Leery of a game with a title you can’t pronounce? Don’t be.
This game has been in the works for at least 5 years now (I first learned about it late 2001) mainly due to company upheavals and producers changing hands. But the time has been well spent by the developers, Headfirst Productions. They were able to take the “Mythos” of H.P. Lovecraft and create a world both familiar to true Cthulhu fans and new for everyone else. Based on the story The Shadow over Innsmouth and some other short tales of Lovecrafts, the developers were able to make a playground like no other.
You play as Jack Walters, a hard boiled private detective from Arkham, Massachusetts in the early 1900’s. You were able to solve crimes that had no evidence at all, but for some reason you just “knew” facts about the cases. Then one day something happens to you out at the home of a strange cult. You see and hear things that mankind isn’t ready for and wake up 6 years later with total amnesia of the past few years. You try to get your life as a P.I. back on track but strange visions keep coming to you. Then you get a case that will change the rest of your life forever. A man who works in a small town grocery is missing and the locals are saying he robbed the place himself and ran off. But things you will find are much deeper than all that.
The game might look like a FPS (first person shooter) off the back of the box or screenshots, but if you are expecting to be blasting the baddies nonstop you are sorely mistaken. This is more of a FPA/AH game or first person action/adventure horror game. While you will eventually get to shoot things it is not the main focus of the game.
First thing you will notice is that this game should be played in the dark, and for good reason. Not only does it help set the mood of the entire game, but the brightness settings are meant for no back light. Then you will see that you have no HUD. No health meter, no ammo amount, nothing. What this does is draw you into your environment and make you feel part of the game. It will make you actually look at your surroundings as if you are really there. If you need to check your health or ammo, this can be done in the inventory screen.
Different parts of your body get injured and you can choose which injuries are life-threatening and which can wait to be healed later on. Blood will be shown on screen to make you realize that you are hurt. You will also start limping badly if your legs are injured. Also you will find that hurting your enemies can also be done like this. Feel like just slowing them down? Shoot them in the legs.
But shooting things, you will find, is a small and almost futile part of the overall game. Most of the time, you will be running, hiding and praying that the enemy doesn’t find you. The feeling of panic is truly ingrained into every part of the game. Luckily you can sneak around, and you will do a bunch of it. You also need to find clues as to what is going on in town and sometimes solve puzzles or unlock secrets that the townsfolk don’t want the outside world to know about. The puzzles actually feel like they are part of the game and not something everyone will “need” a hint book to get through.
The more you explore and the more secrets you uncover, you will notice your sanity slipping away. The developers added a great feature to let you notice every time you slip further and further into insanity and when your fear is heightened. Your heart will beat faster and your breathing rate will increase. Not only will you see this in the inventory screen but you will hear it and feel it through the controller. The more you fear or go insane your vision will blur (especially when looking over the edge of a roof, guess Jack is afraid of heights), sounds will become distorted, you will start to hear voices that aren’t there, and you will start to doubt what you see is even real.
Graphically the game does seem a bit dated, but it almost fits perfectly and you stop noticing small things like repeated character models and flat textures. There are small effects that I noticed that are nice touches. Like rain hitting the screen and seeing the drops roll down, or moths flying around the street lights with their shadows hitting the ground. There is also a grainy feel to it like watching an old, old movie with the little white lines racing up the screen periodically. There is no 480p for the HDTV fans out there but the refresh rates are so amazing that you won’t notice this small feature is even missing at all.
If what you see in the game doesn’t scare you enough the sound effects and music will deepen that fear quite a bit. The music just seems perfect for the era you are in and really draws you in. The voiceovers are well done and lip synced nicely. The cast is even pretty well known if you take notice of things like that. Most of the script is dead on with what you would hear people saying in the early 1900s and that is a huge plus. You will be a happy camper if you have deluxe surround sound because you start looking around you when you hear the creepy stuff happening.
The replay ability of this game is pretty good. There are four difficulty settings but only two from the start. You need to unlock the other two by playing through and meeting certain goals. You find snippets of information in the world and that counts towards your total percent of completion. The save system is two fold. There is an auto save at certain points of the game, and there are symbols you will find around town that you can use to save the game. But these symbols count against your final score if you use them too much. Other things that are counted are shots fired, shots hit, enemy kills, headshots and time played.
Some negative features could be that there is no 480p for those that truly feel this should be standard. Also I didn’t like picking up books or items and not being able to get a closer look at the actual item. Books are just transcribed into your journal and it loses a bit of immersiveness there. It is meant to be a single player game so multi-play fans will be upset, I just don’t see how they could make it multi-playable though. The last negative is how Bethesda promoted this game, which is very little. There could have been more done but I think they were just afraid how it would turn out after so many hurdles just getting it to the actual shelves.
For $39.99 you get hours upon hours of gaming that will really draw you in. Don’t let the low amount of information to the public make you think that this isn’t a AAA title, it is and more so. For the timid and easily frightened, wear some diapers. Oh and good luck getting to sleep without all the lights in the house turned on. Did I just hear something scraping under the bed?....... Check out www.callofcthulhu.com for more information.