Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth Updated Impressions

At E3 2004, we got to see the latest build of this first-person survival horror game, and we're here with our latest impressions.

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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has been in development for years at UK-based Headfirst Productions, but it's finally shaping up for release this fall for the Xbox and PC. At the 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo, we had the opportunity to take a guided tour through several sequences from the game-in-progress, set in places ranging from an evil-infested mansion to an ocean vessel caught in a terrible storm. The game is looking as atmospheric as ever, and it seems to be very faithful to the HP Lovecraft mythos that inspired it. However, it still looks like it needs some general polishing up before it ships this fall. Fortunately, the developers expressed confidence that they would be able to do what needs to be done to the game well in time for the currently scheduled release date.

Dark Corners of the Earth features an original protagonist, an ex-cop named Jack Walters, but it heavily draws inspiration from the Lovecraft novels, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Shadow Out of Time. Suffice it to say that this is not going to be a heart-warming tale for the whole family to enjoy. Dark Corners of the Earth will place Walters in one horrific environment after another, and if the Lovecraftian horrors are not enough to kill Walters, then his own dwindling sanity at the sight of all this evil may be enough to do him in. We got the distinct impression that players will certainly have a challenging time making their way through this game, having to worry about monsters lurking in the darkness, having nothing but authentic 1920s-era weapons to work with, and having to keep from going completely mad.

At a glance, the game resembles a first-person shooter. But that's merely because of the first-person perspective and the ability to wield certain firearms for self-defense. However, Dark Corners of the Earth will play out more like an adventure game, and it will require players to think on their feet and sometimes sneak their way through certain situations rather than rely on brute force; after all, the brute force is mostly on the bad guys' side. Don't take this to mean that Dark Corners will be devoid of action, though. Among the sequences we got to see at E3 were no fewer than two different battles against boss monsters--one against Dagon, a towering aquatic fiend, and the other against Shuggoth, a disgusting mass of ooze, eyes, and tentacles. Don't expect to defeat such creatures by unloading your six-shooters into them--it's rather intuitive, actually, that merely firing at these types of things would yield no effect.

The designers expressed that one of the ways in which Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth will differ significantly from first-person shooters is in how it will often force you to run for your life rather than stand and fight. By outmaneuvering your foes, you'll hopefully be able to outsmart them, lead them into traps, and so on. The game's action portions still look like they need some work, in terms of collision detection and getting the feel of the shooting to be just right; the E3 build we saw didn't really give that visceral feedback we like seeing from first-person shooting sequences. But the game seems to be well on its way in this regard. For instance, we saw as Walters snuck up behind a cultist and drove a knife straight into his back, fatally wounding the evil being. We also saw Walters take on some Deep Ones at close range, desperately trying to fend off their razorlike claws with his weapons. For a game that's not billing itself as a first-person shooter, Dark Corners of the Earth does look like it'll pack in plenty of action.

Walters won't be able to easily recover from his injuries, which may leave him hobbling, unable to aim, and hallucinating. We got to see some of the game's sanity effects as Walters starts to see the world through the eyes of his enemies, or starts to feel disoriented and dislocated. We were told that, if Walters gets too in over his head and loses all of his sanity, he may even involuntarily turn his weapons on himself. The sanity effects in the game are not governed by any onscreen meter, so it'll be up to players to try to see through Jack's mental issues.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth will be a single-player-only game in which you'll only be able to save your progress at certain key points throughout each stage, which should help add to the suffocating sense of tension that the designers of the game are attempting to deliver. They're also working on adding full lip-synching to the game's characters, and they are busy polishing up and balancing the gameplay, which will feature hidden secrets to encourage replay value. Those familiar with HP Lovecraft know that this classic horror author's works are all about psychological, unspeakable terror, which is a difficult subject to broach in a visual medium like gaming. But Headfirst Productions seems to have taken the time and effort thus far to make Dark Corners of the Earth a faithful adaptation of the source material. We're looking forward to seeing how it continues shaping up. Stay tuned for additional details.

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