Of the countless gaming adaptations of HP Lovecraft (problematic influence that he is), it’s often those that take a very loose approach to his mythos that stand out for me. So well-trodden is the path of the Lovecraft game that the tentacles of his ideas can be found all over the place, but I’ve found it’s far better focus on the spirit of his writing and the idea of madness as opposed to his racism. Such is the case with The Innsmouth Case, a game which is not afraid to wear its influence clear on its sleeve.
The title name-checks one of the most infamous locations in Lovecraft’s stories, complete with Elder Gods, sacrifices, and fish people. It is difficult to get away from the more unsavoury aspects of Lovecraft’s work with this source material considering the centrality of the fears around cross-breeding that serve as the background here, but RobotPumpkin Games bring a tongue-in-cheek and comedic approach to their adaptation.
Similar to last year’s Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure, The Innsmouth Case takes the more excessive aspects of Lovecraft and plays them for laughs. The developer sees fit to include an editorial note that acknowledges the issues with Lovecraft which suggests that they come at the material with a knowingness that informs their humour. The result is a well-written choose your own adventure tale with multiple endings that will appeal to fans of both the genre and the source material.
While the adventure book model doesn’t generally lend itself to stunning graphics, the aesthetics here are nicely judged. The cartoonish characters and settings have a real charm and fit perfectly with the theme. By focusing on the grotesque and monstrous inhabitants of Innsmouth, the game makes it clear that the town should not be anybody’s holiday destination. The residents are all humanoid, but have distinctive deformities that mark them as irrevocably affected by the town and its scaly visitors. Dialogue options allow you to show your detective character’s discomfort, although being impolite about townspeople’s appearance isn’t always the best way to interrogate them.
Your visit to Innsmouth is the result of being hired to investigate the case of a missing girl, Tabitha Marsh. The ensuing case then follows a traditional branching narrative that can see you taken along a range of results from refusing the case to being horribly sacrificed or hopefully escaping Innsmouth unscathed. Each of these outcomes follow set paths, so decisions made are generally binding. Fortunately, there are a series of checkpoints that serve as virtual thumbs in the book and allow you to go back and try alternative approaches. This is especially necessary as there are many endings to discover.
The quality of the writing is obviously key to success in this genre, and it is here that The Innsmouth Case comes into its own. Characters are well designed, with individual attitudes and motivations, descriptions are suitably lurid, and dialogue is convincing. RobotPumpkin Games manage to bring out the humorous potential in Lovecraft’s work whilst not resorting to simple parody (although there is plenty of that to be found too). While the entries don’t always stand up to repeated readings (a necessary effect of the multiple endings) each new path offers enjoyable takes on cosmic horror staples.
The downside of the multiple ending approach is that the game itself is very short, and ended sooner than I expected. The singular ‘Case’ in the title is accurate and so the game’s longevity depends entirely on the player seeking out the different endings. While many of these follow fairly logical routes, there is some frustration to be had in replaying sections multiple times. A visualisation of the branching choices like that found in Detroit: Becoming Human would have perhaps helped here, although there is nothing stopping you from mapping one out on paper as you play.