WARNING: Some minor spoilers may lie ahead.
The ‘incognito’ part of this joke is the fact that Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was in production for six years (Call of Cthulhu forever?), and went through three different production houses. I’m not sure why though – if I were a producer and Chris Gray (of enormous Infiltrator fame) came to my door and said, “I am making a Cthulhu game, will you publish it”, I would go out and have Heinz produce a special money flavored ketchup which would then be slathered all over him by Warren Buffet while dressed in nappies made of solid money (I hear Warren is available for such appointments, for the correct honorarium).
But I digress. My own experience with the game was difficult at first. I got the game via Patrick who had picked it up in a bargain bin, but given up on it after a while. I started playing it, and was immediately impressed by the ambiance (the sound, incidentally, is awesome). It is the 1930s on the East Coast; You are a private eye who has disturbing memories of being a subject in Yithian experiments. In trying to get your life back together after a breakdown, you take a missing person’s case in Innsmouth. Soon it turns sinister and you are hunted by the surly, xenophobic inhabitants of the run-down town. Why sinister? Because the only building in town not looking like a shack is labelled Esoteric Order of Dagon (hint hint). The environments are amazing, the voice acting is great, and the interface is simple.
….and then you are given a very silly arcade sequence where you need to run from the angry villagers. Which I played ten times in a row. And died each time. So the game languished on my drive for months. Rudy had the same experience.
After finishing the Awakened, I got the Cthulhu itch again, so I decided to do a little research on Dark Corners of the Earth. I discovered that you can, with a little hex editing voodoo, activate a god mode. I was still very keen to see the game and experience the rest of the story, so I thought, let’s give it a try. Best decision ever – the game is positively epic. Among the best elements of gameplay is the insanity system. Notice I don’t call it a sanity system, because you ain’t getting any saner as the game progresses. Here’s how it works: if you experience trauma of some kind (being shot point-blank, standing over a steep ledge, seeing a corpse), or if you are exposed to the Mythos (monsters, tomes, etc), your vision becomes blurred, your heart beats faster, and you begin to hear voices – at first your own tortured internal monologue, but then other voices, giving you commands…. and if you take enough sanity loss and you are carrying a loaded weapon, you will put yourself out of your own misery… Can’t recall last time a game did that! Does the Sims do that? Huh?
The story is suitably complex and conspiratorial. It is obvious at first that the residents of Innsmouth are worshiping Dagon, but the extent of the whole thing becomes incredible as you continue through the game. True to the Mythos stories, you enter a slow gradual descent into the dark corners of the earth – first in the town, then the processing plant that is the financial heart of the Marsh family (and uncover its dark secret), then to the temples beneath Devil’s Reef; and finally, the obscene sunken city which holds the unravelling of the cataclysmic cosmic struggle which you have inadvertently stumbled upon (or were you destined to play a part….?).
This is the kind of game where, when you finish a level you think “man, what could they possible come up with next?” and then, boom! Gameplay itself is also fairly varied. There are logic puzzles, platform jumping elements, exploration, gunfights, and sneak-and-stab action too. The interface is not perfect, but everything is done well enough to be fun. But it is hard. If I had not had god mode turned on, I would have never been able to finish it (on ‘Boy Scout’ difficulty, mind you – hang on, does that say something about me?). Turning this on does not remove much of the experience anyway, because it is the story which drives this game (it is mostly based on Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth). Dagon, Mother Hydra, Deep Ones, Flying Polyps… you get to see and suffer through the lot. The pacing is done well also, with the clymactic scenes being extremely tense: trapped inside a Coast Guard cutter with Deep Ones swarming aboard or escaping from a prison filled with failed human-monster hybrid experiments. As the game progresses, your madness increases and you begin to realize as a player that your character will be at the very least psychically destroyed by the experience, but the obsessive drive to learn the forbidden secrets of the horrors that haunt Innsmouth is inescapable. The game brings across the oppressive doom filled atmosphere of the Mythos brilliantly. You will not be humming happy tunes after playing this one.
If you spot this one in a bargain bin somewhere, grab it immediately. You will not be sorry. Or rather, you wiiilllll beeeee….oh, you willll beeee…… IAI! IAI CTHULHU FATGN! IAI CHRIS GRAY FATGN!