Why can’t any survival horror game be original anymore? Except for a few, most are generic and derivative. So when one comes along that does things differently, you have to stop and take notice.
One such game is “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth,” released in 2005 for the Xbox and 2006 for the PC. It’s one of a few games based on the works of author H. P. Lovecraft, such as the Chaosium RPG “Call of Cthulhu.” The highly original gameplay mixes puzzles, stealth, shooting, survival horror, and detective work.
Graphically, “Dark Corners of the Earth” holds up pretty well. It perfectly creates a 1900s setting. From the dirty halls of Arkham Asylum to the ominous town of Innsmouth, it breathes authenticity and keeps a looming dread throughout the entire game. However, after 10 years, some cracks in the visual quality really show. The lip-syncing is pretty bad at times, and the frame rate can get choppy on the Xbox.
Sound-wise, “Dark Corners of the Earth” excels. Weapons sound authentic and reasonably powerful, the creatures sound creepy, wind howls, and the temples near the end are full of sanity-draining chanting. There’s some appropriately timed, pulse-pounding and dread-inducing background music, as well as some songs from the time period. The voice acting has a B-movie feel at times but gets the job done.
“Dark Corners of the Earth” follows Jack Walters, a former Boston detective involved in a raid on a cult headquarters. After encountering monstrous acts and weird creatures, Jack succumbs to madness, and is committed to Arkham Asylum for six years. Once released, he becomes a private detective and suffers amnesia of parts of his former life. He gets a call to investigate a missing persons case in the nearby town of Innsmouth. When Jack arrives, he sees that the town is isolated, with mysterious, unfriendly inhabitants. He ends up digging too deep and discovers more than he bargained for.
It’s a brilliant adaptation of the story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which is something fans will appreciate. But it’s also easy to approach for those who aren’t familiar with the story or H. P. Lovecraft in general. It makes nice twists and turns without ever becoming unexplainable or ridiculous.
What also helps the story and presentation is the overall atmosphere of the game. It starts off properly mysterious, with a building tone that becomes downright terrifying. Sure, there are some jump scares, but most of the horror comes from the unseen and unexplained.
The game play is an interesting mix of elements. “Dark Corners of the Earth” starts in the adventure game mindset, with the player exploring Innsmouth and finding documents that give detailed back story. The game then switches gears to stealth: the player avoids the townsfolk and solves puzzles. After this, the game switches to a first-person shooter, while still using adventure and stealth elements.
“Dark Corners of the Earth” really makes the player want to replay the game. It is full of scattered documents that flesh out the story. There are four different difficulty modes, which unlock as you beat the previous mode.
Now, while all of this may sound incredible, “Dark Corners of the Earth” has a number of problems that may turn off some. It’s extremely complex, so it can be tough to figure out what you’re supposed to do. Patient players won’t have an issue, but those looking to focus on the story may find that using a guide online will help. Players will find that the shooting and stealth aren’t as polished as they could be. Finally, the game has a few bugs. Most are harmless, but there’s one that can actually render the game unfinishable. This can be fixed with help of a fan-made patch.
Most, if not all, of these issues can be overlooked, given the quality of the game overall. “Dark Corners of the Earth” is original, creative, polished, and captivating. A lot of love was put into the project, and you really can tell. There are rumors that the PC port was even finished by a single employee in the midnight hours, which is a kind of love you don’t typically see from developers.
While not perfect technically, “Dark Corners of the Earth” is an underappreciated masterpiece, and one of those games that should be experienced. Not just played, but experienced. Just be patient and keep an open mind.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.