Games I Own: Call of Cthulhu

Written by Joe Martin

February 5, 2009 | 13:30

Tags: #bethsoft #call-of-cthulhu #games-i-own #survival-horror

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of The Earth is one of my favourite games and I love it to bits. It’s tense, dark, truly and deeply frightening and possessed of the same permeating sense of atmosphere and macabre fiction as the HP Lovecraft novels it is based on. Created by Bethsoft, it really is great and there’s one chase sequence in particular that I’m sure was a major inspiration for Mirror’s Edge.

But, Call of Cthulhu is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. It’s frustrating and unrelenting, too difficult even at the best of times, with an inspirational chase-sequence that’s harder than Superman’s right hook and a story that both jumps the shark and leaves you hanging unresolvedly around.

The basic premise for the game is typical Lovecraftian horror, with players cast as a 1930s private eye who travels to Innsmouth to investigate a missing person. What at first seems to be a small American town drenched in depression and perpetual thunder, soon becomes something a lot more fearsome, with murders and dark sacrifices slowly coming to light.
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Games I Own: Call of Cthulhu

Pulling all this scariness into something more palpable and threatening is a clever sanity system that cripples players when they see horrible sights. Look at a dead body too long and you’ll start to hear ghostly whispers, peer down from a great height and the screen will swim with vertigo. That, coupled with the Far Cry 2esque health system that requires certain treatments for certain injuries, leaves you feeling constantly beset by the game itself – especially since you can only save in certain places.

I have a strange love/hate relationship with how the health system affects the difficulty curve of the game. On the one hand, I love that you can only heal broken limbs with splints and stem bleeding with bandages. I love how easily you can get hurt and how weak your character's mind is, owing to a previous psychotic episode. Feeling so vulnerable really makes the game feel special.

At the same time though, the sheer bleakness, difficulty and density of the game makes it pretty hard to get into. The first few levels are nothing but slow explorations of the town, with no tutorial to ease you into things. When you finally do see some action it’s not direct combat either, but a multi-level chase sequence. More run than gun.

Games I Own: Call of Cthulhu

That single scene is one of the main reasons I love the game too. It starts at the end of the first day in Innsmouth, after you’ve retired to your hotel room. The locals aren’t too happy with you and the husky-mouthed, fishy brutes (who have fantastic voice acting) have formed a mob to storm your room. Thankfully, your psychic vision warns you and you have a few seconds to make a getaway.

Literally though, only a few seconds stand between you and your death and because the whole town is involved you can’t simply run for it.

What follows is a complex and incredibly fast-paced action piece as you struggle to safety. You bolt the door quickly, but the mob starts to break through into the adjoining room. You run through, blocking the door with some drawers. As you unfasten the window the wood splinters and you stumble onto the balcony – where can you hide? The rain is thundering down and the residents of Innsmouth just will not let you go.

When I first played that bit, I don’t mind admitting that I swore until I was blue in the face and soaked my seat in sweat. It was too hard, it wasn’t fair – but looking back on it I can definitely say I enjoyed it too. The £5.99 I payed for a few years ago was well spent just for that bit, even if the story goes off-kilter and the design starts to crumble in the later levels of the game.

Random Fact: The game originally had two sequels planned, but the developer went bust before development could start in earnest.

Times I've Completed It: Twice - once with the 'True' ending

Joe, Out.
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