Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth Impressions

The horrifying world of seminal author Howard Philips Lovecraft will come alive in Bethesda's upcoming Xbox and PC game. Get the latest details here.

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Those familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft know that the early 20th-century American writer wrote some of the most influential horror stories in modern American fiction. His most famous works include short stories like The Rats in the Walls, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Shadows over Innsmouth. The last story concerns the experiences of a character who finds himself in Lovecraft's native New England, driven mad at the discovery that the residents of the quiet town of Innsmouth are under the influence of an ancient race of alien creatures from the depths of the sea. Headfirst Games' upcoming PC and Xbox game will draw inspiration from this and other classic tales of horror to create what the developer hopes will be a highly immersive first-person horror game.

Amnesiac private investigator Jack Walters must find out what happened to him after he discovered a terrible secret.
Amnesiac private investigator Jack Walters must find out what happened to him after he discovered a terrible secret.

Despite the fact that Call of Cthulhu is a horror-themed game that will come out on both the PC and the Xbox console, it won't be a plodding survival-horror game along the lines of Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Instead, the game will look and feel like a first-person shooter, complete with a fully first-person view, a selection of contemporary 1920s firearms, and the ability to walk and run as fast as most first-person shooters. However, Call of Cthulhu won't really be a shooter, something you'll probably realize when you see that the game has no health meter, no ammo gauge, no onscreen compass--practically no interface at all, other than your inventory (which is nothing more than a photo of your character that indicates what you're wearing and carrying and how injured certain body parts are) and your personal journal. Since you won't have a health meter, the damage done to your character will be indicated by a red border around the edge of your screen. The only real text in the game will be dialogue with other characters (the game's cinematic sequences are in-engine) and notes scrawled in your journal. Your notes and your conversations will help you determine which objectives you need to continue with; in the game, your character will quietly talk to himself when faced with a puzzle or objective to provide hints.

Unfortunately, not all of the talking will be quiet in Call of Cthulhu, and taking notes in the journal eventually causes your character, Jack Walters, to go insane. The game begins with an opening sequence that shows Walters as he is now: a patient in a run-down mental institution, where cheery swing music is piped out of a phonograph, and patients are screaming and wailing. The game actually takes place as a retrospective look at Walters' journal, covering the events that led him to his madness.

Apparently, Walters was a New England police constable whose recent troubles began some years ago when he was called to a mysterious house inhabited by people who appeared to be mentally unstable and who apparently knew his name. They were angrily firing guns on any other police who attempted to get into the house. Walters arrives at the scene for a quick debriefing from one of his fellow officers, and then you take control of him and cautiously enter the dingy but otherwise highly detailed Victorian house. Walters' investigation doesn't seem to reveal anything out of the ordinary until he stumbles upon a den in which his photos and name are plastered all over the walls, along with a chalkboard that contains a detailed list of his personal, daily schedule. Realizing that he's somehow been under surveillance by...someone, for some time, Walters experiences his first brush with insanity, which is indicated onscreen by bizarre visual effects. In this case, when Walters discovers the chalkboard, which is sitting next to the fireplace, the crackling fire blurs into a bright glow of light that grows and then briefly blocks out Walters' entire field of vision.

Continuing his investigation, Walters descends into the basement to find an extraordinary sight--a dark, dank room that appears to be a morgue (complete with corpses stored in morgue drawers). Past this room, Walters enters a cavern of alien architecture that leads to a stony chamber in which he finds a man stretched across a slab, surrounded by glass containers that contain the man's still-pulsing organs. In the center of the room is a structure that appears to be an altar--but as Walters examines it, the sequence ends with a cutscene that explains how, after finding the altar, Walters simply can't remember what happened next. The next time he comes to his senses, some years later, he is in an insane asylum, where he is eventually deemed fit enough to be discharged (though, as the beginning of the game reveals, he later returns to an asylum).

How did they know who Walters is? How did they get these photos of him?
How did they know who Walters is? How did they get these photos of him?

Walters goes into business as a private detective and is contracted for a rescue mission in the sleepy town of Innsmouth, where people have been acting very strangely, and his contact, a friend of a friend, has been beaten and imprisoned in the town jail without cause. Walters finds himself alone in very hostile territory, armed only with a crowbar he finds in a back alley. Unfortunately, all the citizens of Innsmouth are hostile. It seems that the "deep ones," an ancient race of scaled, fishlike beings from the depths, have been secretly breeding with humans to create "hybrids"--bald, potbellied people whose swollen flesh eventually gives way to fishy scales. Hybrids possess enough human characteristics to speak English and appear normal, though they become extremely paranoid and attack nonhybrids on sight. In this mission, Walters can attempt to sneak his way into the prison by avoiding wandering guards and rescuing his contact. He can sneak past the ailing sheriff by closing off a water valve. As the hybrid sheriff becomes closer and closer to his metamorphosis into a "deep one," he requires more and more water and will get up to investigate why the water supply has dried up. You can also attempt to fight your way through this mission by sneaking up behind an armed hybrid, clubbing him with your crowbar, and liberating his pistol or rifle. There's a small cache of ammo in the sheriff's office if you can fight your way there. Once you've escaped, you and your contact will jump onto the back of a truck and flee Innsmouth, only to be pursued by a mob of angry hybrids you must shoot down.

Walters' later travels will involve getting lost at sea and being rescued by a Navy cruiser intent on destroying a coral reef. This reef appears to be the home base of a mysterious cult devoted to the "deep ones," but the ship is attacked and Walters gets thrown off onto the reef himself and must escape or investigate the trap-laden island to find a way to stop the cult. While walking, very slowly and carefully, Walters must keep an eye on the ground and listen for the telltale "click" sound of a pressure plate on the ground that springs spike-and-pit traps. In all cases, the complete lack of any indicators, meters, or other interface items means that most players will feel compelled to play very cautiously, especially in the stealth levels. Call of Cthulhu is scheduled for release on the PC and Xbox later this year.

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