Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Untimely Revue: Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Yep. I'm playing old games again. This might be the last Untimely Revue for a while, since haha what is a senior project, so savor it. Make it last. Like a really delicious piece of candy. Or your first kis--Oh, who are you kidding? You haven't kissed anyon--Sorry. Projecting again. 

Well, it sure opens in the Lovecraftian vein... The ORIGINAL Arkham Asylum here, folks. And boy does it make me glad I wasn’t a lunatic back in the old days. Now I just blend right in on the internet like all the other cats wearing people suits.

Why, exactly, is backwards movement set to X on the keyboard? What ever happened to WASD? This is not a good sign of things to come. The jump is awfully floaty, too. (First thing I try in games—jumping. Because bunny-hopping around games is awesome and stupid.) These controls… My notes say “Controls like butt.” I’m sure there’s a nicer way to put it, but--heh--I can’t think of one. 

The dialogue is a good effort, but it doesn’t quite mesh with 1910s-1920s American slang. It feels like it’s trying to, but there’s some anachronistic phraseology slipping in. That, and hearing grown men say stuff like “Jiminy” and “Gosh darn” just feels weird. 

On a related note, I appreciate the many references to H.P. Lovecraft AND Robert E. Howard’s Mythos lore. A lot of people forget that old “Conan the Barbarian” Howard also wrote Mythos tales which meshed with Lovecraft’s own work. They were writing pals (and racism pals, too, but that’s another story.) 

All of this atmosphere…It FEELS like it’s trying to be Lovecraftian, but it doesn’t quite work. I’m not sure what Lovecraftian feels like, but it doesn’t feel like Dark Corners of the Earth, that’s for sure. I think part of it is the combination of the rapid heartbeats/blurring vision “oh noes sanity loss” cliché combined with the player character’s blasé item descriptions. As my in-game vision blurs and my heartbeat revs to an awful level, he says, in the calmest voice imaginable, “Bodies. A lot of bodies. Something awful has been going on here.” YOU DON’T SAAAAAAY. 

Okay. The Great Race of Yith? Really? THAT’S the race you choose to put into the game first? That’s the Lovecraftian abomination you choose to introduce us to a world of horror? WHY? The Yith are not scary at all. They look like Jar Jar Binks bred with Jabba the Hutt—okay, that’s kind of scary, but still…

And now, cut to six years later, and I’m in Innsmouth (pronounced Insmuth). And the first local I meet is called “Gilman?” REALLY? REALLY? Anyone who knows ANYTHING about Innsmouth should be facepalming right now. Just… REALLY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY NOT NAME HIM FINNY McBADFISHMAN? HUH? TELL ME THAT! That isn’t even foreshadowing! That’s hitting the player in the face with a board marked “2X4SHADOWING.” 

With that said, I do love the voice acting. It’s the one thing done well here, and actually does foreshadowing RIGHT. All the locals (well, all the EVUL locals) have a very thick, mucusy voice, which makes perfect sense for who and what they are. 

Oh, and now I’m back to looking for a missing shopkeeper. And…Wow. This is the second time a ladder has broken on my character. He has the worst luck. Why do I suspect this will be a recurring theme? Did the 1920s have bad ladder-making, or what? How did anyone build anything?

Anyway, I did a bunch of investigating—pretty fun, actually, lots of sneaking and following clues and exploring Innsmouth, like a proper CoC game. And then, the running started. Really? Ammo for my gun, but no gun. Platforming with “controls like butt” and a floaty jump. That stupid sanity loss mechanic making it impossible for me to see. And… It’s not scary. At all. Even by my admittedly low standards of scariness. It’s just… Not. I got more scared reading Five Nights At Freddy’s lore. When you’ve built up all this tension, implying something is horribly wrong, why would you go and blow it so quickly? Make more bad stuff happen in the edges of our vision, maybe? Encounter more signs that something awful is going on? Blowing the whole “Oh, yeah, Innsmouth is populated by *SPOILER REDACTED*” bomb so quickly is just bad writing. Just let me go slowly insane as I look for the missing dude, finding more and more evidence of WRONGBAD THINGS BEYOND THE VEIL. I mean, seriously. Let the chase scene be later, once I’ve met a REAL monster, something that I can’t just shoot with my NON-EXISTENT GUN! Did I mention that? I’m a private investigator in the 1920s who DOESN’T CARRY A GUN, BUT WHO DOES CARRY AMMO FOR IT!

Anyway. Back on the controls. I had to map the action key (which started unmapped, making for some confusion early on), to a position that made it horrendously awkward to open doors as I escaped from murderous Innsmouthians. That was wonderful. And by wonderful I mean WHY WOULDN’T YOU HAVE THE KEYS PRE-MAPPED TO SOMETHING SENSIBLE? I’M BARELY STAYING AHEAD OF THE FREAKING PSYCHOTIC MONSTERMEN FROM HELL, AND YOU MAKE IT EVEN HARDER TO DO THINGS? WHY? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?

*ahem* All in all, Dark Corners of the Earth threw away its terrifying baggage way too soon, and in a very heavy-handed manner. That chase scene broke me out of the mindset I’d been building previously of “sneak sneak sneak investigate sneak sneak sneak,” which I would argue is the proper mindset for a Lovecraft game, really, and into a more “RUN RUN RUN SCHEIBE SCHEIBE SCHEIBE *** *** ***” mindset more suited to, I don’t know, Mirror’s Edge on the hardest difficulty.  Subtlety is key in Lovecraft, until it’s time for the COSMIC HORROR BEYOND SPACE AND TIME THAT WILL DEVOUR YOUR BABIES AND MOLEST YOUR FAMILY PETS. Then you get to run. 

Anyway, I really did like the insanity effects (there was a nice touch with voices in the wind, especially) and the investigation, so I may return to this at a later date, armed with better controls of some sort, and maybe some absinthe, headphones, and a dark and stormy night. But for now… BAH.