There are some great moments in this game, if you can endure the games numerous shortcomings and bugs.
You play as Jack Walters a P.I. with a knack for solving mysteries, with little or no leads to go on. The main story picks up 6 years after the opening prologue, Jack suffers from amnesia and has no memories from the years past. He only knows he spent most of the time at mental institute. The first mission he takes after his release is a missing person case, a man from the coastal town Innsmouth. Soon after he arrives he senses something isn't right with the people living there, most of the has a strange look about them and none of them seems to be very welcoming to strangers or outsiders as they call them. Soon things keeps getting more and more bizarre and Jack begins to think there's a link between the situation in Innsmouth and his last case and 6 missing years.
The story really drives you on, it's mysterious essence almost demands a desire to resolve it's secrets and keeps you going through the game. Had it not been for the story, I would've quit 1/3 into the game.
In it's core it's a survival horror game in a first person perspective, but messes up the formula with focusing too much on stealth, which is broken and gunplay, which is crudely executed. The first few hours of this game is great, a bit slow at times, but still original and highly enjoyable. The game has such a great atmosphere and Innsmouth is such a creepy and mysterious town, you'll really enjoy exploring it and interacting with the different townsfolk. The weird thing is that during the most enjoyable part of the game, you have no weapons! It's first when you actually do get a gun that the game starts its downward spiral into the crapper. Bland weapons, terrible A.I. and re-spawning enemies, are just a few of the things in stored for the unsuspecting player, when this game suddenly decides to become an FPS. Awkward and sometimes flat out broken stealth elements are implemented to try and direct the game from becoming a fully fledged shooter. Unfortunately, it stinks! You can never be quite sure if the enemy can see you or not, or if he's waiting around the corner to blow your head off. You mostly have to rely on visual observations and luck, resulting in trial and error gameplay at it's worst. Whatever you do, don't try and sneak up on a walking enemy, because you sneak too slow! You have to run and then of course they'll hear you and your cover is blown. (I suspect this is only a bug on the PC and not on X-box)
"Call of Cthulhu: The Dark Corners of Trial and Error", that should have been the name of the game. How it ruins some of the games greatest moments, take the chase sequence at the hotel for instance. Here you have one of the games golden moments, it's tense, exciting and gets you blood pumping, until you die and die again for the 7th time. Every time you try, you get one step further then the last time, resulting in thrill traded for exasperating repetition. In it's uninterrupted whole, the chase sequence is brilliant. Same problem of trial and error messes up a lot of the areas, even the puzzles suffers from it. Like one time you play through this long part, only to get in a room where you have a couple of minutes to solve a puzzle, before you shoot yourself in the head and have to play the entire level again. You reach the room once again and have still no clue what to do, but curse at the screen for a couple of minutes and shoot yourself in the head. (Yes, he actually commits suicide)
You know how annoying it is when a game leads your hand through puzzles, well it's much worse when it abandons you completely. It has this kind of maddening puzzles, that if you miss just one tiny detail, your left wandering in circle, desperately checking the same bookcases and objects over and over again. Hoping that, this time he's say something other then "hmmm it's just an old bookcase, nothing of interest", maybe just maybe, the 74th time pressing it he'll say "Yes! After obsessively pressing this bookcase, you finally discovered the hidden key leading to the next level". After trying all the logical solutions, you turn to the illogical. When you're positive you've exhausted every possible options, then it's time to get really creative. You've finally reach the last stage of the infamous M.I.S. (Monkey Island syndrome), it's were you start trying out every possible item combination and start trying every item in your inventory, with absolutely everything you find, no matter how unlikely or insane it seems. Like; try rubber chicken with book of Dagon, "nothing happens". Try using 'rusty key' with seemingly unimportant, obscure plant, "no effect". Use 'old shoe' on locked door, "hmmm it doesn't seem to work." Though you know that it's not gonna work, you're just desperate at trying something else, something as long as it isn't pressing that freakin' bookcase for the 75th time. When your mind is finally collapsing, I advise you to visit a shrink, I recommend Dr.Gamefaq Dot Com, he's an expert on M.I.S.
Another gripe I have with this game, is it so called 'insanity effects'. It's great when you start seeing things and having compulsive thoughts, but the visual effects to demonstrate this, is a bit confusing. To me it seems like you get drunk, not insane. The screen gets blurry and you start stumbling, it's the classic 'you're drunk game effect', but no, in this game it means you're going insane. Your character also starts mumbling paranoid stuff in a terrified tone, which is cool, until you check an object. You go from saying stuff like " tHeY'rE....uah ...coMinG for ME!" "oooOoOoH my goDDD" in a shivering tone, then you press like a box on the ground, you go instantly from guy on the verge of a mental breakdown to a slick confident detective, commenting in a calm and balanced manner "Hmmm it's just a box, nothing important". It just kills the immersion and ruins what could have been a great aspect of the game. This was so poorly executed, that to begin with, I actually thought you were hearing someone else whispering or mumbling from another room or in closet somewhere.
The defining moment of this game, is when you realize that you can not complete it, it's physically impossible. You're in a cave and it's collapsing, run you say? What if I told you that the game is so broken that your characters running speed isn't sufficient to make it out alive, can you believe it?! I actually had to download an UNofficial patch to increase the running speed, so I could finish the game. I read online this is only a bug on the PC version
My last beef with the game, is the graphics. It gets the job done, but it's both muddy and outdated (even for its time). Some of the bosses and environments look really good. I experienced some huge graphical bugs, there were areas where everything disappeared, except objects and some other details. I was completely lost and had to stumble through this part, hoping not to fall off some non-visible cliff or something. It didn't help reloading or leaving the area, the bug persisted and pulled on my last string of patience with this game. Other parts where this happened, seemed more at random, as they wouldn't be consistent, but turn back to normal by leaving and re-entering the area. The part which suffered the most by the mediocre graphics, were the enemies. They looked terrible and personally, not even remotely scary. I'm fully aware that what's scary is subjective, but I'm usually not that hard to spook and when I'm calm as a rock when playing this game, (in the dark and with headphones) something is terribly wrong.
The sound of the game is probably one of the better aspects of the game. Some bad voice acting, but not more then expected from a horror game.
Conclusion: The game had a lot of potential, but due its obvious flaws, it's not easy to recommend.
If you're into Lovecraft and is both patient and used to solving tedious puzzles, this game is for you. I know at lot of people love this game and forgive most of its shortcomings. So it might be worth checking out, as it can be quite enjoyable at times.
If you decide to check it it out, I advice you to find some patches first, as I suspect it will increase the enjoyment of the game.
"Doubt of the real facts, as I must reveal them, is inevitable; yet if I suppressed what will seem extravagant and incredible there would be nothing left."
"The Shadow Over Innsmouth"