Review by kiriyama2
Come visit Innsmouth, see mindbending terrors, hear unearthly chants, feel your sanity flee your mind
Atmosphere and a great story can carry a game far. They can take it above the lackluster and oftentimes downright infuriating gameplay and make the game something memorable. However, thats only in the rare cases, sometimes it cant really save a game. Where despite a fantastic story, and wonderful atmosphere the game just falls flat on its face. Loath as I am to admit it thats more or less the problem with Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Its got a great story, and boatloads of atmosphere, but really doesnt have the gameplay to back it up.
CoC begins in 1915 with our intrepid private detective Jack Walters aiding in a raid on some crazed cultists hideout. While hes exploring the nigh empty cult house he stumbles upon a room filled with bizarre technology, including a sort of portal to another time. Once Jack activates it he suffers from what could mildly be described as acute psychosis, and as a result is locked up in an asylum for six years. Upon his release from Arkham Asylum he gets tasked with finding out what happened to a man named Brian Burnham in the small fishing town of Innsmouth. When he arrives in Innsmouth to say hes treated with hostility would be a gross understatement, as various townspeople threaten violence on anyone that talks to Jack and they all claim that theyve never seen nor heard of Burnham. What starts out as a simple missing persons case soon spirals out of control as the nearby cult decides that Jacks been asking too many questions, and needs to be taken out. Aiding very little in this threatening town is the fact that Jack is suffering nightmarish visions of otherworldly creatures and even some of the townsfolk who try to murder him. I really do love the story in this game, its a highly entertaining yarn and is very interesting, to say the least. While I would love to say that its an almost perfect adaptation of the stories by Lovecraft, I cannot say, because Ive only read one and that was Herbert West- Reanimator. However, my lack of knowledge of Lovecrafts lore aside, I really did like the story.
I wouldnt really go so far as to call Call of Cthulhu a first person shooter. Sure its first person, and there is shooting in it, but the game plays more like an adventure game, or a survival horror game. For a large portion of the game youre just walking around trying to find various important items, and avoiding the demented denizens of Innsmouth instead of just running around mowing down every person who gets in your way. Which is fine, stealth games are fun, and Ive certainly played worse adventure games. However you do inevitably do engage in a bit of gunplay somewhere around the fifth or sixth level. At these points you really have to rely on your inherent ability to aim your weapons as the game gives you no crosshairs and no assistance with the aiming process. Which I think is somewhat neat, as the game does try to go for a modicum of realism with having no onscreen displays or meters. It tries to give off the air that you are actually experiencing these events
Another interesting thing about the perspective is that often times in the game if you just barely manage to escape danger, or suffer a wound the screen actually reflects that. Often its just a small blood spatter, but the screen will sometimes waver and pulsate to simulate the effects of being gunshot. But what really takes the cake here is the sanity effects, at points in the game Jack will come across things that will affect him in some fashion. Usually these involve coming across a horribly mutilated body, someone having hanged themselves, or maybe some otherworldly creature that no human has seen before. These are greatly entertaining as the screen will undulate or will shake violently. Another great thing regarding the sanity system in this game is that if you suffer too much trauma and decide to equip a gun you run the risk of Jack turning the gun on himself and thereby ending his torment. Tell me that isnt an awesome thing to have in a video game! Also throughout the game in addition to suffering the visions of creatures and the denizens of Innsmouth Jack will hallucinate that hes in a mental institution. Which would be neat by itself, but it turns up the creepiness factor by having blood pouring from the ceiling or from under doors as large tentacles writhe in the distance as theres the sound of an electroshock machine being used. Really the game just ratchets up the atmosphere a great deal throughout the course of the game.
However, for all the praise that I would love to shower upon this game it is not without its faults. The gunplay while it is entertaining and challenging is really badly implemented and wildly inaccurate. I know that maybe this can be attributed to my horrible aiming, but many were the times I had lined up a fishman with a headshot only to have missed for no adequate reason. Also, for instance, lets say that you are aimed at a persons torso and fire, only to have it hit them in the leg or arm. Those happened far too often.
Also the stealth mechanic is often a bit wonky. You can be sneaking along in the levels, creeping along the ground having ample space between you and the person your shadowing. When suddenly, with no warning or pretext and suddenly theyll be aware that youre there and, more often than not, kill you. If it made some sort of sense Id be fine with it, but if youre twenty feet away and crawling a man with his back to you shouldnt be able to know that youre there.
Another annoyance that the game seems content to make you do are these annoying chase sequences. Fortunately they dont force you to do them too often, but when they do it is a true nuisance. Itd be one thing if it was just run from point A to point B, but you are almost always tasked with moving large wardrobes while crazed loonies smash the locked doors to pieces behind you. As if that werent enough they will almost always break through just as you finish moving the damned piece of furniture affording you no respite. Which works well to keep the tension high, Ill admit, but doesnt help anything when you take into account that your man Jack moves at a snails pace. But whatever, the chase is bearable when you figure out what it is you have to do. What really gets me is when you have to outrun a monster from the depths of the earth at a refinery later on in the game. The thing moves quite faster than you, and has the ever so delightful ability to instantly kill you if you touch it.
I spent a large amount of time constantly reloading that particular chase scene. After yet another death at the hands of that creature I found out something most curious and ill-conceived about the game. The resolution at which you play the game affects the speed of which Jack runs. Ill say that again, your screen resolution affects how fast Jack can move. I dont mean that the gamell be laggy or anything like that, enemies move at consistent speeds throughout regardless of the resolution. Im not sure if this was a conscious decision on the developers part, but that is pretty damn stupid if you ask me. It shouldnt matter if Im running the game at 1024x768 or 800x600, Jack should move at a decent speed regardless! I realize how that can sound stupid coming from a PC game reviewer, but look at something like Painkiller, for example. You could set it to near the highest res, and hed run at a nice speed. Then switch it to a lower one, and behold, he moves at the same speed. All Im saying is resolution shouldnt affect a characters speed.
Audio is pretty good in this game. One problem I have with it however is the voices for the citizens of Innsmouth. I dont know why but for some reason their voice acting really grates on my nerves. Of the whole bunch theres only about five decent voice actors out of the whole bunch of them. Music in the game seemed non-existent, perhaps I was mistaken, I dont know, maybe it was my copy of the game, but there didnt seem to be any. But honestly it works here, it just helps add to the experience. One thing that I really liked in this was when Jack suffers from one of his lapses into insanity hell actually hear whispering voices and start mumbling crazily to himself. Overall though the audio is really quite good, bad voice acting on the part of the Innsmouth citizens aside of course.
Despite the devastatingly idiotic chase sequences and that whole business with the screen resolution I really do enjoy this game. Sure it may be aggravating as hell more often than not, but the story and atmosphere really do make up for the lackluster gameplay. Its kind of a shame that Headfirst went bankrupt it wouldve been great to see the proposed sequels to this game (Destinys End, and Beyond the Mountains of Madness, for you inquisitive types), because they did a good job with this one. Id rank this game up with Indigo Prophecy as a game that has a number of flaws but overall is worth looking into.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (US, 04/26/06)
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