Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005)

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005), lead designer Chris Gray, developed by HeadFirst productions, published by 2K Games, Bethesda Softworks LLC.

There aren't many good games directly based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who crafted out visions of otherworldly terrors beyond the vast darkness and cold of the ancient cosmos. There are titles, which borrow things from his mythos, many RPG's do in fact, but the actual games based on his works are few and far between.  Most games tend to use the works of the ages past horror master merely as a flavouring, while some try to bring in his specific style of madness, insanity, despair and hysteria.

Dark Corners of the Earth is an adaptation of Lovecraft's story "Shadows of Innsmouth", but not exactly a direct one. The story itself takes place in a rundown fishing village of Innsmouth in early 1920's, but the main character is a former cop, current PI, Jack Walters, who has lost 6 years of his life after tackling heads on a mysterious cult, which left him committed to a mental asylum for a while after which he apparently was released and spent his time doing research and traveling. Now that he has come back to his senses, he has taken up a vocation of PI.

Walters gets a call, telling him of a missing person case in a village of Innsmouth. Reluctantly he agrees to take the case and so he arrives at a village where the welcome is not a word in a dictionary. From the get go he's met with scorn and hostility toward strangers from almost everyone. And no-one, not even the local police is willing to tell him a thing of the missing grocery store manager Burnham. Everyone who isn't hostile is just scared. Things don't only feel wrong in the derelict village, they look wrong too, starting from the inhabitants, whom almost all suffer from the "Innsmouth look", that has deformed their features and in some cases made their voices harsh and guttural.

It's getting late and Jack decides he has to stay for a night, on the grounds of that his only way out, an old beat up bus, is broken, at least according to the driver. Suspicious of this he books a room from an unpleasant hotelier and bolts himself the room, only to wake up when the people of Innsmouth are coming to him. From here starts the survival horror part of the game, as you need to run and hide the best you can, with bloodthirsty villagers on your heels.

Sadly enough, I couldn't play Dark Corners of the Earth very far, as it seems to one of those games that suffer severe stability issues under modern hardware and OS's. While the game starts and can be played for a while, there came a point where the game just started crashing every time I tried to pass it. And then there are some save points, which also crash the game and considering the save game system is fully based on those save points. the trial and error survival horror style it has becomes unbearable, as you need to start the game again from a point that can be pretty far from where the game crashed.  I've played it through twice previously, so the rest of this will be just based on my memory about the game itself, not if the rest of it has fared better or worse than I recall it.

The way I recall it is, that Dark Corners of the Earth is in all likelihood the best game based on the writings of Lovecraft. It's dark, moody and atmospheric, dripping of feelings of unease and dread. It very much feels like it's something Lovecraft himself could have approved of, with the themes of insanity and horror, where the protagonist doesn't only fight the cosmic horrors, but his own fleeting mind as well.

The game does have issues though like the beforehand mentioned saving spot system, which is an atrocious way to implement one. Then there's the trial and error nature of the escape scenes, like the hotel run down, where you most likely fail a couple of times before you figure out the exact path the game developers want you to take. There's very little actual freedom in any of this. as you can proceed only in one way. This actually lessens the tension quite a bit and turns the gameplay into metagaming at times, where you start to analyze the game in order to see what it really wants from you and after you've figured it out, you execute just that.

At the end of the game, there's also an another escape scene, in which you need to get out from an underwater lair, that is collapsing all around you. This scene is, however, done so that your time is extremely limited and you need to take as direct route out you can before the whole place collapses. I played that particular scene multiple times before I finally figured out what the route was.

As DCotE is a survival game, you can get injured. The health system is pretty interesting, as you don't have health points, but you see the damage gained on your body when you check inventory. You see broken limbs, gushing wounds and bruised, which you need to tend lest you bleed out or die because you can't move fast enough if your leg is broken. Another aspect in this is, that you don't get weapons immediately. It takes a while before you can start fighting back, but even then your ammunition is limited, so it's not turning the game into a fast paced shooter.

There's also a mental health indicator, which manifests itself during the game by having Jack's vision get blurry and his breath fast and heart thumping. He can also start uttering gibberish during his mental anguish. These mental lapses are triggered by the horrors he sees, like the dead bodies or the monsters and chases. It's a well-made system that provides a lot to the overall atmosphere.

Dark Corners of the Earth is one of those games I'd love to see remastered. Not only would this make the game run nicely on modern platforms, it would also allow a change to tweak the game system so, that it could become the masterpiece it almost is now. It is a nice game if you can get it to work properly, but it still is rough around the edges. With a bit of spit and polish, DCotE could be amazing.

the only place where you can buy Dark Corners of the Earth is Steam. Be warned though, it might have issues on your system.