We figured we were ready to explore the Dark Corners of the Earth. After all, we’ve been to Blackpool on a Bank Holiday weekend. We’ve been out in Manchester on a Saturday night. Hell, we’ve been to Hull. We’ve seen a lot of dark things. But Ubisoft’s first-person horror action-adventure is dripping with moments that even we found scary.
The Cthulhu mythos was penned by horror novelist HP Lovecraft. It’s spooky and fantastical stuff, involving ancient creatures who built vast hidden cities on Earth, not to mention sanity-shattering beings trying to break into this world from another dimension. And one of the most positive aspects of Dark Corners of the Earth is that it actually does justice to these nightmarish fantasies.
Atmosphere is the key, as always with horror games. Developer Headfirst has pulled off a suitably bleak 1920s setting, with the emphasis on gloomy alleyways, rat-infested basements and creepy ghost towns. Graphically, it feels a little dated; for example, some door and window textures look “pasted on” to the walls. However, the softly lit dark environments do keep the chilling ambience rolling along nicely.
As do the sound effects, which are used to great effect. Not only is there an array of creaking floorboards and slowly drip-dripping water, but your character hears whispering voices in his head. This is all part of a “sanity” mechanic the developers have introduced, whereby the more horrific scenes you witness, the more you start to lose your grip on the world (with visual distortions and even the game’s controls going weird).
There’s plenty to unsettle you if you’re playing alone late at night, and not just the freaky stuff either. There are some dynamic set pieces, such as a scene where you’re being chased across rooftops by mad cultist types, which definitely gets the old ticker pounding. And there are tense stealth sections, too, alongside the standard sort of adventuring, puzzling and gun-fighting you’d expect.
It’s a laudably varied package, but it has its problems, the most noticeable of which is that old beast linearity. This is definitely an adventure which channels you around, with areas being blocked off by artificial means until you’re supposed to visit them.
Other niggles include trial and error sections, such as attempting to sneak past multiple enemies, which have to be repeated over and over again, as it’s only possible to save at set points. And while the developer has dispensed with a HUD (head-up display) entirely, a commendable move on the immersion front, the lack of context-sensitive icons to indicate objects the player can interact with sometimes causes you to miss things.
One final weakness lies with the enemy AI. It’s not bad on the whole, but is prone to moments of absurdity. For example, you’re spotted by a couple of goons with shotguns, who open fire and give chase. Simply legging it around a corner will sometimes make them lose track of you completely, even if you’re in a dead end and they could clearly see where you ran. This breaks the spell of the realism and atmosphere the developer has otherwise cultivated to some extent.
Nevertheless, Dark Corners of the Earth proves to be a largely enjoyable mix of adventuring and horror, stealthing and shooting, with a well woven story line that captures the spirit of the Cthulhu mythos. An extra bonus is that it’s cheaply priced compared to your average game.