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Dee Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2006-01-09 04:16:05
To my undying shame, this happened to me back in college. I had just hooked up my spankin' new Nintendo 64 to my crude 14" TV/VCR combo unit. I slapped in Shadows of the Empire and assumed the darkness permeating the game was some sort of thematic symbolism about the umbrella of tyranny cast by the Empire. It was pretty bad; I was using stormtrooper corpses as landmarks and firing seeker missiles not as munitions, but as an optics system. Years after crushing the game on the masochistic "Jedi" difficulty setting, I happened to connect the system to a better TV and was astonished to find every corner fully illuminated.
Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Xbox) reminded me of this experience. I tried turning up the brightness setting, but then the game looked washed out. Nevertheless, I wanted to enjoy the game, as it has a lot going for it. The story has a good hook, and everything has a spook factor that keeps the creepies roaming your spine. CoC:DCotE is an FPS, but you don't even get any firearms until a full 25% into the game. Artistically speaking, it's a tour de force.
Unfortunately, techwise, it's fairly atrocious. The horrid textures undermine the greatness of the art design, and the inexactness of the controls wreck the promising gameplay. The aforementioned darkness factor was the final straw; you know that disconcerting feeling when you're peering into a black screen wondering if you're heading down a dark passage or just butting your head against a wall? A flashlight would've solved that entire problem, as well as augmenting the strategy of the stealth sequences.
For 360 owners, Condemned: Criminal Origins is the exact inverse. Technically, it's simply astounding. It is thoroughly next-gen; the moody lighting, the disturbing surround soundtrack, and the teeth-crunching bloodiness of the First Person Melee combat keeps your stomach clenched...until you get bored of it. Every corridor seems the same as the last, and as awesome as fending off a violent junkie by bludgeoning him with a wrench is, it's not nearly as thrilling the 528th time you do it.
It's an older game, but if any of you are looking for a good creepfest, check out Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly. Make sure you get the Xbox version if possible - it added a first person mode which amps up the fright factor. Some people deride this mode saying that it controls harder since you can't see behind you, but that's entirely the point. In third person, it's not nearly as frightening because you can see the ghosts sneaking up on your character, as opposed to whirling around because you have that frantic feeling in your gut screaming at you to check behind you. Also, in third person, all the horror is happening to someone else. First person makes it visceral: it's you who's being stalked by hateful spirits who resent the living. The surround sound is also far more convincing in this mode. I ended up returning the PS2 rental without even finishing it, but the Xbox version was the scariest game I've ever played.