There is a wrong way to play The Innsmouth Case. The ‘Case’ mentioned in the title might make this seem like this is a detective story with a clear beginning, middle and end; you’re given a case, you attempt to solve it, and then you unmask the villain. But don’t let it fool you, as The Innsmouth Case is NOT interested in you solving its single missing-persons case, and if you chase that objective then you may well be disappointed (this comes from a place of experience). Instead, The Innsmouth Case is about finding as many good endings as you can in a mess of bad endings.
The most direct comparison for The Innsmouth Case is the choose-your-own-adventure books you might have played a couple of decades ago. Everything is presented in a book form, with chapters for story milestones, and a turn of the page needed as you move from situation to situation. This is a text adventure, as everything is described in words, except for a static scene at the top and the occasional character marionette wandering in. If you’re in the market for action, it’s probably best turning back now.
The Innsmouth Case is absolutely loaded with choices. If you’ve played a choose-your-own-adventure then this will be the norm, but anyone finding themselves at The Innsmouth Case via a visual novel, say, will be surprised at just how much divergence and choice is on offer here. You will have up to four choices for every beat of dialogue, for every branch of a path, and you will even be able to do drastic things like turn down the case, reverse away from Innsmouth and go home, or just chuck yourself off a cliff, should the fancy take you.
And so we come back to the opening caveat. You’re given so much choice, because The Innsmouth Case wants you to fill up a collection of endings. It doesn’t make this clear from the start – it doesn’t teach you a few vital things, to be fair, which we’ll mention later – but it’s imperative that you get in the mindset. You will die and die lots in The Innsmouth Case, and it will often be arbitrary. Sometimes, EVERY option will lead to death. There’s just no way out. Once you’ve got your head around this model, you can start finding scraps of enjoyment as you fill out your Death Book.
The other key to enjoying The Innsmouth Case is also not tutorialised. You can bug out of the game at any point and return to a title screen where you can hop to any location. We spent far too long bashing our heads against a series of dead ends like a bee against a window, when all we needed to do was find another chapter and start from there. Scribble that down: it’s essential.
But once you understand that The Innsmouth Case is a spiderweb with a spider at almost every corner, you can find some joy. It releases the pressure of finding ‘the correct’ path through the game, and you can just enjoy all of the weird and wonderful endings at play here. It’s where The Innsmouth Case flourishes: the game is filthy, and relishes putting you in situations that are 18-rated and – frankly – hilarious. That might be a surprise to Lovecraft fans, as he wasn’t often the cheerful sort. But you can join in with tentacle orgies, interstellar body-swaps and some sexual shenanigans with grannies (Innsmouth seems to have a fetish in this area), which are all as unexpected as they are fabulous. That wouldn’t be possible without the constant agency it puts in your hands, as you can react to each situation in outlandish ways, just to see how the citizens of Innsmouth react.
It’s where The Innsmouth Case is at its best, taking the overwhelming dread and nautical beasties of HP Lovecraft and then subverting them into a bonkers scenario. It has a slathering, barbed tongue in its cheek, and that tone is welcome. It’s mirrored by the art style, which is part kids’ book, part grotesque vaudeville, and the characters are generally brilliant.
As you might expect from a game that offers so much choice, The Innsmouth Case is extremely short (as the crow flies). From the beginning to one of its endings – along one of its windiest of paths – you only have ten minutes of gameplay here. One of the ‘good endings’ might stretch to fifteen minutes at a push, and that’s only if you tease out every conversation tree. The Innsmouth Case feels more like a toybox of things to do, rather than a full-blown story, and that has an impact.
If you want to actually solve the missing-person case at the heart of The Innsmouth Case, for example, offered to you by a femme-fatale called Dalia in the opening sections of the game, then you’re going to be unsatisfied. The solution is limp, and none of its related endings are particularly good (it’s almost like the makers of The Innsmouth Case were more enamoured by other parts of the game). It’s not helped that the game’s structure is effectively an hourglass, and you have to find a particularly strange sequence of events to unlock the final-third of the game. We ARE going to give spoilers here, as it’s hugely frustrating and unsatisfying to find, so skip to the next para if you don’t want to know. Finding an Arcade in Innsmouth and watching the entirety of a game’s intro sequence is the ONLY way to unlock roughly a third of the game’s content. It’s such a strange (and hard-to-find) needle in Innsmouth’s haystack.
The shortness of The Innsmouth Case means that you’re never really getting to know a character, or wrangling with an objective for long. These are a series of skits and punchlines, rather than anything with substance. Again, you need to come in prepared for that eventuality, and The Innsmouth Case does a terrible job of preparing you for it.
In fact, one of the best ways to play The Innsmouth Case is to open a walkthrough and chase its achievements. We wouldn’t normally advocate this way of playing, but the achievements are a map to the best parts of the game, and it’s not inherently obvious how you would get there otherwise. So, step into a walkthrough, get part of the way through unlocking the achievement, and enjoy its consequences. It’s the best way to get to areas like a twisted brothel and a spa-day gone wrong, among others, and you’d be ignoring the best parts of the game if you missed them.
Play The Innsmouth Case the right way, and you’ve got a couple of hours of delightfully twisted play here. It feels like it’s written by HP Lovecraft’s saucier, less subtle sibling, and playing hunt-the-ending takes you to some memorable and downright disgusting places. It’s got no substance to it of course – the ‘Case’ in the title mostly gets forgotten about – and what you’re left with is a number of punchlines to bawdy jokes, but sometimes that’s just what a night’s gaming needs.
You can buy The Innsmouth Case for £12.49 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S