Good Old ReviewsCall of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth - Four Out Of Fhtagn StarsGood Old Reviews - RSS 2.0
Mechanically, Dark Corners of the Earth tweaks the typical FPS formula to make its world even more dangerous. Weapon reloads are done manually, so if you forget and draw your pistol later, you'll hear a terrifying click. Instead of a health bar, wounds are applied to individual body parts, degrading your movement and aim without attention. One great touch is that health kits aren't automatic health refills: They carry actual supplies! You'll use bandages for lights wounds, splints for breaks, sutures for serious injuries, and antidote for poison.
Oh, and don't forget, it's incredibly easy to gain multiple wounds in combat, sometimes without realizing what happened until you start bleeding out. Always check for injuries after each gunfight and monster encounter.
Of course, mental health plays an essential role in most Lovecraft tales, and Dark Corners of the Earth is no exception. As the game progresses, a sanity meter quietly tracks your progress in the background. Reaching safe areas and killing enemies increases your sanity. Encountering monsters, discovering dead bodies, and looking at something frightening lowers it. Guess which happens more often? If your sanity gets too low, you'll see the usual Amnesia-style visual distortions, but also experience hallucinations. Perhaps a ghostly NPC will whisper in your ear, or a Mythos figure will comment on your progress. But the most unsettling moments are when you realize Jack is talking to himself, sharing details from his mental break that he shouldn't remember.
Dark Corners' sanity system was also a great way to represent Lovecraft's greatest theme: That knowledge could be dangerous. Most levels are designed so you don't have to study every detail to proceed... but aren't you a little bit curious to know what each room holds? Perhaps you'll uncover some fascinating Mythos lore or piece of Innsmouth history. Or you could look in the wrong place and spot a shambling horror, a ghostly NPC, or a murder scene where body parts are stuffed into filing cabinets. Sure, it'll damage your sanity, but what gamer could resist hunting down Easter Eggs across Innsmouth's decrepit streets? The only thing more insidious would be if Call of Cthulhu offered achievements for each horrific piece of knowledge gained.
Fit all these elements together and something special happens: Emergent gameplay. Dark Corners of the Earth is a fairly linear story, but its overlapping systems mean no two playthroughs will be exactly the same. You might get through most of a level, only to be shot down by an Innsmouth cultist. Then you'll reload, only to trigger your sanity meter and see hallucinations for the entire second attempt. A third try might have you run out of ammo and attempt to heal your injuries under enemy fire. A fourth might see an Innsmouth citizen shoot at you from point blank range and miss, leaving you double-checking for wounds and marveling at your luck.
That's not to say the game is without flaws, ranging from clumsy controls to lackluster vocal performances. But the good far outweighs the bad, and always kept me riveted to see what would happen next. While I absolutely enjoy weaponless survival horror games, if the genre ever decides to arm its protagonists again? I hope Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is the template they build from.
Happy Halloween, and Cthulhu fhtagn.