the annoying parts of the sneaking around stuff or limited ammo to kill any run and gun FPS possibilities, this is a good game to check out for an immersing, bizarre, gory, and frightening story.

Review Scoring Details for Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Gameplay: 7.8
The controls for the game were pretty standard FPS style, and the puzzles and clues moved the game along at a slower pace, which isn’t a bad thing for what they were trying to accomplish. The stealth aspect didn’t work as well as it needed to for a game that relies on it heavily, but the creative additions to the gameplay for insanity helped add the realism needed to help counter that problem overall.

Graphics: 8.3 
Graphically, the game did a great job in my opinion of capturing a feeling of desolation, loneliness, and gory visions that not only creeped me out in more than one area, but presented the gore and terror of a Lovecraft story brought to life almost perfectly. The areas are dirty, the people are scary looking which matches their unfriendly personality, and the macabre elements of the game had just enough viscera and blood to get the point across without going overboard.

Sound: 8.5
I thought the sound in the game really made this game feel terrifying in certain areas, and in addition to the visual issues that you encounter as you start to go insane, you will also be terrorized by strange voices as you begin to lose your mind, and there was more than once that I stopped playing for a second to see if I was hearing things in the game or if I was actually starting to hear things after playing this for a long period of time. Jack gets a little repetitive in his sayings at times with things like “Nothing important here” or “I won’t get any information out of this guy,” but nothing that ruined the game.

Difficulty: Hard
Ok … the game isn’t hard to the point where it gets overly annoying, but a lot of parts of the game (mainly the sneaking stuff and limited ammo) can make you have to replay certain areas more than once. The game is pretty straightforward on where to go next, but the lack of being able to save anywhere also can lead to some replays.  

Concept: 8.1 
The unique blending of these two styles of gameplay could have turned out to be disastrous to a certain degree, but Bethesda and Headfirst pulled it off nicely. As I stated before, the game isn’t perfect, but they did make one heck of an attempt to give you an immersive story filled with exploration and spliced with action elements.

Overall: 7.9
Well, I certainly didn’t lose my sanity like poor old Jack did in the game a few times, but I certainly could have if the developers didn’t do as good of a job trying to make this as solid of a game as they could have. If you’re looking for a true survival-horror title that will literally force you to try and survive in the face of horror, a game that will leave you on the edge of your seat more than once, and a game that provides a solid story with some gore and disturbing images, this is one you should definitely check out … provided you have the patience to get through some frustrating parts.


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