Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Game Review: Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth

The Welcoming Party
I'm extremely passionate about video games, and over the last few months I invested ~15 hours in one that I thought I'd really love. Here are my thoughts..

I wanted to like Dark Corners of the Earth but unimaginable horrors awaited me every time I returned to it... Horrors of poor programming to be specific. All of these crashes took place on a Fallout-4 Grade PC, and while there is a certain romance to retro horror games, unless you're a die-hard Dagon cultist who self-flagellates daily while waiting for darkness to overtake the world this game is not for you.

Cool Box Art!
Dark Corners of the Earth crashed on me every hour of gameplay, generally right as I was about to reach a save point. It left me with a new compulsive twitch and a feeling of dread every time I realized that I'd been playing for longer than 15 minutes and hadn't saved. It forced me into a sense of urgency which the game itself doesn't give (evidenced by the lack of a "run" button).

Despite a great story and premise set by Lovecraft, expanded on by a team that set off with good intentions, the writing was a sub-par. The voice acting was a mix of delightful talent paired with detestably unimaginative writing. Alas, I could not even experience all of this to its fullest as a glitch (which no amount of patching could counteract) cut off half the dialogue mid sentence! I swear at one point they said "We need to get to ---" (silence)

The varying volume level of the voices is easily overpowered by music or sound effects rather frequently, basically forcing you to use subtitles anyway. HOWEVER they forgot to subtitle large segments of the game involving more than 2 sentences of exposition. The game also crashed on almost every cinema (thankfully after the auto-save) and frequently froze. Alas, but if I could have only either READ or HEARD the plot-points while playing the game, as opposed to looking up what I missed online, would I have liked it more?

If only we knew where we were supposed to go

The game's detailed story is poorly executed in all of its dialogues, though its 'journal entries' are enjoyable, and even still it somehow robs you of a real ending or sense of accomplishment. This abomination leaves you feeling entirely unresolved! It's like a sinister detached voice told the game's writers "explain the plot of the entire game in 5 minutes... Okay, that's the ending, roll credits... Oh, and don't give players the explanatory ending unless they win with 100% completion within a certain time limit; otherwise just skip to the credits after playing the intro video again."

Stealth is hit or miss... but generally miss, even if you know what you're doing.
The gameplay seemed vastly enjoyable at first, introducing exciting gameplay mechanics like insanity and addiction to pain killers, neither of which ever seemed to truly come into play. "Hallucinations, panic attacks, vertigo, paranoia, and more!" it reads on the box... Well yes, now that you mention it, the game did give me panic attacks and paranoia with all of its glitches, and vertigo the countless times that the motion-blur effect got stuck. The game's creators go really far out of their way to tell you how tenuous your grip on reality will be, and how it will unhinge your sanity... Only to heedlessly ignore their own warnings in favor of throwing a blur-filter over your field of vision, or slightly swaying the screen from side to side when something disturbing happens. These effects also frequently get stuck in the "on" position until you inevitably turn off the game, die, or a critical error causes the game to fail.

Dark Corners of the Earth could not be more linear, despite advertising investigative and exploration elements. Yet despite this there are a few ways to miss the 100% completion rate and be cheated of a "true" ending... Or (as in the case of various people I spoke to) you will like just get cheated of the "true" ending anyway because the game is a nightmarish abomination that seeks to unhinge the vestiges of your sanity. I suppose that much was advertised.

If you see this screen in your game... The enemies are invisible...
The glitches and bugs in this game are CRIPPLING. There's a moment where you need to use a scope to shoot at enemies (see above, no it's not a spoiler, it's a thing you NEED TO KNOW in order to complete the game)... However, due to a VERY COMMON PC glitch (look it up), which is still unresolved/unpatched despite the game being out for a decade, the enemies you need to shoot are completely invisible and impossible to see or interact with unless you know exactly where they are. You literally have to look up this segment of the game online to win. There are also numerous instances of poor level design AND poor lighting where a rational sane individual will not know what to do next without consulting a guide (like randomly jumping off a cliff to progress the story)... But I digress...

Other glitches include being unable to walk, falling through the floor (literally falling far through the level and getting stuck in the space where great Cthulhu dwells: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!), suddenly flying (and thus unable to open doors), having enemies aware of your presence because when you died and loaded the game they didn't reset their awareness of your presence. That one in particular is infuriating during the game's many "stealth" segments. Also having enemies glitch into the wrong locations or stopping their patrol patterns randomly and indefinitely due to glitching into something, making traveling past them impossible without detection. These are just a few of the many issues I can remember, and reloading your game will not fix half of them, so you're forced to save often, and create multiple save files. I won't even get into the stupidity how of its supposedly "friendly" AI will go out of its way to make stealth segments impossible to stealth.

There were many game mechanics that serve no true purpose. For instance, the STEALTH button doesn't actually do anything except fog up your screen... There's also a rail-grabbing mechanic that the game uses twice toward the end of the game that it never tells you about, and never uses again. No literally, it's a random segment of the game where you can extend your hand and grab onto a railing that no one tells you about. One time it's absolutely vital to your survival (and they don't tell you about it), and the other time it's actually just a useless aesthetic choice you can ignore. The supposedly "intelligent" puzzle mechanics were enjoyable half the time and mindbogglingly infuriating in the instances where they were unclear. There was one puzzle in specific, involving identifying and interacting with glyph pieces... only the game's creators drew one of the glyphs incorrectly. That could almost be a sort of in-game parallel to what happened to the production of this game. The creators had some really cool ideas but ultimately deviated from their intent.

Save your sanity, don't play this game...
TL;DR: AVOID THIS GAME. Great start, the first hour or two is very enjoyable. Everything after that is unforgivably glitchy, disjointed, and horrific in the bad way. Stop playing right the moment where you first get a gun and if you're still interested in the story just watch someone else play through it and save yourself the frustration. You can not beat this game unless you wish to sacrifice your sanity and make use of at least one walkthrough/guide to navigate the 'invisible enemy' section. It's literally impossible.

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