Wednesday 18 March 2020

Shadow of the Comet – Social calls

Written by limbeck

It took me several sessions to finish Shadow of the comet and you will probably understand it from this post (Edit: and the next one. I had to split the post in two). This last part of the game was much more action-adventurey than I could take, so some pauses to calm down were required. Despite that, the game reached an adequate conclusion, featuring quite a few of the Cthulhu Mythos regulars. But on to the story.

I had left the previous session at the start of the catacombs in JONAS HAMBLETON's tomb. The catacombs turned out to be an obstacle course maze. And it is not a small one. For its first part I have to collect two skulls and place them on top of two pillars to open a gate to the inner chambers. Meanwhile, I have to dodge rats and bats, avoid pits that I don't even know they exist and step around quicksand.

And enjoy grotesque statues that play no role whatsoever

The maze is full of closed gates that I have to open. Some open by stepping on a pressure plate in another room, preferably with scurrying rats. Others require to light all the tiles on the floor, by stepping on them in sequence (stepping on them flips some on or off).

There was a particular room with a barred door, a niche on the wall and a too lively looking snake sculpture on the north wall. The bars open when I place a statue in the niche. There is a similar room on the other side. Again the bars open when you place a statue. I do so. The bars open and I drop in a pit. I had picked up the statues from a third room. All three of these rooms led to the same one, but the ones to the east and west only led me to my death if I lifted the bars. I just had to exchange positions of the two statues in the south room.

Simpler than it looked

The final puzzle in the maze involved a room with three gold plates on the walls and an altar. If you read the plates, they spelled the message: Three times around the earth the sun will turn. That is a weird riddle and I do not have anything to interact with. I can only walk around aimlessly. Apparently what I needed to do was to walk three times around the altar in the middle and the gate opens.

After that room, I walk east and north and I meet JONAS! He rambles about his power and Cthulhu and threatens me.

Previously he said I have disturbed his sleep. I am like that in some mornings

While he rambles, I switch to running mode. If I wait too long, he transforms to a white abomination and murders me. As you can see from the screenshot above, there are four statues next to him. I need these to stop the unholy families in Illsmouth. So, as soon as I can, I pick them up and run the hell out of there.

Escaping JONAS was more of a chore than one would expect. As soon as I entered a new room, I had to move immediately towards the exit. I could not afford mistakes, because the door I entered from would be blocked by the White Worm almost immediately. There were some shortcuts that circled around him, but I could not think clearly enough. I barely had 1-2 seconds to move. Considering that the keyboard controls for movement can be unresponsive at times, it was a high blood pressure escape. Meticulously mapping the maze helped A LOT, but even then I did not have time to look at it for more than half a second. In the end I had my partner guide me like a WRC co-driver. After I reach the entrance to the catacombs, I climbed my rope like crazy, while the Worm just flailed futilely at the air.

At the time I was at about 150 pulses a minute

At the exit, a couple of helpful hands drew me out of the hole. They belonged to WALTER and his mother. If you remember, WALTER was the youth that was bullied by the HAMBLETONS and we saved, only to have him run away with our tripod the first night. He is kind enough to return it though.

Ms WEBSTER is the keeper of the cemetery and she takes me in her cottage, where she tells me the story of JONAS's wake. One of the windows in the mansion was open to an otherworldly realm, full of steles and strange geography I presume. There was also a sign on the floor, which shone even after WILBUR put a sheet over it. WALTER managed to make a drawing of the sign, which we search for in the house, after I deliver some exposition of my own to the lady. After some more pixel hunting, I find the drawing of the sign behind a painting.

I tell her there are 4 families in Illsmouth, which plan to bring the unspeakable Ancient Ones (or Great Old Ones) back to Earth. When prompted, I select the option of ARLINGTON (the Mayor), HAMBLETON (barring CURTIS), COLDSTONE (the old guy with velvety threats), TYLER (clearly insane lighthouse keeper). I need to place the statuettes I grabbed from the crypt on the sign in the house of each of them.

Sometimes, the game offers hints if you are not too busy taking screenshots

My notebook informs me that at the bases of the statues are engraved three-letter syllables that may be used to build spells. I can put some of these in order to create some of the known Ancient ones, such as NYA RLA THO TEP, HAS TUR, etc., but they do not all match. We'll have to see.

I am now ready to head out and deliver justice. Before I go, I am warned by Ms WEBSTER to leave JONAS's house for last. That would be the abandoned mansion I have seen in my wanderings in Illsmouth.

I choose to go to TYLER's house first. He comes to meet me from behind the bushes, but I use the first statue on him and speak the first row of syllables. It seems that I just had to speak them in the order I have them in my notebook. I keep feeling this puzzle could have added a bit more complexity, but I don't complain. When I speak the words, TYLER starts some magic and throws something bubbly and golden at me, but I dodge it and walk towards the sign that is drawn at this doorstep. When I step on it, TYLER vapourises and JONAS starts panicking on his throne.

Who you gonna call?

Next is the mayor, as his house is closest. I cannot get in the house, so I walk around and try to look for secret entrances, only to find out that I had missed a location. There is a barn to the west of the house and there is where Mayor ARLINGTON is waiting for me with his trash talk. Second statue and second row of syllables seem to be doing their work. His sign is at the top of the barn. I try to climb to it, but he turns into a dragon and I'm dead. After a few tries, I succeed. I just had to use the statue again on the sign. This is enough for ARLINGTON to die with several tentacles coming out of his torso. Next please.

COLDSTONE is also living alone, so I head there. I say the words for him and wait to see what horrible sorcery he will use at me.

It was the old Winchester ritual

Long story short, I reload and walk up to the sign and use the statue. Another one down and it is the HAMBLETONS' turn. On my way to the mansion, I pass by MYER's store, where a kitty is waiting for me. I use the rotten fish I had collected earlier from that very location and the cat comes to me. I now have a pet moving along my inventory.

Programmers having fun with animals

When I arrive at the mansion, the HAMBLETON boys beat me to death with a two-by-four. I have to find another way. I walk to the other house that has HAMBLETON written on the doorbell. There is a dog that used to bark at me any time I went close. This time it does not, which is weird, but convenient. I use the cat on him and he goes crazy. The HAMBLETONS hear all the barking and assume I am there. Which is correct. So I start running and make a loop to get to JONAS's mansion, which I can now enter without problem.

In the entry hall, I pick up a lantern and a compass card. In the silliest way possible, I die when a net falls on me and traps me like tuna. I use the compass card at the back of the room, where the net usually traps me and I turn a rudder wheel to open a door to the right. I call it luck or just random clicking. The next room has a hole covered by a bear hide. I promptly fall to my death, probably in a pit full of snakes, spiders and scorpions. Another trap has me parting with my head if I look in the fireplace. This goes against the rule of adventure games I play, which is to look around first and then do anything that might kill you. Here, looking around kills you.

There is one more death trap in this room (that I could find).

On the mantelpiece is a lantern, so I suppose I should put the lantern I stole from downstairs on the other side. I do so and it pulls a bookcase aside to reveal another passage.

I arrive to what I assume is the study of JONAS and now of WILBUR. This time, when I look around, I actually get a book called “Magic rites”. It describes a ritual of the worshippers of “He Who Howls in the night” (aka Yog Sothoth). It says his symbol is the comet butterfly (JUGG had a butterfly collection, so I should pay a visit). Four colours are mentioned, red, white, blue and green. I can project these colours to different materials with the help of a camera obscura equipped with a lantern, which would help the “operator” to locate the secret positions of ritual talismans on sacred monoliths. So, the Being can be called by the “operator” when all talismans are in place and the ritual formula is spoken. Plot twist: you can use the same to banish the Being from the celestial sphere. I see directions for a puzzle here, so I dutifully note these down.

I also pick up a handle, which I use on the base of the telescope and have three sticks rise from the floor. I pull one of them and I die. I pull another one and a ball falls on my hands from the lamp above. Mystery. I walk towards the map or picture of planets and place the ball there... to open another secret passage.

I should be now at the top of the mansion. There is a pedestal in the middle of a pentagram and I can see outside through a hole in the wall. I use the final statue and syllables and WILBUR and spawn arrive through the walls. I try to run away but they catch me and I die by knife to the neck. Many times. A frustratingly number of times.

Maybe we can discuss politely? We don't really need all those knives, do we?

The other times I had a blinking sign to walk to and use the statue. This time I had no... well. Maybe I did have one. I am standing on one just before I am sacrificed. So I try to use the statue again and it works. Now, after the three HAMBLETONS turn into a flying polyp or something, I have to run like hell to get out of the house. I fail a few times due to the awful controls and the unforgiving time limit I am given, but in the end I get out. Where I faint.

At least I had it better than JONAS

I wake up in my room, with Dr COBBLE asking for explanations of why I was at JONAS's mansion last night. I say something vague about the good of the community and he believes me, because he had examined the body of ARLINGTON with all the extra appendages. He also warns me that Sgt. BAGGS will be looking form me and give me a message from Mr UNDERHOUSE. Apparently, he has made some important discovery and I must go there ASAP.

Well, this is getting longer than I planned, so I may as well stop here and have a proper Won! Post next time. Curse my verbosity.

Session time: 2:30
Total time: 10:10

Sanity lost:
8 from seeing and being chased by JONAS, 12 from the various deaths I caused (3 each)
Total sanity lost: 37 (My fingers are wax. They will burn, but I will have light with me always!)


  1. You know, I'm just not seeing how people hold this that high in regard. There's control issues, dialog issues, a really annoying photo puzzle, and now you get killed by looking at things. That's not even getting to some of the subjective bits either. Is it just a combination of coming out at the right time and no other real Lovecraft-based 2d adventure games?

    1. I guess it's the Lovecraftian thing - there just wasn't that many decent adventure games with horror theme back then. Dark Seed, of course, but it had its own problems. Gabriel Knight kind of changed that.

      I especially hated the sequence where you are escaping JONAS. The awkward controls, the tough timing and my utter failure of making decent maps made it almost impossible to get through.

    2. Protip, DOSBox has a pause function (Alt+Pause) which can help in situation where you need to stop and think but the game won't let you.

  2. Long time lurker here,

    I remember playing SotC in the 1990s and finishing it with an extensive walkthrough. Sure, the game has several problems with interface, action timed action sequences etc. But for me it definitely succeeds in creating an immersive Cthulhu experience. You really feel like a guy from one of Lovecraft's short stories about ancient evil lurking under a sleepy New England town. But well, if you were in the Cthulhu stuff in the 1990s and wanted to play any game with tentacles (other than those in MM) there wasn't much choice.
    For me Prisoner of Ice was much simpler but also less immersive due to horrible 3D graphics.

    1. I agree with you. I remember I first played the game while at university and I, too, used a walkthrough liberally (this was almost 20 years ago now, so I barely remembered any of the solutions). Playing it now with a more critical eye, I cannot avoid seeing the bad design, for me at least. I think your comments will be reflected in the final rating, though. It does have that Lovecraft feeling at times.

  3. Game with dark rituals and you get a cat? I thought it was going to end much worse for the poor kitty.

  4. The amount of deaths is simply ridiculous and the escape scenes are frustrating the least. But for some weird reason, i agree that the atmosphere is there and one should play the game just for it.