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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Xbox) artwork

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Xbox) review


"Lovecraft always waxed poetic about dangers “not to be met or dealt with, but only to be fled from as precipitately as possible.” None of his scholarly protagonists ever kicked Dagon's ass, or put buckshot into any of the Deep Ones. But that is what this game expects of us."



The bus driver is abhorrent. His face is grey, his eyes bulbous, his voice a guttural croaking. But what he tells you is unmistakable--you’re stuck in this rotten, decaying town of Innsmouth for the night. This hadn't been part of the plan; you were just supposed to pass through. Resignedly, you check into your room at the Gilman House and bolt the door. You don’t quite fall asleep, because only moments after lying down on the hard mattress, you hear a creaking on the stairs. You dismiss it, attributing the fear that creeps at the base of your spine to nerves and fatigue. But when you hear the ineluctable sound of a key being tried in the lock to your door…

This fantastic scenario (nevermind my cackhanded attempt at paraphrasing it) comes from the darkly genius mind of H.P. Lovecraft. And it comes from one of his most celebrated masterpieces, The Shadow over Innsmouth. It is represented here, in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, almost scene by scene. It’s my personal favourite story in the Lovecraft cannon, and so I lusted after this game for quite some time before finally getting my hands on it.

And then two things happened. I was caught up in wonder, at the sheer novelty of playing out the story which had gone imagined behind my closed eyes for so long, now in front of my eyes onscreen. I walked in the shoes of Detective Jack Walters and I lived the horror. The other thing was this: I came to realize that despite all of my Lovecraft love, Dark Corners of the Earth is simply a substandard Xbox FPS that looks bad much of the time, punishes the player, and drags on far too long for its own good. That it is championed by an awesome licence cannot save it.

Sigh. Well, the thought was there. I do appreciate DCotE as a tribute to the “Cthulhu Mythos” (as Lovecraft's major works were crudely dubbed), and certainly the FPS genre was a fitting choice of videogame genre with which to make the stories come alive. In this way, we are permitted to come face-to-face with so-called mind-blasting horrors from realms unknown.

Here is where it gets tricky. Lovecraft always waxed poetic about dangers “not to be met or dealt with, but only to be fled from as precipitately as possible.” None of his scholarly protagonists ever kicked Dagon's ass, or put buckshot into any of the Deep Ones. But that is what this game expects of us.

The transition from faithful, story-driven mystery to clunky shoot-em-up is a long time in coming, which makes it all the more jarring when it does take place. Because we go chapters and hours without a weapon of any kind, with our only recourse from danger being to hide, or flee--and this is certainly in keeping with what ol' Howard Phillips would have had in mind.

Indeed, for the first little while, in spite of unspectacular graphic production values, we are guided through compelling scripted scenarios, and then it’s on to nerve-wracking stealth sequences and eavesdropping on riveting and blasphemous backstory. Zadok Allen (right from the short story) drunkenly puts all the pieces together for us once we've plied him with the proper form of liquid courage: Innsmouth's inhabitants aren't quite right, you see. Something about the rise of the Deep Ones, human allies of dubious breeding and a god named Cthulhu...

Suddenly, at the height of the slow build which has instilled in us a healthy aversion and awe of the all the filthy things that run amok, the game gives us guns and expects us to start cappin' monsters. It just doesn’t feel right. And the incursion of arcade elements isn't gradual once it's introduced: we're not talking about potshotting a monster here and there before ducking back into cover. We're talking about awkward and difficult firefights against gaggles of tainted monstrosities, often bearing arms of their own.

And so the frustration and tedium begins halfway through the game. It's hard to enjoy DCotE after that.

Fans of the master of the weird will want to add DCotE to their collection, simply because it realizes the Innsmouth world just as we imagined it would be. There are some great touches to be sure: the sanity meter, whereby being in extended contact to, or in close vicinity with some of the true terrors of the game (like the shape-shifting abominations, the Shoggoths), drives you mad. The ending too, is fitting and probably only predictable to fans of Lovecraft’s work and even then, it’s adequately satisfying.

But non-fans won't care. Casual gamers and FPS hardcores will see Dark Corners of the Earth as an unattractive and backward shooter, and even fanatics will perceive the great successes in atmosphere as all for nought when juxtaposed with the game's obstinate personality. A typical in-game example works as a microcosm of the experience: During the recreation of the hero’s flight from Gilman House, I was genuinely stoked to leap from my decrepit bed and into action! I ran to the door and unlocked it to gain access to the next room. And then locked it again, by accident. Then my assailants were upon me and the game was over. That is the way of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth--only fans will love it, and they may end up hating it more.

Rating: 6/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (July 26, 2011)

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honestgamer posted July 26, 2011:

We both loved that same scene, and I think we both had the same precise problem with the door. I laugh at it now: a guy is in a room, people are breaking in and intent on killing him, so he heads to the side room and carefully unlocks the door... then re-locks it! The things I was shouting at my TV at that point aren't fit for repeating. Yet I chuckle at it now. I did love the game's atmosphere, though. Those early moments were truly chilling. The later stuff felt much more gamey.
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Masters posted July 27, 2011:

Ha, yeah. I was doing some serious cursing there.

And yup, the gamey parts later on seemed far less polished.
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S-Cynic posted July 27, 2011:

Yet another game I don't have to worry about buying, I suppose.

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