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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Bethesda/Take Two
Developer: Headfirst Productions

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Xbox/PC Preview - 'Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth'

by Rainier on Jan. 1, 2006 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Call of Cthulhu is a psychological survival/horror game based on H.P. Lovecraft's disturbing universe. Featuring a blend of action, mystery and adventure, Call of Cthulhu puts the player in the shoes of Private Eye Jack Walters, an investigator looking into the dark mysteries of the town of Innsmouth. With a first-person gameplay perspective, the game pulls the player into Lovecraft's nightmarish world of demons, demi-gods and ghouls.

Genre : Survival Horror
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Headfirst
Release Date: Q3 2005

I’ve been following this game for quite a while now. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a strange thing; it’s a first-person shooter set in a universe where shooting things does not traditionally accomplish a great deal.

Dark Corners of the Earth is based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most influential writers in the horror genre, and yet somehow one of the most obscure. Lovecraft’s stories deal with what’s since been labeled the Cthulhu Mythos. He wrote about men who were driven to destruction or madness by meddling with forces that they couldn’t begin to comprehend, in a universe populated by horrible dark gods and incomprehensible aliens. These weren’t the monsters and ghouls of 19th-century horror, which could be dispatched by a wooden stake or silver bullet; these were creatures that a human could not encounter without going insane.

Jack Walters, the protagonist of Dark Corners of the Earth, had his first run-in with the Cthulhu Mythos in 1915. He was a cop, and went to investigate a report of gunshots at a large suburban home. Six hours later, he was lying on the floor of the house’s library, violently insane and unable to remember what he’d seen.

Seven years later, after a long stay at an asylum, Jack has set himself up as a private investigator, and only takes cases that’re connected to the Cthulhu Mythos. His latest job, a missing-persons case in the infamous town of Innsmouth, will take him closer to the Mythos than he’d probably like.

From the word “go,” this isn’t the kind of FPS you may be used to. Dark Corners of the Earth is more immersive and less action-oriented than a lot of shooters, with no HUD, no crosshairs, and a heavy focus on puzzle-solving and investigation. You’ll need to unravel mysteries, outthink your enemies, and collect clues for Jack’s detective work. Particularly thorough gamers can hunt down hidden Mythos Points, the collection of which will unlock extra information and items.

There’s also a lack of typical FPS elements, such as health packs. If Jack gets shot in the arm, his aim will suffer; if he breaks his leg, your running speed will slow to a snail’s pace; if he starts bleeding heavily, you’ll need to bandage it before Jack bleeds to death. You can tend to these wounds with various kinds of medical equipment, but you can’t carry them around with you.

At the same time, Jack’s teetering on the edge of sanity. Every time Jack reads a forbidden book, sees some act of ruthless brutality, or runs into a creature that the human mind isn’t equipped to handle, he’ll get closer to insanity. The crazier Jack is, the harder it is to play the game; his hands may shake too much for you to get a decent bead on enemies, he may get double vision, or he may start hallucinating. If you find a safe place or destroy the monsters that’re causing Jack’s trauma, it’ll settle him down a bit, and bring him closer to what we will be laughingly referring to as “sane.”

Destroying those monsters is harder than it sounds. You’ll get a sizable and period-appropriate arsenal in Dark Corners of the Earth, such as a revolver, a semiautomatic pistol, a bolt-action Springfield rifle, and a Mauser. Headfirst is subtly hinting that you may be able to find evil weapons or deadly artifacts hidden throughout the game, and in some levels, Jack can enlist the aid of a squad of friendly Marines.

We didn’t see a lot of the monsters in Dark Corners of the Earth, but if they’re anything like the monsters Lovecraft wrote about, or those found in the Call of Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG, then all that firepower might not be enough.

Even when you’re up against simple human opponents, you’ll have to outthink your enemies as often as you outfight them. Dark Corners of the Earth features opponents who roam as they like throughout the length and breadth of a stage. They’re smarter than you’d think, heavily armed, and don’t feel any particular need to stick around a single room for no adequately explored reason.

We haven’t seen anywhere near the full game so far, but Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is shaping up to be an all-too-rare thing in video games. Most games are terror, focusing on scary things in the dark. This is outright, no-apologies horror, pitting you against unknowably vast evils that cannot be defeated with anything so mundane as a volley of explosives. If the full version is anything like the demo, this is going to be scary as hell.

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