Horror Gaming with Ack

Posted on Aug 12th 2010 at 01:24:47 PM by (Ack)
Posted under Dark Corners of the Earth, Lovecraft, PC, Xbox, horror, Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Incorporating elements of various H. P. Lovecraft tales, especially The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Shadow Out of Time, this game for Xbox and PC from Headfirst Productions focuses on a town in the thrall of perverse worship to an alien Elder God.  While it bears the Call of Cthulhu moniker, the story focuses more on Dagon, the Deep Ones, and the humans who follow them.  Numerous other creatures from the Cthulhu mythos also appear.

For those of you unaware, the Cthulhu mythos is a loosely formed mythos surrounding a pantheon of ancient slumbering gods created by author H. P. Lovecraft and linked together and expanded upon by such fans and later writers as August Derleth, Stephen King, and Neal Gaiman.  Lovecraft lived and wrote through the 1920s and early 30s publishing short stories and novellas in such magazines as Weird Tales.  His stories tended towards archaic language concerning man's place in the universe: the species is unimportant and survives only at the whim of the ancient and slumbering Elder Gods, who would devour the souls of humanity and enslave or unmake the universe if they ever awoke from their slumber.  Bizarre and twisted creatures populate his stories, along with colorful descriptions of madness and horror.  And Dark Corners of the Earth is no different

In DCotE, you play as Jack Walters, a private detective in the 1920s recently released from Arkham Asylum, where he'd been held for a case of amnesia, multiple personality disorder, and schizophrenia after a police raid he was a part of went haywire and he witnessed events and beings that shattered his mind.  To top if all off its hinted that Walters is psychic and unknowingly uses that ability to solve cases.  He takes a job searching for a missing grocery store clerk named Brian Burnham.  Burnham ran the First National grocery store in Innsmouth, and so off Jack goes to find the lad.  That's when everything goes out the window.  Innsmouth is not a nice place: the locals are hideous and unfriendly, the innkeeper has a preference towards knives, and there's a weird temple in the center of town.  It all goes downhill from there.

Soon after, Jack will find himself racing through the Innsmouth streets, battling his way out of dank sewers, sneaking through harrowing temples, and in a variety of other locations.  Fans of the Cthulhu mythos will not be disappointed as bloody cult rituals, abberrant beasts, and twisted gods all find their way into the game.  There are also numerous memorable scenes that will have horror fans shaking in their chairs, and the sequences where Jack is being chased are adrenaline-fueled and nothing short of exemplary.

The game is played in a first person perspective and features some gun combat, but it keeps a heavy focus on puzzles.  And when there is something to shoot, the player is usually running the opposite direction anyway or trying to sneak past.  Firearms aren't used at all throughout large portions of the game.  The game also doesn't feature a HUD, instead relying on visual and auditory cues to tell the player how much damage they've taken.  DCotE features a cumbersome health system in which specific items are needed to treat specific types of wounds, and wounds can appear on various parts of the body.  Break a leg and you'll have to splint it, or else you'll only be able to walk at a crawl.  Lacerations will have to be sutured, poison must be medicated, so on and so forth.

Then factor in a sanity system where Jack's vision blacks out and he begins hearing strange voices and other unusual sounds when he sees something that his mind can't handle, and you've got an interesting experience that can also end up a little frustrating.  With madness comes changes in control sensitivity, visual distortions and fading colors.  If it proves to be more than Jack can take, he goes mad and kills himself.

Gun combat is also more realistic in Dark Corners of the Earth than in most FPS.  First, ammunition must be conserved because it's extremely limited as per the norm with survival horror, so even when the player does have a gun, it doesn't mean he can fight. Second, there is no targeting reticle, so players must use the iron sights to see what they're shooting.  And no matter what, the gun fires bullets wherever it's pointing.  Pull out a gun and fire in the middle of the motion, and the bullet will fly in whichever direction the barrel pointed, even straight up.

While the game was generally favorably received, it is known for being extremely buggy, and some bugs will break the game.  My first time playing, I ended up stuck and reverting to a previous save because a switch refused to activate.  Other players have reported similar problems at different times, and there are no official patches to fix them.  Nor will there ever be an official patch, as Headfirst Productions went defunct less than a year after the title's release.  However, unofficial mods have been released for the PC version that help stabilize the game.

Two sequels were planned, but both are now Vaporware.

For those of you interested, here's the intro video:

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wow. Thanks Ack. And speaking of Lovecraft, I've been immersed in RE4 lately, and can't help but feel it's incredibly influenced by The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
I was going to do this game for one of my upcoming blogs. I thought it was really good, and I have a strong dislike for most FPS style games. Scared the crap out of me several times (which really isnt that hard for some reason) and had a genuinely interesting story.

I played the Xbox version though and I dont remember any glitches at all. Do you know if they touched up the Xbox release compared to the PC one or did I just get lucky?
@ Crabby i would still like to see what you you have to say about it.
I'd assume it is going to be in your Unloved blog?

Great write-up Ack Smiley Can't wait for the next installment.
I'm eager to see what you have lined up for October Smiley

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This blog is about horror games. The good ones, the bad ones, and the ugly ones. And the obscure ones. The point of this is to educate, both the reader and the writer. Because I love horror games, and I love learning about them.
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