App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Since learning about H.P. Lovecraft's virulent racism and homophobia, I've found it difficult to approach pieces of media that use his body of work as inspiration. Ignoring or papering over the most overtly bigoted pieces of work just so you can play make believe with New England blood cults and tentacle monsters is at its very best a bit tired, and often serves as a tacit endorsement of horrific beliefs that pervade his entire body of work, even when not explicitly acknowledged or stated.
This is what was floating around in my head as I booted up The Innsmouth Case, a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative adventure where you head to a small fishing town to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Luckily, the game is more of a lampoon of Lovecraft than it is anything else, and--although I wish it went further in tearing down the author and his beliefs--it makes for a more palatable exploration of the occult unknown than I was expecting.
The Innsmouth Case is a text-based game where you play as a private investigator. A mysterious woman saunters into your office toward the end of a long day, asking for your help in locating her daughter, who disappeared in the small town of Innsmouth. This sets you off on adventure to the sleepy little fishing town, where you quickly realize that not everything is as it seems.
For the most part, this narrative unfolds simply by you tapping through walls of text that describe what's going on in your character's head as he conducts his investigation. Every once in a while though, you get to make a choice about what to do or say next, with the idea being that your choices can lead you to the truth behind this missing person's case and reveal more about what's going on in Innsmouth.
As a game inspired by Lovecraft, it's easy to predict where The Innsmouth Case heads. The town citizenry are odd folk that follow a strange religion, and spaces beyond the quaint town square give off a sense of bizarre foreboding. As you dig further into this missing person's case, things only get stranger, and all the things you can expect from a conventional Lovecraftian tale rear their heads.
In trotting out these well-worn tropes though, The Innsmouth Case doesn't take any of them particularly seriously. In fact, the game often gives you opportunities to derail or question things like blood rituals and occult orgies, and making these choices are the most entertaining parts of the game. Despite a few typos across the game as a whole, it's cleverly written and has some geniunely funny bits that poke fun at Lovecraft's self-serious tone and dismantle a lot of the dehumanizing elements of his work that enabled his doctrine of hate.
Although The Innsmouth Case pokes fun at Lovecraft, I do wish it did more to condemn him. There is a foreword at the top of the game acknowledging the problems with his work, but there is no further judgement on his work rendered outside of playful jabs across the story.
I also with The Innsmouth Case was a little less repetitive. As you make your choices, you can reach different endings, some of which are satisfying, but the majority of which are not. There are also a lot of different branching paths that end up in the same place, which make replaying the game a little more onerous than I would've liked.
The bottom line
I'm glad The Innsmouth Case doesn't just use Lovecraft to blindly celebrate his occult aesthetic, but at the same time the game feels like it stops just short of any biting criticism or satire. That, plus the repetitive nature of the game, can bog down the experience, but there are enough shining moments of comedy here that I enjoyed the experience in Innsmouth, at least the first few times.