Somewhere in the aeons dead docklands of eastern London it was lurking; an unnameable presence which spoke of strange gods lulled by the infernal piping of shapeless creatures in the dark voids between worlds. Having consulted the hideously ancient Pnakotic manuscripts, the suppressed Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred and the press releases of Fishtank Interactive, we had suspected what we might find. No mere words could prepare us for what we found that September day though, and only now can I bring myself to relate what we saw...
It's Grim Up North
Developed amidst the decaying remnants of the city of Birmingham by Headfirst Productions, Call of Cthulhu is (as you may by now have surmised) inspired by the works of the great American horror writer HP Lovecraft. Set amongst the crumbling splendour and strange fish-like odors of the fictional New England town of Innsmouth, the game features a mixture of combat and exploration as you investigate the unspeakable terror which hangs over the strangely empty town and its odd looking inhabitants with their bulging, unblinking eyes. The sinister world of Lovecraft's stories has been lovingly recreated in digital form, from the streets of Innsmouth and their derelict but not quite abandoned houses to the pirate caves and yawning chasms that lie beneath, and the tentacled creatures and not entirely human townsfolk which lurk therein. The texturing is some of the most impressive we've seen to date, taking full advantage of the latest technology to apply all the lighting effects, bump mapping and grimy detail you could wish for, and the result is atmospheric and strangely oppressive. The gameplay itself appears to be less of a Tomb Raider style romp and more of an adventure game at this stage, with your diary recording any information and clues you uncover during your wanderings. You will also be able to stop people in the street and question them, although if the story on which the game is loosely based is anything to go by they may not be very talkative.
And you may not be too happy with what you discover as your search for a missing grocery clerk leads you deeper into rumours of pacts with an ancient race, human sacrifices, and sinister goings on at the temple of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. This is reflected by the gradual loss of your character's sanity throughout the game. As you see things not meant for human eyes - strange creatures, mutilated corpses and obscure occult texts, for example - your grip on reality will start to slip. Lose enough sanity at one go and your character will go into a frenzied state of terror in which you move faster and temporarily gain strength in a desperate bid to escape whatever unnameable horror reduced you to this gibbering mess in the first place. Sadly the effects of this loss of mental stability weren't yet implemented in the version of the game we saw, but the idea is that you should be able to judge your character's state of mind from cues such as distorted vision and hallucinations. Gradually you will regain your senses, but some of the damage is permanent and you will never fully recover. How effective the game will prove to be at scaring players out of their wits along with their characters remains to be seen, but from the glimpse we got that dark September morning the game appears to be shaping up nicely. With a release currently on the cards for early next year, we should know soon if it can live up to this initial promise.