Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox
Publisher
2k Games/Bethesda
Developer
Headfirst Productions
Genre
Horror/Adventure
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
 
Grade
The Good

• Lovecraft's mythos brought to life
• No HUD provides immersive visuals
• Sanity effects mess with your head
• Great at delivering a sense of fear from the events

The Bad

• Slow pacing at the beginning of the game
• Graphics are a bit dated in places

 
Grade
A-

The fans of H.P. Lovecraft have toiled in anonymity for far too long. The early 20th century horror writer has long gone unheralded by the mainstream despite the influence his work has had on the genre. Movies based on his works have been poorly executed and lacked the resolve to capture the human element to make the horror strike home. So, when word that a videogame was in development not just based on his ideas but completely taken from the Call of Cthulhu role playing game series, fans had to be somewhat pleased. But, then a long development period took over and there was doubt that the game would even see the light of day. With a release that was almost secretive, the Xbox version of the game has finally come out.

The game begins with the protagonist, detective Jack Walters, arriving at a derelict house filled with cultists requesting his presence. Once inside, he's witness to many grim sights and finds his way into the basement, which is filled with foreign technology. After a specific incident (don't want to ruin the event for you), Jack's thrown into a lengthy psychotic state and institutionalized (fans will immediately recognize this from one of his stories). A few years later, he's released from the institution and becomes a more reclusive and private man, until one day he's asked to visit the small fishing town of Innsmouth to investigate the disappearance of store manager. Once in Innsmouth, he finds an inbred and secretive town, filled with dark streets and few unfriendly people. It doesn't take long for the player to feel a sense of unease as things in the town are obviously not what they seem.

Except for the occasional cutscene, the whole of the game is played out in the first person perspective, sans any head's-up display (HUD). There is no health gauge, weapon ammo indicator or cross-hairs for aiming. You're given clues to you condition as you play, such as the beat of your heart felt in the controller or the way you might limp if a leg is injured. When attacked, blood can spray up into your eyes, blurring your vision for a moment. Visual effects will be sure to take their toll on you as the game plays out without any interference that would detract from the immersion.

When the player is given the reins of the game, they'll be presented a game that is far more horror/adventure than action. To enjoy this game, players have to get over the idea that this is not a first person shooter. It may play in the first person perspective, but you'll be more concerned with solving puzzles, gathering information and just trying to stay alive than anything else. You won't receive your first weapon for a few hours and the game takes a certain slow pace that requires more adventure-like exploration and conversation than anything. And, even when you do have Hot Lead Justice to dispense, your ammo is so limited that you're best being conservative and using your survival horror skills to their best.

While the game starts out slow and pulls you along into the story, when the crap does hit the proverbial fan, you'll be begging for the days when you could just talk to an NPC for a clue or key to get into your next location. When the otherworldly forces decide you need to die, you're going to have to deal with an intense bit of action that severely puts you at a disadvantage. You'll have to move fast and think on your feet to get away. Because of the limited amount of ammo, you may find yourself doing more sneaking around than anything. You can crouch and even go into a sneaking mode, which become essential in surviving efficiently later in the game. Fortunately, players are given the option to barricade or dead-bolt doors to serve as a temporary barrier.

Unlike the standard action/adventure game, DCOTE offers a health/damage system for the main character that is based on locations, meaning that you can take damage to the arms, legs or head. The effect of said damage can make you move slow or throw your aim off. It's strongly suggested that you treat you wounds quickly or your health is sure to deteriorate quickly. While you can go into the menu and administer health-oriented items from the boxes you pick up, its sometime just easier to hit the Quick Heal button during gameplay.

As stated before, the heart of this game proves to be more of a puzzle-solving adventure where you must find clues scattered about to progress. Fortunately, there are a lot of books and notes to pick up and read which give you amply means to solve puzzles. Since most puzzles tend to stop any and all progress until completed, you're going to have to read everything you find and even use your brains at times to keep progressing through the game.

From a graphics standpoint, DCOTE does show some age as the engine is obviously dated before the game's release. Fortunately, this doesn't really hamper the game in any way. The game world is dark and depressing, but true to the source material in such a way that fans will be giddy at even the more disturbing of sequences. Getting a visualization of monsters described in the written word proves a pleasurable experience. The world you're presented is modeled in such a way as to be quite realistic, and despite a few blocky elements, you can't help but feel grounded to the gameworld. Textures are nicely done and the lighting works well enough without being overdone (thank god they didn't try to do too many lighting effects as it would have made the game too bright). Because the game features no HUD, the immersion element is pretty strong and is especially nice when sanity effects kick in, blurring you screen or just messing with your head from vertigo and the like. While it may not win on glossiness or pure visual polish, the overall graphics engine delivers the experience well.

The audio portion serves as a great augment to the visuals, especially considering how badly you're going to need to pay attention to survive. Effects are well done and help anchor the game to the real world. The music is finely done and sets a mood when needed. Voice-acting, for the most part, is pretty solid and fits well into the theme and locales of the story. While there are a few performances that stretch thin, others tend to feel just right. The fine citizens of Innsmouth sound as decadent as one might imagine and your lest sinister NPCs tell the story with the right amount of passion and emotion to carry the game's mood well.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is the Lovecraft game fans of the author have been waiting for. It throws out so many references to the source material and stories written by the author that fans can't help but feel the wait has been justified. Even the lengthy development cycle has been worth it. For those who are not fans of the author, if you enjoy a good horror-based adventure, then be sure to pick this one up. If you're just wanting to shoot everything in your path, you may need to find your fix elsewhere, but for those who expect a Lovecraftian tale, you'll be more than pleased with what Headfirst has done.

- - Vane

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