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Home bullet Games bullet Evil God Phones Home

Evil God Phones Home by FullAuto Written on 7th January 2006

Format: Xbox (version reviewed)/PS2/PC.
Developer: Headfirst Productions.
Publisher: Take 2.
Release date: 28th October, 2005.
Display: Standard.
Audio: Standard.


Lovecraft. Baroquely ornate prose. Gods from beyond the dawn of time with tongue-twisting names and mind-twisting appearances. Dark things living in deep caves, doing things man should not wot of. Right? Right. Well, it's all here. With the exception of the prose, obviously, this being a first-person adventure game. Don't worry if you're not a Lovecraft aficionado, the game drops you in at the start, and your initial lack of knowledge will only help immerse you in the game, because it is reflected by your character's.

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Chopping coke was difficult with shaky hands.
You are Jack Walters, private dick. As in a private investigator, not a selective porn star. While investigating a cult, you have a brush with unspeakable things from the Cthulhu Mythos and go fucking crazy. Six years later, you're out of the laughing academy and back at work as a shamus, until one dark night when you receive a call from a prospective client. He has a job for you, in a strange little town called Innsmouth. What can you do but accept?

The first thing you will notice is the total lack of a HUD. You get nothing but your view. No gauges, levels, percentages, nothing. This is a simple trick, but makes the game a lot more immersive. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a FPS, because it's not, in any way other than the most literal. Yes, it has a first person perspective and yes, you do shoot things, but that's not what the game's about. If you try to gun your way through the game, you're going to get your arse shot off and your testicles served up to the Deep Ones on a silver platter. You don't get any weapons at all for the first three hours or so of the game, so put massacring the entire town out of your mind. Stealth is the name of the game to begin with, and is a continual theme throughout. Really puts the 'survival' into 'horror'.

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Gothic decor? You're a dead man, Bowen!
The game is suitably atmospheric. The graphics aren't the latest and greatest, but they do the job beautifully. Innsmouth is fucking minging, the sort of place that makes anywhere else look good. Both above and below ground is dirty, derelict and slumping further into disrepair. The environments are authentically 1920s archaic and older, and only grow stranger and more alien the further you delve, both into the story and into the earth. Dark, gloomy and oozing foreboding, they are a great setting for a Lovecraft story. The populace are an inbred looking bunch, and they put the fucking shits up me the minute I stepped off the bus. Every one is the sort that would gladly kill you and bugger your corpse for a year. And that's just the women.

About ten minutes in, exploring an empty street, I turned around only to find one looming behind me, staring in a most upsetting fashion. Needless to say, I almost shat. With their bulging pale faces and big blank eyes, they're not how you usually imagine small town folk unless you've been to Cornwall. Of course, it's not just inbreeding that gives them their weird appearance. When you come across a bath full of rotting dead skin (hey, whatever floats your boat) you instinctively know things have gone a little further than sister shagging.

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"Boy, round here when we say 'anal probe' we mean it."
There are some beautiful water effects that are a little too perfect, and the dynamic lighting and shadows are great. The amount of times I've jumped from the elongated shadow of a moth flickering around a corner really does show how much of a big soppy blanket I really am. Textures are ok, there's plenty of detail to the surroundings and the dark palette helps disguise some of the faults and flaws. Items stand out from the backgrounds, which makes spotting them a little too easy. Reminds me of the Resident Evil games, and how the items used to fairly twinkle against the pre-rendered backgrounds.

Of special note are the insanity effects. Not only must you look after your body, you have to look after your mind. Seeing weird shit, getting sudden shocks, it all chips away at your sanity. When this happens, your breathing and heart rate will become audible, you shake, you start hearing voices and talking to yourself and your vision blurs and begins to spin. This makes moving very difficult and fighting damn near impossible. You may panic involuntarily, and put your weapon away or shoot at nothing at all. If the terrors of Cthulhu become too much and your mind snaps, you'll blow your own brains out. Thankfully, you can regain your composure at Elder Signs daubed on walls here and there, which also handily double as save points. But after you've seen the ghost of a little girl (complete with mortal wounds) skip merrily across the intersection in front of you, you will need a little time to get your nerve back, never mind your avatar.

Because there are no status or health bars, the creators have decided to give you obvious visual cues to your state. Blood loss means the screen slowly greys out, and will eventually fade to black if you don't treat your wounds. When shot or stabbed, blood spatters across the screen, the amount directly correlating to the seriousness of the wound. Poisoned by some weird creature with nipples for eyes? No problem, you get to see an insidious frost-like pattern creep in at the edges of your vision. Vertigo is also in there just for chuckles, making navigating some of the higher sections fun. Sorry, did I say fun? I meant nauseating. I would gladly pay to see someone who suffers from motion sickness play this game, because it would be Technicolour Yawn time. Repeatedly.

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Schizophrenia Awareness had found their new poster boy.
Taking care of your body (it is a temple, after all) is something you seem to have neglected while in the booby hatch, and you're paying for those pies now. Movement is sure and natural, but you're not the swiftest of runners or the furthest of leapers. You do get a nice sense of movement though, not too oiled. Too often in first-person games your character moves with Steadicam smoothness. If you break a leg in this game, there's an appreciable hitch to your stride and your speed slows right down. God help you if you break both. Jumping is a bugger, but not so much as other games. You know when you see a gap whether you can jump it or not, which is nice. There's a Sneak mode which allows you to lean around corners and peer over cover, and it's difficult to use at first but a little practice means you soon become proficient and it pays dividends when tiptoeing past heavies.

You can take serious damage and still survive, from falling or bullets or whatever, but if you don't see to your wounds swiftly, you bleed out and die. This is a nice realistic touch, negated by the fact that you heal in seconds, but hey, no game is perfect. There are a variety of different treatments for a variety of different wounds on various parts of your body, sadly rendered useless by a 'quick heal' command which automatically applies the right panacea. Stupid, boys and girls. Be very ashamed.

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"Sing, you bastards! Sing, or it's clobberin' time!"
Combat is difficult, as it should be. You get no aiming reticule, and although you can get a nice feel for where your rounds are hitting, this involves using lots of ammo. A better way is going into Aim mode, which slows your movement, but offers you greater accuracy as you peer down the weapon, using the iron sights. A neat feature is the analogue approach of this system. The harder you push the button, the slower your aiming movement becomes, allowing for more precise shooting. Again, tricky to use because initially panic makes you jam the button down like the buffoon you are, and this makes it difficult to track fast-moving targets. After a little while you get used to inching the pressure down so you just slip into aim mode, meaning you can shoot accurately and keep even the most fleet of foot in your sights.

You can't carry thousands of rounds, and with only five firearms and a melee weapon or two at your disposal, you have to watch your ammo carefully, especially seeing as there's no indicator when playing. You can check at any time by going to the inventory screen, but I found keeping mental track of the reloads easier and less disruptive to gameplay. Melee weapons are much more effective when used on an unsuspecting enemy, and head shots are much easier when your target is stood there scratching his balls than running about shooting at you. So it's nearly always best to start some shit on your terms, rather than wade in with guns blazing. Enemies vary in their armament and behaviour, but they are good at hunting you down. Some have guns, some just melee, but it's tricky to deal with them, as even the slowest move at a fair clip. Running for cover, screaming for help, side-stepping while returning fire, they're a tough bunch and large groups call for an ice-cool head and rock-steady trigger finger.

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"Dude, I'm never drinking rum again. Ever."
Sounds are great, with soft ambient noise and speech making the violent crash of bodies against a barricaded door or the scream of shattering glass as startling as it should be. This game is creepy as a cold hand on the back of your neck when you're in the shower. On Halloween. In a haunted house. You get the idea. The music and fx are in place, solid and competent. Throbbing heartbeats, harsh breathing, gurgled speech, cracking gunshots, shrieking whistles, they're all here and all spot on.

The game plays very well, it has to be said. The initial lack of weapons makes finding some later on a joyous moment, when you finally get something in your favour that makes hitting back at the snot-pale hordes a viable course of action, rather than suicide by fuckwit. The slow pace of the first few hours as you wander around, investigating this and that, poking your nose where an outsider shouldn't really means the action kicking off is shocking. A chase is nothing but panic embodied, as you run down corridors, windows shattering as a torrent of gunfire chases you. Slamming doors behind you and bolting them, shoving cabinets in front of them to further impede your pursuers, before hurling yourself out into the night, up and down fire escapes and across rooftops, shots and shouts right behind you and growing closer. Big chunks of the game are slow and measured, interspersed with jump scares, so a gunfight or pursuit really gets the old heartbeat a-pumping. The puzzles don't really tax you, but a fair few make you think, and trying to work out safe combinations from various clues is actually enjoyable (if you can imagine such a thing).

The few niggles are minor. The grainy 19th-century-film effect on the (unskippable! Bastards!) cut scenes got right up my nose, although that may be because I bought Darkwatch and Red Dead Revolver shortly before COC: DCotE and they use the same technique. Another thing which has always annoyed me about adventure games is the fucking stupid demands NPCs make of you. "Oh, God! I couldn't possibly leave this town full of demonic mutants Hell-bent on skullfucking me to death without my mother's antique breadbin!" I mean, seriously. Where's the option to jam your pistol into their mouth and say "Fine by me."? This sort of artificial stricture needs to be done away with. It's stupid, and shows a lack of intelligence and a lack of innovation.

It's a difficult game and no mistake. Four difficulty levels, with only the easiest two being open from the start. The last is an absolute bastard to unlock, as well. The scarcity of medical supplies, coupled with the overwhelming odds and difficulty of combat means some sections will take a few tries, but it's a game that rewards persistence by dragging you deeper into the mythos. As you try to keep mind and body together and watch your ammunition dwindle, the enemies become ever stranger and the surroundings grow mysteriouser and mysteriouser, always keeping your interest while pulling you ever downward, trying to unravel the unearthly goings on around Innsmouth and in your own past.

If Lovecraft is watching, from a place where even death may die, he's approving.


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