When it comes to games that attempt to capture the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft, it’s surprising to see a tremendous lack of adaptations. While there may be some loose tie-ins and clear-cut inspiration like Bloodborne, the industry has been mostly baron of great H.P. Lovecraft iterations, despite film trying to take full advantage of that. However, in 2005, developer Headfirst Productions and Bethesda released the most faithful, damning adaptation of Lovecraft’s work to date in video game format. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth succeeds on almost every conceivable level as both a horror game and tightly knit mystery/thriller. It’s truly unfortunate that this gem went under many radars upon release.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth puts players in the role of Jack Walters, a recently released Arkham Asylum patient and former detective who, after an investigation into a cult that worships the cosmic being, Cthulhu, causes him to come in contact with the Great Old Ones, aims to get back into the line of work by following up the case. It leads him to the doorstep of Innsmouth, a dreary, atmospheric town inhabited by questionable civilians and cultists who harbour some dark and inhumane secrets. Thus begins one of the longest and darkest investigations of Jack’s life.
Easily one of the most unnerving and daunting gaming experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a masterful exercise in creating a palpable, off-kilter world that immerses you around every corner. The murky streets, corridors and back alleys of Innsmouth all play a pivotal role in shaping this horror experience. As Jack descends into the madness occurring in the town, we also get to see his mental state slowly deteriorate as a result of the various, terrifying encounters with the cultists and creatures he faces. Yet, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is not necessarily a monster shooter either. In fact, it would be a disservice to call it that. For the majority of the game, players must traverse the town of Innsmouth in solving puzzles and finding items to progress through each section.
Drawing some inspiration from Silent Hill, the game never makes it clear what the player should and shouldn’t be doing at any given time. Without any HUD to indicate the next objective or monitor your stats, it may seem detrimental to the experience, but somehow it manages to add to the relentless, suspenseful nature of the game. You’re never quite sure what comes next, and through clever hints in dialogue or simply conversing with NPC’s, the story must unravel at the pace you want it to. It gives the game a very unique and distinguished polish, and ties directly into the insanity-driven themes at its core. The puzzles may come off as quite confusing and extremely difficult on some occasions, but I never once felt like the task was too much to handle. The satisfying feeling of overcoming a particularly troublesome puzzle segment is very rewarding, and I found myself addicted to exploring the world just so I don’t miss any vital clues.
The game often stumbles when it turns into a first-person shooter. The best moments of the game happen around the environmental puzzles and exploration, but occasionally it will call for you to pick up a weapon and take down an assortment of enemies, monsters and bosses. These action pieces are few and far between, but they do notably break the flow of the experience way too often. It doesn’t help that the combat feels clunky and tacked on, as if the shooting was just an afterthought while making an atmospheric puzzle game. Some enemy encounters are admittedly quite terrifying and entertaining, especially when confronting the relentless offspring of the Great Old Ones, but there’s not much to the shooting except to progress the plot in a way that limits the player from exploring in their own terms.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is an astonishing horror game that wholeheartedly deserves more recognition. While the shooting segments do tragically hinder the built-up tension, there’s enough horror elements here to tide you over, especially if you’re a die-hard H.P. Lovecraft fan. Sadly, Cthulhu doesn’t really make an appearance in the game, but like Lovecraft’s stories drenched in spoken terror, his presence is felt in every corner of Innsmouth. If you’re looking for a game that tests your wits while offering a superb amount of lore to dive into, look no further than this underrated gem.