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About the StoryPeople warned me about being a private dick in Arkham, Massachusetts. Sure, Iíd heard the stories of monsters, cults, and other bizarre happenings in this old New England town. My take? The world is scary enough without help from the supernatural. It wouldnít be until a mother walked through my door looking for her missing son that I realized how wrong I was. A prequel to H.P. Lovecraftís, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, live the adventure of detective Jack DuVrey as he investigates a case of mystery and madness. Will you survive, The Call of Innsmouth?
47th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Anyway, given this tediously-explained context, I was interested to see how Call of Innsmouth followed through on its blurb, which seemed to presage going hard on the noir tropes, and avoided this dilemma. The answer is that mostly it sidesteps the tension by presenting a completely straight-ahead take, with prose that doesnít commit hard either way Ė the smoky, jazzy tones of noir and the adjective-mad enthusiasm of Lovecraft get a few hat-tips, but the style is overall quite normcore. The same is true for the plot, which mirrors the plot of the mid-aughts Call of Cthulhu video game remarkably closely Ė and even if you, like the author, havenít played it, proceedings will still feel pretty familiar so long as you've read the Shadow Over Innsmouth. I think the biggest story-related surprise I experienced was that at one point, after I made a bad decision, I was expecting to get eaten by Dagon, but instead I got eaten by a shoggoth.
None of this is necessarily bad Ė if you are in the mood for a Lovecraft game, Call of Innsmouth has you covered in spades! Itís big, with lots to do that gives you that old Cthulhu charge Ė you prep for the investigation by visiting an Arkham boarding house and consulting Miskatonicís Professor Armitage, and you get to raid Devilís Reef and meet Zadok Allen (though oddly, his name is misspelled and heís given a weird dialect different from what heís got in the book, maybe coding him as Native American? Zadok is a biblical name so I always assumed heís a Quaker or something like that). There are a number of action sequences, and while itís (appropriately) easy to die, the correct choices arenít too obfuscated, and unlimited rewinds are offered if your guts do wind up decorating a Deep Oneís claws.
Writing-wise, as mentioned the style is pretty straightforward and there are some typos, but also a few nice bits of characterization Ė when the player characterís client breaks down in worry over her missing son, he just shifts uncomfortably rather than comforting her, for example. And while you appropriately freak out at some of the revelations, and start out a bit skeptical about this whole dark-god-and-fish-men business, it isnít overly belabored so thereís no tedious tension between the genre-savvy player and the notionally new-to-all-this player character. Call of Innsmouth delivers what it sets out to, and if itís not the most novel take on these tropes, and the prose plays it down the middle, you still get a meaty adventure to satisfy any Mythos cravings (like for a game I mean, not forbidden knowledge or human flesh or anything gross like that).
ExceptÖ thatís not quite how it goes.
Generally, I reckon that preserving a sense of mystery throughout the bulk of the story is crucial to the appeal of a piece of detective fiction. Ditto for a played-straight Lovecraftian work. But The Call of Innsmouth goes in the other direction, laying out quite a bit of blunt exposition early-on, so that the entire mystery is explained fairly clearly, even well before the climax. And I do mean explained - in most cases, you as the player arenít making deductions or trying to weigh evidence to figure out whatís going on. Nor is there much room for ambiguity. You just get told everything directly, either by other characters who are happy to volunteer everything they know in a few major info-dumps, or by the internal monologue of a protagonist who can sometimes be exceptionally quick at jumping to conclusions.
This, I think, is a detriment to an otherwise well-written story. I would have preferred the underlying horrors to be revealed more slowly and gradually, with more opportunities for the player to apply their own logic to the course of the investigation.
That aside, I did enjoy many of the more action-oriented scenes in the latter half of the game. Many of the choices at that point are hazardous, with plenty of opportunities for insta-death, but they didnít feel arbitrary. On the contrary, these choices reward the player for paying attention to the current situation and applying a bit of logic or intuition to it - for example, realizing that you need to take a hostage because you are unlikely to defeat/outrun your foes otherwise. Thatís great. But why arenít there more opportunities for the player to use their brain like this in the earlier, more investigative sequences of the game? As it is, there are very few points during the investigative phase where the playerís choices matter at all.
Overall, strong writing, has the right vibe, but could have done a better job at making me feel like a detective.
The story visits standard New England locations that are central to Lovecraft's work, and design choices support a creepy atmosphere. Presentation details, like the custom background and buttons to choose your next action, are a welcome departure from Twine's black-and-white defaults.
The investigation that leads the narrator to Innsmouth is much less exciting than time spent in the town itself. Early pages end with the equivalent of "click to continue" buttons, and every possible conversation option must be exhausted before doing something else.
(It made me feel less like a sharp-eyed detective and more like a bored student hearing lectures that repeated the same few ideas about Innsmouth and its sinister residents.)
However, it's evident that the author's skills were honed during the process of developing this work. My experience in the town of Innsmouth was briskly paced and full of enjoyably tense decisions. There are multiple ways to encounter plot points before fleeing to safety, and although bad decisions can end in disaster, the author allows players to undo their mistakes.
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