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Review: Call of Cthulhu

Posted by Nick Dinicola on March 13, 2009

So I’ve decided to start reviewing games on this blog. While I think game review blogs are already a dime a dozen (probably worth less than that, there’s so many of them) I think there’s still plenty of room for reviews that don’t give out a score at the end, a review that just discuss the game, it’s pros and cons, it’s successes and shortcomings, and just leaves it at that. This will be different from a Game Analysis because it wont focus on just one aspect of the game, it’s an overview, a general impression, and if I feel that one aspect of the game is worth writing about in more depth than I’ll make another post. Since there wont be any score to sum up my thoughts, I’ll make sure not to ramble on for too long. I’ve always hated reviews that go on for multiple pages, so I’ll make sure not to do the same. With all that said the first game I’m going to review is Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Why review a five year old game? First, it’s the game I’ve most recently beaten after playing along with Rebel FM’s Game Club. Second, while it may be old and flawed, its flaws actually worth playing even five years later.

Playing Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is like playing on a slot machine. You’ll spend most of your time frustrated, annoyed, irritated, and as many other appropriate synonyms as you can think of, but you wont stop playing. You wont stop playing because every now and then you’ll win a jackpot, or to be more specific to the game, you’ll experience some small moment of design brilliance that will keep you interested. And you’ll keep playing.

I went into Call of Cthulhu expecting a game like Condemned; an FPS that was spooky and creepy, but still very much an FPS. To my surprise I got what felt like an old-school adventure game. I arrived in the coastal town of Innsmouth trying to solve a missing persons case; I wandered around the town searching for clues, sneaking into shops, listening to the ramblings of a drunk, forming tenuous friendships with a couple townsfolk who warned me to leave, all the while slowing uncovering the sinister and supernatural secrets of Innsmouth. And all this climaxed in a wonderfully intense escape from a hotel that played like a fast-paced puzzle, ending with me jumping into the back of a truck as it careened down an incline and crashed into the sewers. All that was fun, and the few hours after that were fun, but eventually I found a gun.

What made the first part of the game so great was its focus on adventuring, on solving the missing persons mystery. I was unarmed the whole time, which made the dangers I faced even more frightening because I knew I had no way to defend myself. That helplessness was lost when I picked up a gun, but to make things worse the shooting mechanics were…difficult. It was just hard to aim, I turned too fast normally but when holding the aim button I turned too slow; there was no reticule to help line up my shots and the iron sights hardly made up for it (except with the rifle, the iron sights formed a nice small circle that let me know exactly where I was aiming). I would have assumed that I was being encouraged not to shoot enemies but rather sneak past them, but the sneaking was poorly implemented as well. The enemies went about their rounds painfully slow, so watching them long enough to learn their route would have taken an absurdly long time. There were also many blind corners, so one enemy would often come up behind me while I was trying to sneak past another. Yet despite all this I kept playing.

I kept playing because every chapter had at least one moment of unique, ambitious, exciting fun. Those moments were as small as jumping off a conveyor belt before it dumped me into a pit of spikes, to as big as holding onto the rails of a ship while a massive wave lifted it so high its bow blocked out the moon. These moments, like winning $5 from the slots after putting in $10, kept me going. Was it worth it in the end? Yes, but not for the reasons you’d think.

Everyone should, at least, play the first few hours, because every moment you remain unarmed builds on the mysterious and dark atmosphere. But once you get a gun my recommendation ends. You decided if you want to continue or not. What kept me going was the fact that I feel Call of Cthulhu embodies the biggest dilemma facing modern horror games: A trending towards combat at the expense of a genuine fear for my life. It’s worth mentioning that your guns are taken away multiple times throughout the game, and it’s those moments of extreme helplessness that shine even today.

And this game came out five years ago.

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