I know I’ve been fairly negative lately about the games I am playing. I really don’t want to just hate everything that comes my way and hold it up to some impossible golden standard, but damn, there’s been so much disappointment in my gaming life lately.
Take Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, for instance. I really, really want to like this game. There are a ton of neat game play ideas in it, and the narrative is so well told. But part way through the game stopped being about horror and started being about shooting, and as a shooter it’s pretty miserable (even with my discovery of the Aim button–holy crap it was hard before that). The damage model is too unforgiving, the reload time is way too long, and your short-term goals are really unclear. I’ve had to use a faq twice now for this game (which I loathe to do), and both times the places that I got stuck at were really trivial tasks. I find myself playing the same section over and over again, not because it is hard to figure out what to do, but because it’s so easy to fail. These are sections that the game designers probably intended the player to spend less than five minutes on, and here I am wandering around for hours because an item that I needed to collect refused to be collected when I tried or because the subtitles don’t show up reliably. It doesn’t help that the health and damage systems, which I discussed in the previous post, are harsh even for a stealth game, and then the designers drop you into situations where gunplay is the only option. In these cases (like the raid on the boat) you basically can’t take any hits because you don’t have time to heal and even the most trivial hit will kill you eventually thanks to blood loss. Argh!
It is rare for me to feel so mixed about a game. Usually it’s a failure at every level, mediocre across the board, or consistently inspired. But with Call of Cthulhu, I’m finding a huge amount of variability in the moment-to-moment quality. The insanity effects, the audio design, the story, and the story telling are all excellent. The graphics are good and I like the character design, the dialog is well-written and well-acted, and the way the narrative branches is really interesting. But on the other hand, the gun play is a disaster (and a central game mechanic), the stealth aspects are unrewarding, and the game is really poor at communicating goals to the player. Some of the puzzles are needlessly obtuse (don’t tell me to go find an item that doesn’t actually exist, please) and the game has actually crashed on me twice now (though I am running under emulation on a 360, so I should probably give the developer the benefit of the doubt).
Call of Cthulhu should, by rights, be a great game. It’s got everything it needs to be absolutely awesome. And yet I feel like I have to punch myself in the face while playing it in order to get to the next awesome thing.