I'm not sure how many people played Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, but I have to say that I really enjoyed the majority of what the game had to offer. Unfortunately, I also was extremely irritated by some segments (especially the segments where I was being chased and had to lock/unlock doors with precision in timed sequences when the trigger detection was sketchy to say the least. But I liked the ambiance, the environments, and the cut-scenes. I enjoyed the storyline as well. The only parts I didn't really enjoy were the irritating action sequences.
One of the most impressive pieces of the adventuring aspect of Cthulhu to me was the means by which you connected the dots to get to one place or another. there was room for exploration, though it was semi-linear in that some of what you were discovering was triggering other events in the timeline, but it felt somewhat open-ended yet rarely made me feel like I was being led by the nose. It also rarely had me scratching my head and wondering what to do next (unlike a section of F.E.A.R. where I kept trying to find a way to avoid Alma when running backward was really the way to go).
So what went wrong with my enjoyment of the game?
I really disliked the initial chase scene. To set the scene, you are in a hotel room and some townies decide that they're going to kill you. The puzzle basically has you opening and closing doors, locking them, and sliding bookshelves up against them to stop the fishy townies. A pretty good setup for a tense escape sequence as long as it works.
It seems like a pretty easy setup...and it should be once you figure it out. Unfortunately, figuring it out is irritating because you have to perform exact steps with problematic triggers. The problem wasn't figuring out the order that I had to do things. That part was easy (though annoying since each mistake lead to death and load times). But the horrid trigger detection on the locks gave me fits.
Here is the sequence of the escape puzzle that irritated me:
- Run into the connecting room. Turn around. Close the door. Lock the door.
- Run to the bookcase and push it aside. Open the door. Run into the next room. Close the door. Lock the door.
- Run to the hallway door. Lock it.
- Run to the connecting door and unlock it. Open the door. Enter the room. Turn around and close the door. Lock it.
- Push the bookcase in front of the door you just locked.
- Run to the window and push the bookcase out of the way.
- Open the window. Go through it to the balcony.
- Jump to the next balcony. Open the door and push the clock in front of the door.
There is much more to the sequence that actually works, but this is the part that was most irritating. The main reason it is irritating is that the triggers for opening and closing the doors and locking them often get muddled in the engine. So sometimes you will be trying to lock the door only to open it and happily letting death into the room with you.
What made it more annoying is that it is a timed puzzle. Enemies are breaking down the doors around you and you have to do everything in sequence exactly...and quickly. So having bolts that don't bolt and instead open the doors to let death (and loading times) in become extremely annoying.
What could have been done?
Intelligent triggers (or at least larger trigger areas for the locks. Whenever I watch people playing first-person games, I notice that they often target the mid/upper-mid level of the door to open it. If it is a shooter, they often keep their constant mid-height target inline so as to be able to shoot crouching enemies as well as standing ones. If it is an adventure game, they usually just expect the door to open when they click it. Precision is usually not much of an issue when it comes to triggers.
But in Cthulhu, the locks were above the usual "door opening plane" (for back of a better term). So, clicking anything in approximately the right are would have been enough to lock or unlock the door. Unfortunately, that's not how it worked. It seemed that the collision was sketchy for the locks. Sometimes I thought I had clicked directly on the lock...and boom. The door opens and a townie kills me. Wait...didn't I unlock the door? Rinse, repeat. Ad infinitum. Or at least it felt like it.
I do not know how the triggering was setup in Cthulhu, but I would have made sure that the vast majority of the upper part of the door was unlocked. The yelling and chopping of the townies was enough to invoke the sense of urgency, as was the linearity of the action. I didn't need the triggers conspiring against me. Rather than making the situation feel urgent...it made it feel cheap. And that pissed me off since I really enjoyed the game!
I still recommend the game to people looking for an adventure game with a hint of action, but little design pieces like this make it harder to recommend.