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Posted on May 13, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Call of Cthulhu – Game Review (PC)

James Lombardi

intro.jpgOne of my favorite writers is H.P. Lovecraft. I am a huge fan of the horror genre, be it books, movies, comics, or anything else. But the problem with most modern horror is that it’s too “in-your-face”. Lovecraft’s stories were often of nameless and shapeless horrors that the human mind couldn’t comprehend, not to mention the strange Non-Euclidean geometries. Unfortunately, as such, Lovecraft’s stories have had trouble being translated to film (with very few exceptions), and I should have expected that they would fit poorly into a game. Being confronted with a huge creature with tentacles and many eyes just isn’t all that frightening when you know there’s likely a puzzle-based solution to get you out of trouble. However, I waited impatiently for Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and you can imagine my excitement at finally playing the game. Unfortunately, I must have fooled myself into believing that a Lovecraftian story would work well as a game.

That said the game does do a great job of building up the atmosphere at times. Although it does lapse into the ever tempting “creepy little girl” that seems to be the device of choice for horror stories these days. To be fair, the game was in development for so long that if the “creepy girl” was in it originally they were on the leading wave of using the now overdone cliché. Aside from that discretion, I will admit to being relatively creeped out at points in the game. And there was certainly a sense of dread at entering into certain areas. But time and time again the build up and tension was lost when the game suddenly just became an FPS.

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Oh dear. A spooky little girl. It was a little disturbing the first time… In "The Exorcist". This one of the few games I can forgive for having save points. Keep an eye out for these spots, the star means it’s a safe zone. For you. Not for the melty looking man.

There’s no good substitute when you lose the dread and have to act directly on some danger. You spend a good portion of the beginning of the game weaponless sneaking around and trying to avoid a large group of angry New England villagers (if I only had a dollar for every time I’ve had to do that). But the stealth in the game is clunky and aggravating. I often found myself just skipping the stealth approach and running for whatever the objective was, generally confident that if I made it there some cinema, level end, or similar event would reset the enemies from chasing me.

Eventually the gameplay seems to shift when you get your first weapons (and you’ve been picking up ammo for most of the game). Suddenly you have a means to fight back against these villagers, only to realize that it seems in a number of the places they infinitely respawn. And although the damage modeling is location-based on the enemies, the damage certainly appears to vary widely.

While the sneaking and the combat seem rather ineffective and dated, there are some interesting aspects of gameplay. Not having a HUD was a major feature touted by the developers, and it does add to the immersion – although you’re quickly taken out of it when you just flash over to a menu of your inventory. It would be interesting if you really had to count the number of bullets you had left as you shot them – but all is lost when you can just reload and magically not have to deal with bullets being in the magazine you just tossed away. The healing system is much the same. On the surface it is quite interesting and a good change, but ultimately it is ruined when you simply switch to the menu, click on some red square and patch yourself up.

This is the game’s inventory screen, check your ammo, health, and items here (also, you can check your immersion at the door). The most interesting part of the game is finding clues, papers, and journals around the environment to unlock the mysteries of Lovecraft’s world (which is rarely a good thing).

The other big deal in the game is the sanity system. As you see more and more things that may disturb your character (blood splatter, strange creatures, violent events, etc.) your character’s sanity beings to slip. The effect manifests itself in a number of ways such as blurred vision, hearing voices, and ultimately can result in the player’s character killing himself. I did find myself relating to the character when my vision would blur looking down great heights. I’d probably do that too jumping along building ledges. That said, at points it became a little baffling what the character was getting so worked up about and it certainly doesn’t help to have the screen blurred beyond being able to recognize anything on it during a firefight.

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