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Cthulhu’ a wild, harrowing experience for gamers

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, November 1, 2005

This is the best game you’ve never heard of.

“Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” is a game that defies description. Part survival horror, part first person shooter, it transcends most of the established boundaries of the current genres to create a new, gripping experience.

The game puts the player in the gumshoes of private detective Jack Walters during the 1920s. “Cthulhu” immediately throws Walters into the weird and unusual with him being called into a negotiation between the local police and a religious cult. The negotiations go sour almost immediately, thrusting Walters into the middle of a gunfight.

This is where the first immediate departure from the standard genres comes into play. Walters, despite being a private detective, doesn’t carry a weapon of any sort. Nor does he pick one up for the first two hours of gameplay. This forces the player to think of creative solutions to problems, and shows them that the best solution can be flight from a dangerous situation.

This creates several harrowing experiences early in the game, such as navigating through a mansion of deranged cultists or a riveting rooftop chase sequence over the town of Innsmouth. “Cthulhu” isn’t a game where the player’s sole purpose is to kill everyone in sight, and is better for it.

The lack of a weapon for a good portion of the game also creates a greater sense of satisfaction when the player is finally able to fight back against the antagonists. But the game doesn’t magically transform into “Halo” when guns fall into the player’s hand. Running haphazardly through the environments will lead to a quick and oft-repeated death.

Detective Walters, as a protagonist, isn’t the most durable. If the player takes too much damage to a leg, it will break. When this happens, Walter’s speed is obviously hampered with a noticeable limp. Each step is accompanied by a creepy crunch. If there are any deep cuts, they will need to be sewn shut or Walters might bleed to death. The game depicts damage very realistically for Walters, but the same applies to his antagonists.

But it’s not just Walter’s physical health that is at risk in “Cthulhu.” Much like “Eternal Darkness,” the protagonist’s sanity is at risk. During the course of the game, the creatures associated with the Lovecraftian mythos make appearances. Much like the mythos, they often have very damaging qualities to the protagonist’s psyche. If too much stress is endured, Walters will begin to wildly whisper, hallucinate or even turn the gun on himself if things become too horrific.

However, the scares in the game aren’t cheap ones that leave the player shaking their head. The suspense is expertly drawn out, with the game not tossing cheap scare after scare at the gamer. Although Lovecraftian creatures keep their presence just out of the player’s view for most of the game, their presence is strongly hinted at and becomes that much more shocking when they do attack. When poor Walters begins to lose his sanity, it seems a logical path for someone in his position.

To heighten the mood of the game, there is no onscreen display for health or ammunition. Guns have no aiming dot to tell the player where they are shooting. For reasonably precise aiming, Walters realistically lines up the sights of the gun. These facets make the game more personal and real to the gamer, creating a thrilling experience.

This game has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the year. Although the odds are against it, there is no other game on the market as immersive as “Call of Cthulhu.”