Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth Review

*Goosebumps theme* M:With Halloween right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to look back at Call of Cthulhu, a game known for scary monsters and scary bugs. It’s an Amazonian rainforest of bugs, which is enough to divide opinions on it. Some will say it’s one of the greatest horror games ever, and some can’t get past the broken boats section. Off the top of my head before replaying it, I could remember four separate areas that either had a game breaking crash, or a bug to prevent me from beating it. The last time I played it was in 2011 on Windows XP, so things have probably only gotten worse. The Steam version had several crashes on the first level, so, yeah, things HAD gotten worse. I didn’t need to be a Yith to see that coming. However, GOG has a version that claims to fix most of the issues, and, yeah, it does! You don’t need to tweak the game like crazy to make it functional, so, that’s a good start. So is it now a great game? Let’s begin. Right from the get go, there’s not a lot to fiddle with. The only video option is choosing your brightness, and your difficulty is locked either easy or normal. It’s one of those games where you have to beat it to unlock a harder difficulty, and I really hate that. Only the hard drive says I’ve never played this, Even if I was new, if I wanna be eaten by fish, that should be my right to choose. Looking back, the Dead Space games did that too, so maybe I should have complained about it then. Our story begins in Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum in 1922. One of the prisoners is fed up with crazy cuisine, and decides to end it right there. With all the symbols written in blood on the walls, it’s a pretty good setup for a mystery. Then they pull the chair out from under you, and surprise! that was a flash forward. The main character’s the one who hangs himself later. Why’d he do it? Can you save him? Well, this is only the prologue, and the main portion of the game takes place right before the hanging, so, you’ll have some answers. Despite the game being set in the early 1900s, most of the dialogue sounds like it’s out of the fifties. The first information you get sounds like a Twilight Zone episode. Walters- “Robert, this had better be good.” “What’s the beef?” “Sorry Jack, we HAD to call.” “This fellow will only talk to you.” “Name’s Victor Holt.” W:”Don’t know any… Victor.” “He’s the leader of this weird cult that moved in here a few months back.” “Got about twenty followers.” “They’ve been causing trouble all over town!” “Stealing, going through folks’ trash.” “Hanging around outside people’s homes at all hours.” “No one ever presses charges, though, they’re a screwy bunch.” “They’ve got the locals scared.” “So, tonight, we were just passing, you know?” “Doing the normal rounds.” The investigation of the cult is reminiscent of a point and click adventure game. You’re not there to murder everyone, you’re there to find out what’s going on. You search around for clues and evidence, and even have a handy collection of notes. You’re playing as detective Jack Walters, and the game does a good job of putting you in the mindset of his occupation. The action button isn’t just there for physically interacting with the environment. You can use it for Jack to give his thoughts on nearly any object he comes across. “This blasphemous image makes me feel uneasy.” “It’s the main ventilation system.” “The lockers are empty.” “His chest cavity has been spread open for feeding.” “Seems like these cabinets are used for storing chemicals and medical equipment.” Mandalore- Wait,
“Seems like these cabinets are used for storing chemicals and medical equipment.” “Seems like these cabinets are used for storing chemicals and medical equipment.” Mandalore- What was that other one?
“Seems like these cabinets are used for storing chemicals and medical equipment.” In short, there is something more unusual about the cult than a cult being a cult. For one, the cult has been obsessively stalking Jack. There’s the machinery in the basement which I doubt is approved by the FDA, “His internal organs have been removed and spread across the room!” “This insane contraption looks like it’s keeping him alive!” Then, there’s the other machinery. This one opens a portal to another dimension, causing strange creatures to emerge. He’s understandably not well after this encounter and goes to an asylum for six years. Jack’s perceptions of time have been strangely distorted ever since, and he’s become a private investigator. He gets a case for a missing person in Innsmouth, Massachusetts and that’s where the game’s main plot kicks off. To no surprise for those who read the title, this is based on HP Lovecraft’s work. However, it’s not adapting the short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, but rather “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” This story is also shadowed by another shadow, but, that’ll come later. The good news is, you don’t have to be familiar with Lovecraft’s works to enjoy the story. It’s only a few particulars later that can leave you confused if you don’t know a thing, and that’s okay. It’s a theme to feel woozy. So, now that you have that bit of background, let’s talk about the visuals. On a technical level I’d say it’s about average for back then. A lot of the environmental lighting is nice looking, but there’s nothing mind blowing about it. This game came out first on the XBox, so it’s basically a console port. Some textures look muddy and some areas in the game look way older than the rest, but the main thing that sticks out is the filter. In most scenes it’s making the game look muddled and worse than it is. However, when there are scenes with a monster, then it obscures them a bit, making them a little bit more scary. That could justify it. But the game also has a sanity system. When your character sees something unsettling, or a fear like heights, the screen will start to blur and defocus. I don’t mean a little blurry, like happy tears. It’s more like drying in a pool of vaseline with Parkinson’s. So when the screen can already be warped and distorted to pretty extreme degrees, that seems unnecessary to have a filter on top of it. And all this serves to make the regular scenes fuzzy. I know it’s a mater of personal taste, I just there was an option to turn on and off. I prefer when games aren’t trying to look like movies. Despite their limitations, the art direction is superb. It may sound strange, but something about the game being uglier makes it a little creepier too. For me, it’s an uncanny valley. It’s not ugly enough to look like an old game, but, not quite new enough to look like a realistic, newer game. It’s an almost dreamlike quality at times. There’s this oppressive feeling to the atmosphere that never goes away. Everything is shrouded in darkness, but not too dark, like Doom 3. If you’ve never played Doom 3, just turn off all your lights and put a pet in the closet, and keep opening the closet so it jumps out at you, and that’s Doom 3. Anyway, look at this creepy factory. Look at the town of Innsmouth. The skybox is almost real looking, but not quite. Maybe it’s because of the grain filter, I just don’t know. The sound design can be a lot of fun, like hearing cult worshipers. *Ominous cult chanting* Then sometimes it makes me never wanna open a door. *Heavy bestial breathing right behind the door* There’s one point where you go into a house when you KNOW something awful is upstairs, and it’s all carried through the sound. Jack- “Hello there, little lady.” “Hi, sir.” Jack- “Are your parents at home?” “Daddy’s at work, and mommy’s upstairs, in the attic.” “She’s been bad.” Jack- “…I see.” Jack- “What are you drawing, Ramona?” “Pictures of mommy and daddy.” “Huh…” *BLAM* The weapon sounds are alright too, but nothing compared to the environmental ones. Even on GOG, the game has an issue where sometimes character voices will cut off at the very end. I found out that if you don’t save in the same slot twice in a row, that usually fixes it, and I don’t know why, but it works. This really is a game full of mysteries. It’s hard to even talk about the gameplay, since it feels like it was directed by four or five different people. This was once being developed as a four-player non-linear RPG. When it got closer to release, the game nearly had deathmatch maps. So… there is a lot of different direction. I’m gonna talk about the game in sections, avoiding major spoilers. While it’s not a different game every chapter, things do get shifted around a lot. The prologue gave the impression that Call of Cthulhu would be an adventure game, and the first chapter holds that up. Investigate the town of Innsmouth. Jack- “Could you direct me to the First National Grocery Store? I hear they have a shop in town.” “I dun kno nuffin about dat.” Jack- “Oh, well… you see, I’m looking for a young lad called Brian Burnham.” Jack- “I’m a friend of the family. He worked in the store.” “Dun kno who y’re talkin about, fella.” Innsmouth is incredible. Jack- “Do you know the Burnham lad? He worked-” “Please, stop bothering me, stranger.” Whether or not you know the backstory, just exploring through the town is an experience. There’s something so obviously wrong with the town, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find peeks of things to come. Even though the town is populated, it gives me the same feeling the first time I played Silent Hill. There’s something out to get you. Jack starts having visions through the eyes of something. They don’t move or sound human. If you look around you’ll catch glimpses of people watching you from the shadows… From time to time, you’ll wonder if you saw something at all. No music stinger, it just happens. Elderly man- “Since old lady Warren’s passed away, the food is rotten.” While you investigate, most of the townspeople are very little help to you. Jack- “Do you know the Burnham lad? He worked in the First National.” *Threateningly unintelligible muttering* “Innsmouth don’t take too kindly to them from out of town. Get lost, stranger!” *Whatever she’s saying, she doesn’t sound very friendly* Jack- “The old woman’s dead.” Jack- “Do you need any help?” Progression is very linear, but it does give the sense of uncovering a mystery. You learn about some of the people inhabiting the town, and how life works there. You learn to use stealth while looking for evidence. The more you look, the more you find, and the town is getting more and more aggravated with you. When it finally does reach a boiling point, you have no weapons, you can only move furniture and lock doors. So now you’re being hunted, but you still have to figure out the mystery of what happened to the missing person. Doesn’t that premise sound great? Sneaking through a weird town that’s now openly hostile, trying to put the last pieces of evidence together. Well, this is where the first cracks in the game start to show. At first, everything seems on track. Because the game has no heads up display, there’s no kind of detection meter or something like that. You listen for audio callouts, lean around corners, watch for patrols. You’re still vulnerable, and it’s more and more apparent there are non-human things getting closer and closer to you. You’re getting more and more strange visions, everything’s just going off the rails. Then at some point, inevitably, you find out about the AI. “Did you hear that?” “From there!” …Then you get guns. “Kill him!” “He’s around here somewhere!” Jack- “A pistol and a shotgun! At last!” “Shoot him!” It’s bad. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen in a game, but it’s certainly up there. In particular, it doesn’t really understand stealth. If you shoot an enemy from stealth, half the time they’ll start screaming like you’re fighting them, but they’ll keep doing whatever they were doing. On other occasions, they’ll just freeze up completely and not do anything at all. At first I thought, maybe they were programmed for smaller areas and these wide open ones are messing them up somehow. But no. They’re just a lot worse in open spaces. Even in the enclosed ones, they’re still pretty horrendous. You might think it’s difficulty, but no, that doesn’t affect their AI. Even if it did, you’d be stuck with it anyhow. It’s disappointing. You also can’t choose to just not use weapons. It’s unavoidable. Combat becomes more and more of a focus in later levels. Even the creepy town can’t avoid it. There’s a driving defense section, swarms of enemies section, and don’t even get me started on the warehouse. *It sounds just as good as it looks* This isn’t satisfying combat, either. Even if the AI was better, the balance is all off. You would think in a game like this, they might make the ammo harder to find. Have the guns be a last resort measure. If you explore around, you will find extra ammo and supplies. But ultimately it’s unnecessary, because I never had a time when I was out of ammo. You have so many types of ammunition that it’s nearly impossible to run out. The game has to be this way too, because you need ammo to get past the mandatory combat sections. There are melee weapons, and I only found them useful a single time. I think they’re supposed to be used for stealth attacks that are quieter, but they’re too unreliable for that. In most cases, you’d have to go out of your way for a stealth melee kill when using a gun would just be more efficient and easier. Remember that the AI is prone to not even care about gunshots. Even more disjointed is the healing system for the game, which they do try to do something interesting with. Picking up a medkit doesn’t just give you health, it gives you a bunch of healing supplies. Then you go to a menu that has a Metal Gear Solid 3-like healing system. You choose where to apply each healing item for a specific body part. Once you’ve picked which parts need healing with what items, you go into a cutscene healing mode. The animation even changes based on where you’re hurt. It’s a neat idea. In theory, you’d have to slink off somewhere safe before you heal. But you can’t do that when there are swarms of enemies that you have to fight. Some damage can cause bleeding, which means you can bleed out and die. So if you’re in the middle of combat, you’re basically stuck. Heal before you bleed out, or try to kill them before. Optionally, you can press H to automatically heal and avoid the menu entirely. See what I mean about cracks appearing? You have a healing system clearly made for a slower, more methodical game, but the game’s not like that. Sure it starts that way, but it just keeps collapsing more and more. Case in point: after the town, you raid a refinery. Bad guys been hoarding gold, evidence, and messing with Halloween candy. Unlike Innsmouth, the wandering enemies respawn. The cramped hallways mean that stealth is even less of an option now. So after some dramatic events, you end up barely escaping from a monster beyond the colors of time. There’s an escape sequence, and it’s all framed like you barely got out alive. Then you just… get sent back inside to do a puzzle for twenty minutes. Maybe we should have done this before the big escape sequence. I went from running from Gravemind to platforming on him. That diminishes the threat of it. Then the next chapter’s pacing is all over the place. You ran with the Marine Corps to fight the bad fish, then they go “Oh yeah, it’s a horror game.” “But now it’s an FPS game again.” “Now it’s an… adventure game again.” The elements just aren’t meshing together, and the next chapter truly goes off the deep end. The entire game has been teasing the Deep One creatures, you’ve only caught glimpses of them. Now they’re revealed. “Get the rifle, Jack! We’re under attack!” Some guy just guns two down in a cutscene. And then you start gunning them down in waves! This thing they were teasing all game is now part of a wave section! Remember when I said this game feels like it was directed by several different people? This is what I’m talking about. The pacing of the game doesn’t line up with other parts. Not just tonally. This part is more difficult than the final boss battle, which is… very similar. There’s one part where you have to walk on an ocean cliff and hold a ring to brace for the waves. Except you don’t. They didn’t actually put the feature in properly, so you can just walk along the cliffs just fine. The game has so many neat ideas, but it’s like they keep being partially implemented. Call of Cthulhu is being developed as an adventure-horror game. It sure feels like it at the start, and even a few parts throughout. It was being developed for six years, but for the final two, they had to make a change. Their publisher was taken over by a new one who didn’t want to develop the title, so they had to find a new one. And so they found one in Bethesda Softworks…
a… Zenimax… company. *cough* Oh, my throat. *cough cough* It’s very clear that there were people with a vision. Along the way, there was a dramatic change, and the game was being pushed into something that it wasn’t designed to be. The stuff that’s good is really good, so much so that it sticks out in people’s memories more than the rest of the game I think. When people call it an overlooked classic, I think they forget most of the parts that made it really bad. It was an incredible game, it was like Innsmouth was brought to life, and then, errrrmmmm… there was a Shoggoth! It’s a testament to just how well some of these parts were done when everything else can just be collectively forgotten by so many people. So with that, the only thing left to talk about really is the story. Before getting into spoilers, there’s one thing that I think needs to be cleared up. This game ambushes you with a ranking system at the very end. To get an A requires you to beat the first part of the game in a certain time limit with a certain number of saves, and also you have to collect everything in the game. If you didn’t give the crazy man a dead rat, you’re not getting an A. Where this matters is that it extends the ending of the game. It doesn’t change the ending, it just explains more about what happened. So if you beat it without an A, a lot of the game will still be out of context. So if you wanna skip the spoilers, go to here. Thank god they’re gone. They missed out on this cool lightning gun. Even earlier in the story, if you don’t know Lovecraft lore, there’s a few things here and there that might throw you off. Jack has a vision of a creature, which is a Yith, talking about pursuing enemies that left tracks with five toes. That sounds like it means either humans or Deep Ones, but it’s neither. It’s the Flying Polyps which you encounter… two of. Bits like that throughout the story can make the ending even more confusing for people. Even though you murdered Hydra and Dagon, the ending still seems to imply that the Deep Ones are a threat, but they’re still talking about the Flying Polyps. The game even shows their model and talks about harnessing the power of the wind, so I guess players missed that part. It’s probably because of the main focus of all these cutscenes that you only fight two of them in the game, and your main enemies are Hydra, Dagon, and all the Deep Ones. So I can see how that throws people off. It’s then revealed that Jack’s father switched minds with a Yithian before he was conceived, and Jack is half Yithian. Something like that. It’s also why the cult in the beginning is so obsessed with him. They knew. When he activated the machine in the beginning, Jack’s mind went to their world, hence the monster visions and amnesia. So while he does kill himself in both endings, one is missing a lot of context. He killed himself because his mind was being ripped between two worlds, not because he was being spooked by all the fish people. I think it’s a neat twist to have in this story. If you don’t have it, you just feel more confused, which is normal for Lovecraft, and if you do, then you understand it a bit more. Get off my boat. In a lot of videos I’ll say that the game is flawed, but you should try it out for what’s good about it, but in Call of Cthulhu’s case, I’m not so sure about that. There’s so much exceptional material that sticks with you, but everything else is such a slog. Combine that with how many technical hiccups the game has, and you might end up jumping through a lot of hoops for something that’s… okay. This is a game that would really benefit from a remaster. Or even a recut of the existing content. I know there’s another Call of Cthulhu game coming out, so maybe that one will do more things right. As it stands, Dark Corners of the Earth is a very flawed game that could’ve been an exceptional classic. It might be worth checking out if you’re really into the source material, the atmosphere, or wanna see a guy who fell off Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a story that really wouldn’t work in a modern setting. No BBQ sauce on subs. So if you have an exceptional level of patience, it might be worht looking into. The time jumps can get a little… confusing. “But if we ourselves would suffer deception…” Mandalore- Wait…
“But if we ourselves would suffer deception…” “But if we ourselves would suffer deception…” Mandalore: Wait, this isn’t ri-
“But if we ourselves would suffer deception…” I can’t record in this… Yeahhh… uhh…

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