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Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet (DOS)

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Written by  :  A.T. (75)
Written on  :  Oct 07, 2012
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars

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Summary

May lead to a heart attack!

The Good

Well, at least your protagonist will get a stroke or two. And that's only a minor spoiler, since the plot of this wonderful adventure is so multilayered and so twisted, that it will keep surprising you till the end.

Shadow of the Comet is one of the most lovingly designed horror games, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft or not. Since it IS inspired, this, of course, helps to build up a strong storyline based on a rich universe. It starts simple enough, in a year 1910, with an American photographer John Parker arriving in a small port town of Illsmouth in order to take pictures of Halley's Comet passing by. He also has a diary of a madman in his trunk, who dared to do the very same thing 76 years ago, but that's a secret, so please keep your mouth shut!

Actually, this skill - keeping some stuff to yourself - will become useful very soon, since you'll meet many suspicious characters immediately after your arrival. Some of them are friends, others are involved in a sinister plot. Act carefully, think twice and save often, as they used to say. Or die a horrible death.

The gloomy atmosphere grows quickly on you, and the wonderfully disturbing music helps a lot. Yet it is the story that builds tension. You will spend 3 days and 3 nights in Illsmouth, but the game is so cleverly designed, that you'll never feel like going around in circles in order to trigger some stupid event you've no idea about. Parker will get access to new town areas every now and then, search a nearby forest, travel to a few islands. There's always a lot going on, and if not - look closely, follow suspicious characters and read your journal! This was one of the important innovations, since in early 90s games didn't keep track of your progress. Well, Shadow of the Comet did, and did masterfully, without turning into a step-by-step walkthrough.

The puzzles vary from easy and logical to complex and hair-pulling, so don't count on the journal much. Sometimes it requires you to think out of the box, sometimes it's just a straightforward inventory puzzle. The game also futures several not-quite-arcade sequences in a sense you have to watch your step and not be eaten. This adds adrenaline to an already nervous experience.

While Shadow of the Comet doesn't follow any particular novel, it manages to deliver the general atmosphere very nicely, with creepy environment, familiar life stories and a number of references, starting from a diploma of Miskatonic University on the wall and ending with ancient Gods in person. The developers were so obviously into Lovecraft and horror genre, that even characters are portrayed as B-movie horror stars and Lovecraft himself! Seriously, it can't get any better.

The Bad

It can get worth though - for some at least. You really should find and play the CD version that came out in a year after the original one. Not only it adds voices (some nice work done there), an intro and a short tour around 'The Lovecraft Museum', but, more importantly, removes the dead-ends and invents mouse support! Since the diskette version was keyboard-controlled, it led to some brave experiments and frustrating path-finding.

The same can be said about the graphics: not everyone's cup of tea. While the cut-scenes and close-ups are beautifully stylised, the main playground looked nothing special even back in 1993, with Sierra and LucasArts overshadowing the picture in every aspect. This is probably the reason why the game was robbed of the public attention. But should one care about it today?

The Bottom Line

That wasn't a question for me! The story had so many memorable moments and shocking details, that I couldn't care less about the dated graphics. And you shouldn't too, since there are very few horror games of such caliber out there. Even the official sequel - Prisoner of Ice - that came out a couple of years later, made by the same talented team using the same license, was nowhere as good as Shadow of the Comet. A highly underrated and deeply involving classics made by fans for fans.