Friday, 14 March 2008

Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth

I have just played through Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth (DCE). I prefer the phrase "played through" to similar phrases as "finished" and "beaten." This is because the latter phrases imply something that just feels egotistical, whereas the first phrase feels more respectful of the developers' work.

You do not ever really finish a game. There are the game mechanisms and atmosphere to revisit and enjoy. You do not ever really beat a game because the game developers could have ramped up the game difficulty and kicked your arse. Games are an experience to play through and enjoy.

DCE is an amazing game. It feels like small team who really cared for the story and the horror developed the game. The atmosphere, graphics, sound, pacing and story were spot on.

DCE would benefit from allowing players to modify the game in a similar way to how players can modify The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. DCE has frustrating puzzles, action sequences, first person shooting, and first person sneaking and unescapable cut-scenes.

I found some of the puzzles too difficult. Some of the puzzles had insufficient clues, some required me to travel over great distances multiple times to work them out and some had too much time pressure. I decided instead to consult GameFaqs.

Some of the action sequences had a very small margin of error, a large cost involved, time pressure and insufficient clues. At first, it created a feeling of horror but then it created a feeling of frustration.

Some of the first person shooting was frustrating. It was too hard to get the initiative in combat and to keep it. In first person shooting games that I have enjoyed, I could with observation and judicious tactics work out the flow of combat. In DCE, some of the enemy had reactions that were too quick and shooting skill that was too accurate. In addition, they did not react to being injured to allow me to for example, get back into cover or press the attack.

In addition, and most importantly when I shot an enemy the did not react enough, instead they would shoot immediately back in the midst of receiving a bullet wound so that it was difficult to get back into cover or do anything. Finally, there were times when an enemy was behind cover or around the corner waiting, and I lacked the ability to overcome this situation. I would have preferred some rock, paper, scissors mechanism to overcome this situation.

An example in other games is some ability to attack indirectly or stun the enemy with a shrapnel grenade or a flash grenade. In a setting such as this, those may be inappropriate. DCE does allow you to lean but this is slow and the enemy has lighting quick reactions and high accuracy.

This left the player with a lack of tactical options, so the player has to take a hit in order to end the stalemate. I would prefer to be able to stand and lean to draw fire and then duck, lean and shoot. There are many ways to open the tactical flow of combat.

Some of the first person sneaking was frustrating. Again, there was a lack of options, a lack of a way to recover from a mistake and a lack of a way to gauge the player's exposure. In terms of options, I think Thief, Deus Ex and Splinter Cell may have spoilt me.

Some of the cut-scenes did not allow the player to skip them. This was frustrating when there were sequences that the player had repeat and detracts from repeated play throughs.

I hope that someday DCE would allow fans to open it up and smooth over the rough edges and to integrate a physics engine to elevate the visceral nature of combat. I loved the time-period, the connection with the FBI and the story that reveals more and more of the mystery and horror as opposed to stories that leave too many loose ends such as Condemned: Criminal Origins.

Some other ways to improve the game would be to provide cheat codes to overcome the rough spots and the ability to revisit levels that had superb drama.

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