Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a first person horror action-adventure game developed by Headfirst Productions and published by Bethesda Softworks for the Xbox in 2005 and the PC in 2006. The game's story and tone is inspired by the works of the writer H.P. Lovecraft who specialized in “weird fiction” and the idea of “cosmic horror”. Players assume the role of private investigator Jack Walters as he begins an investigation into a missing persons case in the coastal town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts in 1922. Call of Cthulhu's gameplay involves first person shooting, stealth, and adventure game elements. To increase the player's immersion, the game had no heads up display, forcing players to aim down their iron-sights and pay attention to audio and visual cues to determine their current health and sanity levels. Dark Corners of the Earth went through a long development cycle of nearly 6 years.
The first quarter of Call of Cthulhu finds the player without any weapons and is unconventional in regards to traditional first person gaming. The player is required to use stealth to investigate the disappearance of a grocery store manager and puzzle solving to progress through the back alleys of Innsmouth. This early section relies heavily upon scripted chase sequences in which Jack Walters must flee from pursuing enemies. The player must use the sliding bolt locks on doors and push book cases to block others in order to escape his pursuers who will eventually fire weapons at him from a distance forcing him to duck under windows and evade patrolling sentries.
The ride into Innsmouth is reminiscent of the openings of Half-Life 1 & 2
Once Jack acquires a small arsenal he will be able to combat his foes. Firing from the hip is possible but Walters is more accurate if he uses his iron sights since the game has no default crosshair. If the player aims behind the crosshairs for too long, Walters becomes fatigued and his vision will tilt and lose accuracy. The game includes a crowbar, a knife, revolver, a Colt .45, double-barreled shotgun, a Tommy Gun with drum clip and Winchester rifle.
Jack Walters is capable of being damaged in numerous ways such as receiving a broken leg from a fall, a scratch from a Deep One, or a bullet wound from an enemy's Tommy gun. In order to heal himself, Walters has a medical kit that must be used in real time within the gameworld. The kit contains separate elements in the form of sutures, antidote, splint and bandages. Certain items are required to heal specific wounds.
Dark Corners featured no visible heads up display and tried to force the game to remain in a strictly first person perspective. Some elements of the game required the player to reach out and interact with physical objects in order to survive. Besides locks and pushing book cases, the player might have to reach out and grab metal rings to scale a cliff face at high tide and to grab the railing of ship that is being rocked terribly by a giant creature.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was in development for approximately 6 years dating back to 1999. The game was shown as early as E3 2001 with its original publisher, Fish Tank Interactive. The publisher went bankrupt in 2002 and was assimilated by JoWood who had no interest in the Call of Cthulhu project. The game fell into a state of limbo until it was eventually snagged up by Bethesda. The PS2 version was canceled once Bethesda became the producer for the project.
Headfirst envisioned a game of much larger scope but many elements of the game were cut during its rocky development cycle. Two missing gameplay sequences include:
The game was developed using the in-house NetImmerse engine. Dark Corners of the Earth also uses the Havoc physics engine, although to very little noticeable effect. Artist/Designer, Andrew Brazier, spoke about how it would add realistic weight to the objects in Innsmouth such as picking up a brick and watching it tumble down the street after it had been thrown. There is a video on Gamespot that shows crates being pushed into the water possibly to be used in puzzle solving in a fashion similar to the physics puzzles in Half-Life 2 (this sequence was not in the final game).
When Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was once considered to have much stronger RPG-like elements there was discussion about the inclusion of a spell system. One rumored spell was a small ritual that must be cast everytime you save which would also reduces sanity slightly. Lead designer, Chris Gray, mentioned the possibility of a healing spell and one that allows you to breathe underwater (the final game had no underwater sequences).
Eternal Darkness featured an onscreen metered representation of the character's current sanity. It also featured sanity effects that caused events to be appearing outside the gameworld such as controllers being unplugged and game memory being erased. Chris Gray says that while excellent, those style of effects remind you that you are playing a video game. Their goal with Call of Cthulhu was to have you remain within the gameplay experience so there would be no HUD representation of sanity level and effects would feature a prominence of rapid heartbeat and breathing, shaky and blurred vision, and a swirling sense of dizziness. Some extreme effects were removed from the game such as in this video on Gamespot you can see the protagonist believes he is attacking a human companion but it is indeed a dark one.
Early on it was decided at Bethesda that for such a story-driven game that the single-player experience should be the sole focus of the development process. However there were thoughts and ideas for a multiplayer component such as that of Andrew Brazier who wrote in an interview: “The multiplayer mode will probably be an add-on, to follow shortly after the release of the single player game. It'll feature co-operative scenario based games where a team must work together to complete a certain mission goal (rescue a hostage from a temple full of Deep Ones, or similar) and also a traditional deathmatch, which, whilst not entirely in the true spirit of the mythos, should be a lot of fun. Sanity does play a part in the deathmatch, meaning that your character could start hallucinating and seeing team-mates as enemies…or vice-versa.”
The game was based on several stories written by H.P. Lovecraft, who was a writer of the early 1900s, renowned for his works of “weird fiction” and “cosmic horror”. In a typical Lovecraftian story, the protagonist is nearly always either driven insane, killed outright, or led to eventual mental breakdown and suicide. Lovecraft focused on horror elements beyond time and space, he aimed to create a fear that exceeded the feeble constructs of the human mind.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is not actually based upon the short story Call of Cthulhu, but takes this name from the Chaosium pen and paper roleplaying game. The video game's storyline features original creations (such as noir elements like the private eye protagonist and the use of Hoover and his FBI Agents) but is also largely adapted from the story The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The chase sequence in the Gillman Hotel is a close representation of the events in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. A few of Dark Corner of the Earth's background elements are influenced by the story The Shadow Out of Time.
Jack reluctantly accepts the case in Innsmouth.
Jack Walters, private eye, is called to a strange estate in Massachusetts on the rainy night of September 6, 1915. A group of cultists who worship alien beings known as Yithians tell the police that they only want to speak with Jack Walters. For unknown reasons, these men have been tracking Jack's movements and tonight, they have summoned him to their house as they all plan to commit ritual suicide. Inside, Jack finds a secret chamber with an unearthly portal that summons three large beings with crane-like necks; he passes out due to sheer fright.
After the events of September 6, Jack is committed to Arkham Asylum where he is diagnosed with extreme schizophrenia. He is determined to be of no risk to anyone or himself and he is released. His alternate personality has consumed him and he has spent much time in travel and studying the occult. When we next see Jack, he is in his private investigator's office, and to him, it feels as though he had entered that house in Boston on September 6 only five months ago - but it has been six years. The doctors call it amnesia, but Jack is not so sure.
Jack accepts a mysterious case to investigate a missing person in the secluded coastal village of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. He arrives in town by the only available means, the town's only bus. His investigations lead him to believe that the missing person is only an incidental victim in a much larger and more hideous scheme. As he delves further into the mystery of Innsmouth, it's citizens become hostile and attempt to murder him in his sleep.
The Marsh family has held a tyrannous grip over Innsmouth for many decades. First they forced out the Christians and moved in their new church: The Esoteric Order of Dagon. The Marshes struck a deal for immortality with underwater creatures known as the Deep Ones. Those who aligned themselves with Marsh married themselves to the Deep Ones, gaining immortality. These Innsmouth citizens began to change physically. Their pallor grew pale, they grew in size, and overall they gained a very amphibious appearance. These people had what became known as “the Innsmouth look,” and eventually would transform into full-fledged underwater creatures just like the Deep Ones. The Marsh family was indebted to rulers of the Deep Ones, Lord Dagon and the female beast Hydra. These creatures - who have lived for eons since man just began to walk upright - provided the people of Innsmouth with immortality and wealth (in the form of gold). Dagon and Hydra's ultimate goal is to summon forth a great and ancient evil, Cthulhu.
With the aid of the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard, and a U.S. Navy Submarine, Jack Walters is able to defeat Dagon and Mother Hydra before their plan can be completed. All of the horrors that Jack Walters has witnessed, however, have been left scars upon his mental psyche. What he has witnessed has led him to believe that his human existence is tiny and meaningless and that there are unfathomable evils that lie in wait within the dark corners of the earth.
Should a player complete the game with the highest ranking possible (100%) by collecting all notes and artifacts, they will be treated to an extended ending to the game. However, for some, the Xbox version of the game is bugged and does not allow players to unlock the extended ending.
After the events of the game Jack Walters is interred in Arkham Asylum once again and he has a dream where he is transported to a library on an alien planet. He is among the Yithians, an ancient alien race that is able to telepathically displace their minds into the future and assume a human's persona. The Yithians reveal to Jack that the Polyps (a race of wingless flying blobs) are about to wage war against the Yithians and that they will not survive. The Yithian tells Jack that it was them that controlled his body for the six years that he could not remember. The Yithian telling Jack all of this also reveals that it had controlled Jack's father and that Jack was ultimately conceived by a Yithian persona. This is how Jack is able to mentally control Deep Ones within Hydra's lair and even see briefly into the future during some of his past cases. The culmination of all the events that Jack has experienced over the course of the game have been too much for a feeble human's mind to handle and in true Lovecraftian fashion, Jack hangs himself while leaving his notes behind to be found by curious minds.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has an aggregate critic score of 77% for both PC and Xbox versions on Gamerankings.com. Gamespy rated the game as “Good” (3.75/5.00 stars) citing that its strongest features are its immersive use of an invisible HUD and its riveting chase sequences. Gamespy's largest complaint was that Call of Cthulhu “uses a console-style save-point system with checkpoints spaced so far apart that I'd be forced to watch the same unskippable cutscenes and run through the same five to ten-minute segment multiple times to make any sort of progress”.
Eurogamer scored the title an 8/10 saying that it had an interesting health system, a narrative attachment to its puzzles, and that “there's never really been a game that terrorises the player's nerve to quite the same extent. It's unflinchingly brutal.” A severe complaint of theirs was the awkward voice acting, particularly that of the protagonist Jack Walter, which ruined the game's otherwise terrific atmosphere.