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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Sometimes, waiting for a very long time adds up to unrealistic expectations. Every once in a while, we get lucky, and the expectations are not only met, but exceeded.

Such is the case with Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth from Bethesda Softworks. This game has been in development for years. If I remember rightly, dev started in 2001. Being a fan of All things Lovecraftian, I began following the game. In fact, I planned to buy a Windows PC specifically to play this game. (That happened a couple years ago, but seriously, that was my plan at the time.) Anyhow, over the last year, the game got pushed back a couple more times, then was released for console platforms prior to PC, and now, FINALLY, is out for the PC.

So, as it happens, I ended up with a couple weeks delay after the PC release simply as a matter of being able to get my ass to the mall. BUT! on Friday, I finally made it down and got my copy.

And I pissed away my weekend playing.

Ia! Cthulhu! has it been worth it. I've about three-fourths through the game, and I have been very impressed with it on two fronts: game play and storyline.

While not having anything to boast about in terms of fancy weapons, or mystical ninja powers, game play is very solid and has some elements that were surprising. I can't think of any other FPS that sends you out unarmed, and keeps you that way for about a third of the game. But in the world of CoC, it makes sense- the focus is on creating tension, and the best way to do this is to involve the player in the story by taking an RPG approach. Lovecraft's stories tend to focus on characters who are all-too-human being put in bizarre circumstances, and the fact that you'll spend a lot more time running away from your enemies than killing them is a big reinforcement of that.

Not to say that it's nothing but a chase scene- also contributing to the effect is that you spend a lot of time doing all the snoopy sorts of things that a good investigator should do. Your ability to sneak around and listen to conversations will determine a lot of how much of the side stories you'll hear. Strolling around like you own the place will interrupt the characters who are speaking, and what you don't overhear can make your life much more difficult - or even get you killed.

When the fighting does start, you'll still be spending a lot of time sneaking around and running away. You won't be clearing levels so much as surviving them, and then only with a mixture of cunning and accuracy- missed shots will get your all-too-human ass killed faster than than you can say "Deep Ones ate my Baby."

The only stand-out original dynamic in the game-play is the importance of maintaining Jack Walters' sanity throughout the game. If Jack's sanity slips, controls become erratic, and the hallucinations begin. and there are some doozies, ranging from paranoid muttering to outright gibbering, loss of control and suicide. You read that right- Jack's worst enemy can be himself.

Loosely based on the novella Shadow over Innsmouth and the story Dagon, Dark Corners of the Earth tells the story from the perspective of Jack Walters, a former Boston police detective gone mad after investigating a cult. The story begins in earnest six years later after Walters has been released from Arkham Asylum and set up shop as a private investigator, and is contacted to work on a missing persons case. In true Lovecraft style, things get darker from here on out.

The storytelling in game is very carefully crafted, and holds up to the Lovecraftian world that fans imagine,* the scenery is gorgeous, and very true to the rotting vision of 1920s rural New England that Lovecraft embraced.

So, if you're a fan of Lovecraft, getting the game is a no-brainer. If you're not a fan of horror games such as Silent Hill, it's still a no-brainer. but if your looking for a massive shoot'em up, this probably isn't the game for you.

For myself, It's been worth the years of waiting.

* opposed to the one that Lovecraft himself wrote. Read the stories, and you'll probably come away with the impression that Lovecraft's imagination often exceeded his skill. If you can let your imagination simply run around in his world, you'll begin to grasp why Lovecraft is so honored as a crafter of weird tales, rather than as a writer of them.