reviews\ Nov 7, 2005 at 7:00 pm

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

Stepping onto the cracked pavement of Innsmouth, the dimly lit town looks dead despite the few townsfolk shuffling about like hulking beasts. The mist is heavy in this coastal town as the stench of dead fish fills your nostrils until you feel it choke your throat like two invisible hands squeezing your neck. The faces look unfriendly and twisted as if everyone here has gone mad but you have a job to do … one that will take you even to the darkest corners of this strange town. Welcome to classic horror master H.P. Lovecraft’s supernatural tale turned Xbox survival horror game called Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

 

The game begins in 1922 in Arkham Asylum were an insane patient scribbles archaic symbols on his padded cell until he slowly steps on a chair, rings a makeshift rope around his neck and proceeds to hang himself. Rewind the story six years earlier to find a private investigator named Jack Walters in the middle of a raid on a dilapidated house only to find dead cultists, a hidden room with a macabre scene and a chamber that unleashes the forces that drove Walters to the nuthouse where he attempts to hang himself. I say attempt because the next time we see Walter’s he’s alive and sane and with no memory of his stay at Arkham or his attempt to take his life.

Clearly something supernatural has happened to Walters and the realm of the supernatural has become something of an obsession. He even begins to take on cases involving the unexplained. He receives a call from a Mister Anderson one night and as Walters is about pass on the case he learns that a store manager in the unknown town of Innsmouth has suddenly vanished in what looked like a store burglary. Everything about the case doesn’t make sense so he accepts the job and heads out to Innsmouth. When he arrives at the strange seaside town he starts his investigation and begins to feel that something evil lurks in the darkest corners of this place. Suddenly what was just a routine investigation turns into a fight for survival against the forces of evil. If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories you will not be disappointed in the game’s ability to tell the story.

Played in the first-person perspective, Call of Cthulhu lets us see the haunting town of Innsmouth through Walter’s eyes. Even before he steps off the bus (driven by one spooky chauffeur) the town doesn’t feel right. The people of Innsmouth are unfriendly, pale and clearly hiding some secret that Walter must uncover by exploring the town. Along the way he finds Mackey, the only one in town that seems normal. As a private investigator snooping around is a part of the game and much like the recent crop of adventure games on the Xbox you’ll be interacting with your environment and, of course, picking up clues. There are puzzles to solve, many of which mean death if you fail so the game gives you plenty of motivation.

 

One of the things the game excels in is setting the tension to extremely high levels. Walter’s sanity is tested throughout the game as the controller shakes at any disturbing image that you happen to witness. Careful management of our hero’s mental health is definitely a requirement seeing as too much stress can cause him to panic to the point that you’ll find it hard to keep your hands from shaking, your vision will blur and you’ll even experience hearing loss. There are many moments in the game where you’ll have a gun and in a state of panic you’ll find it hard to aim right. The most jarring moments come in the form of the game’s non-shooting bits. For example, one part has you sneaking into the store that was robbed but the nasty security guard won’t let you snoop around. Sneaking past him and entering the store, you’ll have the option to push a shelf in front of the door to give you more time to look around. Imagine looking around until you hear the loud and menacing thuds as the security guard attempts to come into the store in search for you.

There’s action in this game and it’s quite possibly the game’s weakest part. You’ll be injured way too quickly during these first-person shooter parts so you’ll have to heal Walter by suturing and bandaging his wounds. Combat isn’t easy seeing as the game is pushing the creep factor and scares to the maximum. Many of the times you’ll miss your target not because of the controls but because the feeling of panic will fry your nerves in all the right moments.

Visually the game has a suitably dark and murky look that makes the darkness even more menacing. While these aren’t the best Xbox graphics, its grainy look gives the game much personality. The character models are not bad at all and when it comes to the people of Innsmouth, the inbreeding among these people is very noticeable. You’ll encounter some strange monsters, indeed, and the game is never short on disturbing images. Innsmouth itself doesn’t look very inviting and the various building are filled with detail. It’s not a bad looking game but it could have been better.

 

Where the game really shines is the sound department, which is filled to the brim with detailed sound effects, creepy soundtrack and convincing voice acting. The game score is very cinematic and it changes with every situation that arises but it’s the voice acting that will grab you. Walter narrates as he makes discoveries and his dialogue is classic gumshoe (think Phillip Marlow with Tourettes) . Yet what really shines through is the detailed sound effects. If Walter gets too frightened you’ll hear his teeth clattering and stand too close to any citizen of Innsmouth and you’ll even hear his breathing. It’s great stuff the just makes the game’s creepy moments even more creepier.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth will play with your nerves until you’re not sure what might happen and will seriously creep you out from start to finish. It’s a trip down a nightmarish place filled with mystery and danger and will suck you into its dark tale. In short, this is a game that’s fresh and unique and well worth your time and money. Give this one a shot if you’re looking for a survival horror game at its most creepy.

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

Gameplay: 8.2
The game certainly knows how to mess with your nerves in ways other survival horror games can’t pull off anymore. There’s some exploration bits mixed in with some first-person shooter action and you’ll be drawn into the story. Keeping Walter from becoming too freaked out will keep you more than busy.

Graphics: 8.0
It’s not exactly the most gorgeous Xbox game you’ll come across but the dark and grainy look works like gangbusters. You’ll find things that come out of the dark and the town folk here all have that eerie look and a crazed stare that will not fail to make you feel uncomfortable.

Sound: 8.5
The voice acting is handled beautifully, although people in Innsmouth seem to have marbles in their mouths. The game’s score is wonderful and works well during cutscenes and during the game’s action. The sound effects will play with your head, especially when you’ll hear whispers that come from behind you or that scratching noise that’s coming from that other side of a locked door. Have an extra pair of underwear ready.

Difficulty: Medium
Some puzzles have the obvious solution while others have you returning to your journal for hints. Still the biggest challenge comes with keeping Walter from shooting himself or strangling himself with his own hands when he finally goes nuts. Some monsters are pretty tough as well.

Concept: 8.0
Mixing adventure with shooting and good old-fashioned detective work makes for an interesting game with a lot to offer. There are some extras to unlock and harder difficulty settings. The H.P. Lovecraft influence is everywhere in this game and that will certainly please fans. Now how do you pronounce the game’s title?

Overall: 8.5
A unique and scary experience, Call of Cthulhu for the Xbox is a frightening and most engaging experience that will not fail to hook you from the very start. While there are some elements that could have been handled a bit better, like the shooting parts, the rest of the game is just too good. A good game to buy if you’re looking for something different and, well, scary.

Great

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