Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth Xbox
Published by 2K Games
Developed by Headfirst Productions
Release Date: Out Now
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, an introduction.
Right at the start of this review I have to admit I'm not familiar with the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft. As most of my reading tends to be done just before I go to bed, I tend to read more light hearted material and Lovecraft doesn't fall into this category. Still my ignorance of Lovecraft didn't matter a jot because although the game is based on his writings, the game stands on its own and relies on no previous knowledge of the books.
What's the game about?
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth puts you in the shoes of Jack Walters, a Private Investigator. Your participation in the game begins with Walters being called to the home of a local cult group after gun shots have been reported. On arriving you'll find the police involved in a shootout with the strange inhabitants of house. Jack goes inside and searches the house. He finds all kinds of strange things including bodies that have been experimented on but worst of all he finds many pictures of himself and detailed notes on his daily routine. One of the cult members who he finds even makes a comment that showed satisfaction that Walters had finally arrived. After Walters discovers some shocking things in the basement, he passes out. The game then moves forward 6 years and we're told that he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and put in an asylum. Here he's not long been released but still suffering from that night in the cultists' house. Walters gets a phone call asking him to investigate the disappearance of a store manager in the fishing town of Innsmouth. Reluctantly he accepts but on arriving there, it's clear something is very wrong. It's not the fact that virtually nobody wants to help that's the problem but rather the appearance of the citizens that's unsettling. The rather undead appearance they have is disturbing as is the town's dark secret which I won't divulge here for danger of spoiling the story for you.
What's good about the game?
Dark Corners of the Earth has to be one of the most immersive games we've ever played. Part of the reason for this is that you have no HUD. There are no gauges to let you know the state of Walter's health (although pressing the black button will allow you to see how healthy he is) which is quite different from most games out there. In terms of being immersive, this is one of the most impressive and frightening games I've ever played. The game uses a first person view which in itself makes the game a more involving experience. For about the first third of the game, you'll have no weapon and even though you'll be in several dangerous situations you'll have no means of defence which is quite terrifying to say the least. Should you be attacked you'll see drops of blood on the screen, which can be quite distressing. The game mimics emotions such as fear and panic (as well as the loss of sanity) to quite a disturbing degree. Force feedback, shaky camera, blurred vision and slow motion like movement are all used to make the game as chilling as possible and they work superbly well.
The story has a sufficiently dark edge to keep you constantly on the edge. There are many scripted events in the game and most are superb. Early in the game (at the end of your first night in Innsmouth) you stay overnight in a hotel. A group of fishermen take a disliking to you and decide, whilst you're asleep to break down your hotel room door with axes and finish you off. What follows is a superb scene in which you have to escape them by running from room to room bolting doors and fleeing for your life. It has to be one of the most dramatic scenes in any game to date and it will fill you with fear until you eventually manage to get to the next save point after this. Then of course your fear will turn to immense satisfaction. The game's not all about escaping zombie like citizens though and there's a fair amount of adventure style gaming here with puzzles to solve and clues to collect. This variation gives the game a nice blend of action and puzzles. The game offers 4 difficulty settings of which only two, Boy Scout and Private Investigator, are initially available. Saves can only be made at save points, although temporary checkpoints are made before specific events, such as the aforementioned hotel escape, so if you're killed you can immediately try again without having to backtrack too far.
What's not so good about the game?
Fans of the survival horror genre will love Call of Cthulhu but some aspects of the game, whilst not strictly negatives, will irritate some fans of the genre. Perhaps the biggest bone of contention will be that Walters will not have access to a weapon for the first third of the game. You'll come across various ammo clips, which you can collect, but without any weapons you'll be really up against it when faced with danger. The lack of a HUD might upset some people who prefer the more traditional methods of displaying your character's status. There aren't any captions or visual clues for situations when the enemies are approaching or when music signifies that they are approaching.
How does it look?
Graphically Call of Cthulhu looks good although it's certainly not the most impressive game we've seen on the Xbox to date. That said however, it doesn't need to be and the environments and characters you'll come across all look good enough to set the mood perfectly. There are some very impressive blur effects here and they genuinely make you feel as though you're unbalanced and slightly panic stricken at times. The games cutscenes exhibit film grain which again seems appropriate. The character animations are not always as sophisticated as they should be but there's no real problems on this score.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Call of Cthulhu is mostly fine for deaf gamers. Subtitles can be enabled before you start the game and as a result of this you'll be able to follow the dialogue and fully enjoy the well thought out storyline. The subtitles are not colour-coded but they have the character's name directly above them so you'll always know who is saying what. Tutorial messages are exclusively in text. There aren't any captions but an excellent use has been made of force feedback and it really adds to the tension. The only thing I would complain about is that there are certain situations when you have a restricted amount of time to perform an action and although you can hear enemies that are approaching, there are no visual clues to highlight this. An example of this is the first day when you arrive in Innsmouth. You have to investigate the store where Brian Burnham, the character whom you've been sent to find, worked. On entering the store you'll push a bookcase in front of the door that you entered by, in order to prevent someone else coming after you. However after you go into the manager's office and take the items from there the rather creepy looking police officer will attempt to open the door you've blocked with the bookcase. Hearing gamers will hear these bangs (and eventually the bookcase moving) and know that they have to act fast. Deaf gamers will be unaware of this and will get caught. Thankfully there's no real harm done as you'll simply be taken out of the store (and you can just try the whole thing again) but it would have been nice if there had been some kind of visual notification of the danger.
When I first read about Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth I was kind of expecting it to be the Xbox's answer to the GameCube's Eternal Darkness. Whilst the two games definitely have things in common they are mostly different, although both are very good games. Call of Cthulhu is sufficiently different from the Silent Hill and Resident Evil games too and I would argue it's more frightening than both of these well established series. If you're a fan of survival horror games Call of Cthulhu is quite simply a must. The lack of a weapon for the first third of the game might be a bit off putting to some gamers but it only serves to make the game a more chilling experience.
Overall Game Rating: 8.7/10
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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is deep, dark and chilling. Easily the most blood chilling experience you can have on an Xbox.