A descent into Lovecraftian psychological horrors…
Why not start off with a few of the classics ?
And so, for a lesson in history, I really must highlight a tragically underknown and underdiscussed creative work.
“Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” is surprisingly little-discovered for several reasons- after long hard work, the team which created it were going bust just as it reached completion, so there were some doubts whether it would ever see the light of day at all. When it did, this meant it was with less fanfare, less polish and more bugs than might otherwise have been.
I was lucky- it runs in its entirety on my computer without any bugs (well, one), which may be why I can admire it so easily; I can see why other people who it plays up on may have the experience spoiled. But for those who get a chance to experience it, Dark Corners of the Earth is unique, incredibly memorable, and pioneering.
A full length game based on the writings of H.P.Lovecraft, it came out a decade ago, but is still widely available online.
It’s approach, particularly at the time, was unique, taking a psychological approach.
Previous first-person horror games were all about shooting or at least hitting oncoming attackers, so any threat could be dealt with by good reflexes, which gave a certain reassurance and certainty; and any horror encountered, no matter how scary-looking, would still be there afterwards in concrete clarity to examine at detailed leisure and search for any items of benefit. Stumbling across a dead body meant checking it thoroughly to see if it had a key on it- visuals were a starkly literal representation, which lent a degree of impartiality & distance.
In Dark Corners all of this is overturned, by requiring you to care about the protagonist’s mental wellbeing. Not only can this deteriorate if not careful, it is affected by confronting the terrors involved in the storyline- looking at something shocking or upsetting can cause blurring and swimming of the protagonist’s head. He suffers vertigo if up high- traumatic events in the storyline may come back to trouble him in times of stress, such as hallucinations of bugs everywhere.
This affects the way you play profoundly- the game makes you not want to look at the horrors you see around you- if you try to force him, he may not see them clearly- In a room with something chilling you want to get-the-hell-out asap. The creators knew that the best scares are ones left partially hidden, that you don’t want to see or be near, rather than ones you gaze at mawkishly. And the possibility of hallucinations makes you always question what you see or hear.
Rather than making a game dynamic that then endlessly repeats, despite one straightforward set of controls what you’re doing at any time varies enormously dependent on the story. You take part in a police raid, just investigate and question people, run, hide, or any number of set pieces of varied style & tempo. There are moments in the story that are completely breathtaking.
No messy buttons or numbers clutter up the visuals- what is seen is all that fills the screen. Throw in an intentionally vulnerable protagonist too, and it’s a very immersive experience.
A game which leaves you weaponless for a considerable portion and has a substantial element of stealth was a hard-sell commercially especially when it came out; many of the things it pioneers have had their legacy continued by examples like Frictional Games’ creations, but it’s particular all-encompassing brand of psychology has never been attempted again as comprehensively. Utterly involving, steeped in atmosphere & suspense, it’s completely unique.
I like the way you smile at me, baby