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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a Lovecraftian horror first-person adventure game developed by Headfirst Productions and published by Bethesda Softworks in 2005, in conjunction with 2K Games. It is based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, author of The Call of Cthulhu and progenitor of the Cthulhu Mythos.

The game is effectively a re-imagining of Lovecraft's story The Shadow Over Innsmouth (though diverging from the story in several places, and featuring a different protagonist, several levels in the game mirror passages from the story). There is also a sub-plot inspired by The Shadow Out of Time. Further, many scenes and major events were directly taken from the Chaosium roleplaying campaign, "Escape from Innsmouth."

Plot

The game's protagonist is Jack Walters, formerly a police detective with a talent for solving cases with apparently insufficient evidence (it is implied that he might be a psychic), who was committed to a mental institution after a disturbing encounter during a raid in Bostonmarker left him apparently insane and with a split personality. A few years later the secondary personality disappears and he is released, although still suffering from amnesia and schizophrenia.

Now earning a living as a private detective, whilst also attempting to trace his own actions during the period of mental disturbance that he now cannot remember, Jack is contacted to take up a missing person case in the town of Innsmouth. He is sent to Innsmouth by Arthur Anderson, owner of the First National grocery store chain, to find Brian Burnham, the missing clerk who has been running the Innsmouth location. Jack takes the case only to find Innsmouth unfriendly, and that the town does not welcome First National or Brian for being "outsiders", an attitude which quickly wins Jack enemies in the town.

Over the course of the game, Jack slowly unravels the strange and terrible secrets behind Innsmouth, the Burnham case, and even the Boston incident that initially landed him in the asylum. In an environment filled with murderous cultists, deep-sea monsters, and alien horrors, Jack must try to survive and remain sane despite the horrors of the new case and his afflictions.

Gameplay

The game has often been noted for featuring no HUD. Jack's condition is relayed through the sound cues of his heartbeat and breathing, which become more pronounced when wounded, and color draining from the screen with loss of blood and strength. Specific injuries are also indicated visually and aurally - a broken leg will cause Jack to limp and will make appropriate noises, a broken arm will make aiming more difficult, etc.

Jack loses sanity when he looks directly at upsetting aspects of the game world, such as mutilated bodies or precipitous drops, similar to the Nintendo Gamecube game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. Sanity loss can lead to hallucinations and visions, which manifest as graphical anomalies, sound distortion, and changes in control sensitivity. Also, Jack will begin to suffer from schizophrenia, hearing voices from various sources, such as his inner child pleading for him to go back to darker personalities that want him to come back with them. If he is sufficiently disturbed, then permanent insanity or suicide will result and the game will end. The health system was designed as a more realistic take on character injury than other games of its genre in that different forms of injury will require different remedies, such as a splint for a broken leg.

Initially, the gameplay mostly comprises unarmed escape and evasion, together with investigative exploration, although weapons and combat are introduced later on. As with most survival horror action/adventure games, ammunition is limited and must be conserved carefully for situations when it will really be indispensable, occasionally requiring the player to avoid combat, even when armed. The game as a whole is linear, with only one path through the chapters from start to finish, in contrast with some earlier survival horror games such as the original Alone in the Dark (which is also based on the Mythos).

There are several bugs during game play (such as the boat bug or the cave bug) and many users find the game difficult to play. The game does not support cheat codes but there is an unofficial patch that fixes some problems and balances the game a bit by adjusting some parameters like running speed or the amount of noise the character makes while walking. God mode is also available.

Weapons

Most available arms in the game are from real-life, such as the knife, revolver and shotgun - the only exception being an advanced Yithian directed-energy weapon. The game is unusual (for its period) in that it does not have an artificial on-screen targeting reticle - instead, the player must actually aim through the iron sights on the weapons themselves. However, sustained aiming tires the character and will drop accuracy. The game also allows melee attacks after a gun has fired its last round.

The firing system is unique, as fired rounds will go exactly where the barrel is pointing. For example, if the weapon was just pulled out and is pointing to the sky, any round fired at that time would fly towards the sky, not a pre-coded area on the centre of the screen.

Locations

This listing goes in order of appearance.

Strange House

A decrepit manor house located in Boston, Massachusettsmarker first visited on September 6, 1915. The manor was inhabited by a cult called the Fellowship of the Yith which numbered about 20, and was led by one Victor Holt. While a mess on its own, especially the bathroom with its brown stained walls, and "painted" toilet, the areas directly underneath were revealed to bear a morgue, related medical facilities and, incredibly enough, functioning Yithian technology. Jack Walters arrives at the house shortly after a small police force have entered an uneasy standoff with Holt, who has barricaded himself and the cult inside the house and asked for Detective Walters by name. Taking cover from a firefight that breaks out, Jack finds himself separated from the police and trapped inside the mansion, with no option but to investigate. When the rest of the police finally break in, they find the cultists dead by mass suicide and Walters apparently insane; he is committed to Arkham Asylum for several years afterwards.

Arkham Asylum

The infamous psychiatric hospital from the Mythos. First visited after the aforementioned manor investigation, owing to a significant and sudden change in the protagonist's personality and mental features. A notable number of surreal flashback sequences involving the sanitarium are experienced throughout the game, and a few actual revisits take place.

Innsmouth

A run-down, underpopulated and xenophobic New Englandmarker fishing town with very little communication with the outside world, first visited on February 7, 1922. Rumours abound outside the town of a mysterious condition known as the "Innsmouth Taint", evident to varying degrees in a large fraction of the population. Disease, murder, mystery, and deception run rampant in the town. It is ruled by a religious organisation called the Esoteric Order of Dagon, with very close ties to the reclusive Marsh family, who operate a gold refinery within the town. The religion centres on undersea demigods known as Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, learned of by Obed Marsh from natives of an unknown Pacificmarker island, and also pays respect to Cthulhu himself. Its overall nature and strange history was suspicious enough for the government to have it placed under surveillance.

Marsh Refinery

A gold refinery owned by the Marsh family in Innsmouth, which was watched carefully as its high gold bar output did not match up with its low ore input. The refinery is raided by the FBImarker on February 8, uncovering a Cthulhu shrine and evidence of efforts to sell a deadly contagion to enemies of the state. What is not found, however, is the source of all the strange, white gold the refinery produces; the ore grinder and extraction machinery have been shut down entirely but the melting and casting equipment are still in constant use. Subsequently demolished with explosives.

Esoteric Order of Dagon

The entire town came under a combined land-and-sea siege on September 9 following the refinery raid. The only thing that proved problematic was the main Order building, which was spared from heavy weapons due to the wanted arrest of a man still inside, and showed itself to be nigh-impossible to breach by the United States Coast Guard and the United States Marine Corps.

USS Urania

A United States Coast Guard cutter with modest armament, visited on September 10th. Aiding the raid effort, the ship was part of a group heading to Devil's Reef, following up on a lead provided by the FBI. Unfortunately, its close proximity to the Reef brought it the unwanted attention of the Deep Ones and Father Dagon himself, which resulted in the eventual sinking of the ship and possibly the loss of all hands. In the early stages of the battle, the Deep Ones boarded the vessel and began to raid it, killing all on deck. Dark wizards cast spells on the sea to create rogue waves, which caused all hands on deck at the time to be lost to the sea. With the damage done by Father Dagon, the vessel slipped beneath the waves, yielding only Mr. Walters alive. Most went down with the ship or were taken by the Deep Ones. Later, we find that at least one sailor survived only to be killed by an unseen monster.

Devil's Reef

A desolate and exposed reef that lies about half a mile from Innsmouth harbour, just off the coast of Massachusettsmarker, swept by fierce winds and powerful waves. While authorities know that Devil's Reef has old smuggling tunnels that lead all the way beneath the seabed, only a few know that the area is also the surface entrance to a great underwater city.

Y'ha-nthlei

A large underwater city located a significant distance below Devil's Reef, well out of the sight of most people. A USN submarine part of the raid initially had difficulty in trying to torpedo it, due to the presence of a protective magic barrier that was being maintained by Mother Hydra; the submarine's torpedoes can be seen by Jack through an underwater window in the tunnels approaching the city, exploding as they strike this shield. Little of the city is seen as Jack has to keep a low profile; notable areas encountered are Robert Marsh's office, a laboratory where the biological weapon apparently related to the "Innsmouth Look" was being developed, a prison, and the Temple of Dagon itself.

Forgotten Vault

The entrance to the Temple of Dagon being sealed off in anticipation of invasion, Walters finds another way in through tunnels far deeper and older than Y'ha-nthlei, where even the Deep Ones fear to go. Beneath cracked basalt trapdoors, Walters passes briefly through one of the ancient chasms where the Flying Polyps were trapped long before by the Yith.

Pnakotus

The great library city of the Yith. Only seen formally if one gets the highest-ranking possible at the end of the story, although parts of it are seen in earlier, intermittent sequences. Even then, the formal viewing is brief as it starts just a few moments before a Flying polyp assault. However, the true vision is revealed when having an A rating, indicating that the Librarian Yith also swapped minds with Jack Walter's father in the past, and at the moment of Jack's conception. In flesh, Jack Walters is human, but in mind, his father is a Yithian, and that was the source of his psychic powers, and also the reason for the cultists' interest in him.

Cthulhu Mythos elements

  • Persons
    • Zadok Allen provides the protagonist with a detailed recent history of the town.
    • Obed Marsh's descendants play a large and prominent role in the story.
    • A few fictional members of the Waite family also play a small part in the story.
    • One of the jailhouse inmates, Henry, complains of rats in the walls, as taken from Lovecraft's book The Rats in the Walls. Henry displays severe mental problems, probable insanity, and might deliberately bash his head in on the wall of his cell (as Dr. Halsey did in Herbert West–Reanimator).
    • While not directly from the Mythos, real-life FBI director J. Edgar Hoover appears as a ruthless agent, personally leading the Marsh Gold Refinery raid.


  • Places
    • In the mission "A Visit to the Old Town", Jack heads to Innsmouth, Massachusetts (fictional 17th century era seaport). His encounters there are based strictly on Lovecraft's short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth.


  • Literature


  • Entities
    • The Great Race of Yith plays a major role in the plot, even though they are not physically present except for the very beginning and end of the game.
    • The Deep Ones and their related half-human citizens of Innsmouth are central to the plot, and comprise the main opposition the player faces throughout most of the game.
    • Mother Hydra is the last boss of the game.
    • The Innsmouth sewer system hints at the presence of a shoggoth through numerous human skeletons and strange residue that is highly-corrosive to organic material, and the creature itself is confronted directly during the refinery raid.
    • The Beloved of Cthulhu, Deep Ones altered by Cthulhu's mental influence to have reduced intelligence and squid-like heads, appear on two separate occasions.
    • The Flying polyps are confronted towards the end of the game.
    • While not present, the Mi-go are mentioned in passing during the epilogue.
    • Despite the title, Cthulhu himself does not appear, though numerous statues in his likeness can be found. In one room, Cthulhu exerts a cosmic influence through his statue- if Jack does not escape the room quickly, he will be driven insane and kill himself. Though Dagon and Hydra are present and fought by the player, Cthulhu remains absent.
    • The Elder Things are mentioned in a sermon found upon a podium during the Prologue level.


Development

Headfirst Productions originally intended for a much larger storyline to be fitted within the game, including various more characters, a four-player co-op system, which enabled players to pick one of four characters, whilst the remaining three would carry out their own investigation independently. Players could pick from Jack Walters, Ruth Billingham, Sergeant Pelkie, and a mysterious FBI agent known as Mackey. The game's protagonist Jack Walters went through up to eight different phases before a final look was designed by Tim Appleton.

Many weapons were removed from the game due to deadline and playtest interests. The game originally was to include a wooden club with a nail protruding from one end, a wooden police baton, a meat cleaver (the cleaver can still be seen in the Gilman hotel, however Jack refuses to touch it as it is covered in blood), a fishing harpoon, a tomahawk axe, a metal bar (the bar survived to be used as an item in the game), a poison-tipped Deep One spear, dynamite sticks, hand grenades, a flamethrower which survived to be used as a non-acquirable weapon later in the game, a Luger P-08 pistol, a Mauser C96 broomhandle pistol (this was removed as the firepower was too equivalent to that of the two remaining pistols), a single-barrel Winchester Model 1912 12-gauge pump action shotgun (this shotgun can be seen in the game used by enemies, but not by the player), a black 4" Colt Python Magnum revolver, and a stationary M2 Browning machine gun (this is seen in the Marsh Refinery level, but cannot be used). The Springfield 1903 rifle originally was also equipped with a scope and bayonet.

Reception

Metacritic cites it as a rated 76 ("generally favorable reviews").

The game is noticeable for having numerous bugs and glitches (some are so bad that it prevents the player from progressing) and there is currently no patch to fix them, especially running under Windows Vista and Xbox 360. There are however some player-created mods for the Windows version of the game that enable the player to get past the big game-stopping bugs (like the non sliding gem pillar). The bugs are generally intermittent, and restoring from an earlier saved game can be enough to get past them.

Canceled sequels

At least two or three additional Cthulhu Mythos games, Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End, (Xbox/Windows), Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness (Xbox/Windows), and Call of Cthulhu: Tainted Legacy (PlayStation 2) were planned by Headfirst Productions. However, since the bankruptcy and liquidation of Headfirst in 2006, the future of these titles is in doubt. Currently, there have been no announced plans to pick these titles back up by any party, and until such announcements are made these games are effectively canceled.

Xbox 360

The Xbox version of the game is officially compatible with the Xbox 360 in certain regions, although some users report some glitches and bugs which may detract from gameplay. For example, one bug while playing in compatibility mode on the Xbox 360 is the absence of background music during gameplay.

References



External links




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