Although I’m typically not the type of H.P. Lovecraft fan who enjoys mixing the iconic author’s work with comedy (even Stuart Gordon’s classic Reanimator tends to rub me the wrong way), I found myself genuinely laughing out loud during PsychoDev’s enjoyable indie adventure Chronicle of Innsmouth. With the exception of a few misguided attempts to give a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge to the adventure genre (how many Monkey Island references do we really need, anyway?), this LucasArts-style throwback blends the horror maestro’s unique sense of the bizarre with some genuinely amusing gameplay, resulting in a retro-tinged experience that’s worthy of praise from Lovecraft nerds and point-and-click aficionados alike.
Players assume the role of a young man on a journey through the wilds of Massachusetts to properly celebrate his coming-of-age during the early 20th century. Armed only with a gold pen, a map of the area, and a few bucks in his wallet, our brave hero soon stumbles across tales of a weird coastal town called Innsmouth, a place spoken of in whispers and hushed tones. Overwhelmed with curiosity, fueled in part by a mysterious man who desperately desires to reclaim a handful of the town’s ancient relics, the brave and somewhat foolhardy young man sets off for Innsmouth, where its assortment of peculiar residents (and their secrets) await his arrival.
Tucked between our hero’s adventures are black-and-white flashbacks featuring private detective Lone Carter, who has been hired to locate a Christian fellow that suddenly went missing from Innsmouth. These segments give those unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s classic tale The Shadow Over Innsmouth – which served as inspiration for Chronicle of Innsmouth – some background on the town, its inhabitants, and the secrets surrounding the very strange religion practiced by those who pray to Dagon, lord of the Deep Ones. At first, these sequences seem a bit jarring, especially when you’re still getting accustomed to the main protagonist and his exploits, but before long you realize how much these moments add to the overall story. To understand why Innsmouth is so damned creepy, it helps to have some behind-the-scenes info on what is actually taking place there.
The mystery doesn’t really start to come together until you actually arrive in the titular small town, where strange people roam the streets and everyone just seems a little off. While it’s initially unclear why this young man has such a keen interest in this out-of-the-way locale, the truth begins to take shape when he explores the area, including Innsmouth’s pier, the surrounding swamp, and, of course, an enigmatic lighthouse. Our hero will also discover why the town is now infested with bizarre denizens and how Innsmouth’s oddball religion played a hand in transforming the region into something much darker. In essence, what begins as a simple adventure fueled by curiosity becomes a journey of discovery as the protagonist becomes intertwined in the town’s history – and, to some extent, its future.
After exiting the bus and poking around a bit, you’ll quickly discover that there’s a very good reason for why outsiders don’t want to spend too much time talking about Innsmouth. The people here just seem sinister, though it’s difficult to put your finger on why, exactly, they don’t seem to have our hero’s best interest at heart. Is it the bus driver’s blunt manner of speaking? The way the guy behind the desk at the inn seems to draw out everything his says? How about the unsettling individuals who are roaming aimlessly around the town in the middle of the night?
And it’s these moments that make the game so damned creepy. Although it’s not a straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the developers do a good job of capturing that sense of unease and foreboding. Sure, the townsfolk don’t seem outwardly evil, but you know, from the black-and-white segments and the main protagonist’s encounter with the mysterious man in the library, that there’s something evil taking place here. And as the story’s secrets slowly begin to take shape, you learn how this naive young man fits into the grand puzzle. Like a good Lovecraft story, Chronicle is equal parts horror and mystery, teasing you with answers and chilling you with what you’ll discover along the way.
Staying true to the old-school LucasArts style, you’ll interact with the world using a handful of verbs located at the bottom of the screen. If you’re at all familiar with classic and retro-tinged point-and-click adventure games, then you’ve seen this SCUMM-like collection of actions plenty of times before. You’ll navigate with the aid of hotspot labels, with right-clicks defaulting to the most logical first action on a given object or person, though not necessarily the required one. While the game keeps pixel hunting to a minimum, there are a few moments, particularly in the library, where mouse accuracy counts, especially when it’s unclear what you’re supposed to do next.