“Outsider!”- Innsmouth villager

  • Platform- Windows (version tested), Xbox
  • Developer- Headfirst Productions
  • Publisher- Bethesda Softworks, 2K Games
  • Release date- 24th October, 2005

Hey everyone, Retroplayer here. Want me to review a game or videogame movie? Drop me an email at Denis [at] thegamingliberty.com. Always happy to hear from you. Anyway, grab yourself a beverage, sit back, and enjoy.

True terror in gaming is a hard thing to come by, in my opinion. In fact, I’ve rarely found horror games scary at hill. Despite there being a few rules to the exception, I’m not someone who scares easily especially when it comes to videogames. That was until I played Call of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, a game on the brink of greatness, and the most unnerving gaming experience I’ve had to date.

Based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (CoC:DCotE), developed by Headfirst Productions and published by Bethesda Softworks in conjunction with 2K, is a near impeccable psychological thriller set amidst the backdrop of the 1920′s. You assume the role of Jack Walters, a private investigator sent to find a missing person in the coastal town of Innsmouth. However, Jack’s case has an even darker underbelly as the truth about the shadow that covers Innsmouth is revealed. The people of Innsmouth are not what they seem, and protect an even darker, more disturbing secret.

CoC:DCotE is a wonderful mix of the adventure and FPS genre. The game, with is HUD-less, focuses on exploration, combat, sneaking, and puzzle solving. However, for the first third of the game the player isn’t given access to any weapons. This means they are forced to hide, sneak, and outwit their enemies rather than using brute force. Before the player must defend themselves, the opening hours of the game is purely based on sneaking. This helps the player become accustomed to it, and seeing as in the first third or so of the game sneaking is the players only weapon, it becomes paramount to master it. Once weapons can be accessed the basics fundamentals of gameplay don’t really change. I feared this would have shaken up gameplay too much, made it more of an action game, but the game sticks by its basic, yet highly effective formula throughout. I’ll admit foes becoming less of a threat when you’re able to shoot them in the face, but not to the point where it kills the tension. Also in place within the game is a sanity meter. This unseen meter is effected if the player witnesses a disturbing/scary event, or is under attack. Loss of sanity distorts the screen, blurs the players vision, and gives the feel of a mind tearing away at the seams. It’s a very potent and worthwhile aspect to the game. The controls are a little sluggish at times, but CoC:DCotE is one of those rare games that feels like you’re viewing the world from someone’s eyes, rather than controlling a floating, disembodied point of view. That said, the controls are universally a little clumsy. It’s a shame, really, as there’s times where it becomes a chore to play due to this. This, however, can be overlooked to a degree, as the game is hitting all cylinders on so many counts.

Did you know?- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a re-imagining of the H.P Lovecraft novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Many players will be put off by the fact that for the first massive chunk of the game, there are simply no guns at hand. This was quite smart move on behalf of Headfirst Productions. The true terror in CoC:DCotE comes from being helpless, and while introducing guns does harm that scare element slightly, the health system prevents the player from mindlessly blasting their way through a level. If Jack falls from a great height, his leg will break. This will in turn distort the players vision, and slow them down greatly. The same goes for any body part. Also, healing yourself isn’t just an instant affair. Similar to the healing system in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the player will need bandages, splints, and stitches to heal themselves. Upon healing himself, Jack will need to stop and, in real-time. apply each treatment. There’s no healing in the middle of a battle. This keeps gameplay extremely tense, and puts Jacks life on a knives edge.

The weapons themselves handle solidly, while also quite realistically. They range in the form of pistols, a saw-off shotgun, and a Tommy gun. That said however, some of the weapons, much like the locations, don’t stay fully grounded in the real world. I won’t go too much into that due to spoilers, but as the story reaches more fantastical and Lovecraftian heights, as do the weapons. Visually the game is a feast for the eyes. Never before have I played a game that plays with light and shadow, the known and the unknown, to such a great effect. Certain areas of the game are pitch black, and when an enemy retreats into the shadows it makes for quite a nervous experience. Locations are quite varied, from the town of Innsmouth, it’s nearby Refinery, the sewers, and the caves. However, CoC:DCotE most atmospheric and terrifying moments comes from its incredibly thrilling set pieces. One set piece that stands out in my mind kicks off at the start of the chapter called “Attack of the Fishmen”. As Jack is sleeping in a hotel room, the people of Innsmouth decide to kill him. The player must escape the villagers while at the same time closing and bolting each door behind them. The player must do this fast however, because as soon as a door is bolted shut the villagers will start breaking it down. This chase scene, which has already gone down in gaming history as quite iconic, is an absolutely heart thumping experience. That scene, as with the confrontation with the Shoggoth, is a gaming memory that will burn itself into your brain.

Did you know?- Headfirst Productions planned a direct sequel called Call of Cthulhu: Destiny’s End. The game was cancelled when Headfirst Productions went into bankruptcy.

To top off the deliciously bleak atmosphere in CoC:DCotE, Headfirst Productions has gone to great lengths for the sound design. Music is sparse, yet effective, while the overall sound of the game further impacts its strong horror elements. For instance, in the sewers the player will hear random, whispering voices, as well as footsteps directly behind them. It’s these little moments, as well as some of the more abrupt, shocking sound cues, that elevates CoC:DCotE to true, undeniable horror.

Overall CoC:DCotE is a great game. Yes, the controls feel a bit sluggish, and the AI is almost woeful at times, but it has enough that works to makes it a truly unforgeable experience. If you’re looking for an adventure game that has true horror elements, check it out. It’s one of the very few games that pushed me as far as pausing it, taking off my headphones, and having a time out. It’s excellent.

Please note- I’ve held back on even minor spoilers here when it comes to the story, and what exactly the villagers of Innsmouth really are. Some things are better left unsaid as it may harm your game experience. Trust me. Go into this one blindly.