Call of Cthulhu review30/10/2018
Lovers of H.P. Lovecraft rejoice! Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game is here to satiate your thirst for a fantastic role-playing survival horror title. Developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows, the game features a semi-open world environment and will incorporate themes of Lovecraftian and psychological horror. It is inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu,” while also being an adaptation of the 1981 tabletop role-playing game of the same title.
The game is set in 1924 in Boston, Massachusets. Our main protagonist is World War I veteran and private investigator Edward Pierce, who has found himself in a position where he will lose his license as a private investigator unless he takes on a new case of exceptional quality. As a war veteran who suffers from PTSD, Edward naturally has his demons and turns to alcohol and pills for an escape. However, there is an opportunity for Edward when a mysterious case comes knocking on his door like a beacon of hope… or is it? The detective is asked to solve the death of the Hawkins family – who recently mysteriously died in a fire – by one of the victims’ father. He believes there is more than meets the eye, and after very little convincing, so does Edward. As the only clue is a strange picture painted by the supposedly crazy Sara Hawkins shortly before her death, Edward sets out to Darkwater Island near Boston, Massachusetts to unravel the dark past of an island and its inhabitants.
The game has a naturally dark complexity to it to reflect the overall atmosphere of a post World War I setting. The fictional Darkwater Island is a home for fisherman and whalers that have come to a time of hardship, as whales have all but disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean. This leads the locals to turn to alcohol to cope with the loss of their livelihood. Edward must be careful, as everyone on the island seems to be shifty around him. There is more than meets the eye. As you, the player, dive deep into the story of Call of Cthulu, you will uncover a deep and enriching story of deceit, lies and dark black magic that will ultimately leave you in a position where you have to make difficult decisions that lead you down a different path of destiny.
The developers did a fantastic job constructing the atmosphere to Call of Cthulu. The music that is played throughout the game is smart enough to know what is appropriate in each scene. For much of the game, it has an atmospheric, ambient feel to it. Don’t think that it doesn’t know how to be tense, though; the game has many nerve-racking moments that the music appropriately matches. The voice acting has a way of reflecting those moments as well. There is a scene in an art gallery that is probably one of the most gut-wrenching in the game where you can adequately feel the horror Edward feels just by his voice. The only issue that I had with the voices, though, was in the graphics department.
The graphics are not what I would call late current console generation. In fact, I would say they are more akin to the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 generation. This is a shame, considering both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were already released at the time of early development. You will not notice this as much when you are the only character in a setting, as the surrounding areas are done well, but as soon as an NPC or other main character appears, you will notice the poor graphics as they are speaking. The audio and lip movement does not match up well. Do not let this deter you from playing the game, though, as you do eventually get used to it. The music and voice acting will make up for the graphics in the game.
The gameplay itself will differ throughout the game. For most of the game you will be defenseless, so avoiding other people is crucial. The detection system is pretty easy to understand. A white dash will appear over a enemy’s head if they are suspicious of an area. That dash will turn red if they know you are present, and they will run to catch you. You have the ability to hide in dark corners or in enclosed spaces. If you are unable to escape your pursuers, you will be caught and it will result in a Game Over. You will always want to be aware of your surroundings in the event of being spotted.
Call of Cthulu will test your problem-solving skills, as there are plenty of proverbial walls you will run into with multiple ways to approach them. At one point, you will be in an asylum and looking to escape, but the main door is blocked by guards! You will run into another inmate who would be willing to assist you by making noise, but in exchange he wants you to find sleeping pills for him. OR you can cause a distraction yourself by turning on an electric chair. Both choices will give you the same result, but some choices will not be so easy and can affect you in the future!
The RPG element pulls from the tabletop side version of the game with character sheets and skill checks. With the different encounters you have with people, you will have dialogue choices that will change the flow of the story. You have one of several approaches you can take – Persuasion, Small talk, Intimidation or Psychology. Other options unlock if you have found clues elsewhere before engaging in dialogue. Your ability to be successful in your choice depends on what you decide. You will gain points by playing the game and actively seeking out hidden objects in the environment. Throughout the game, you can find medical books that will boost that stat. Getting points to boost your knowledge in the Occult works in the same way.
The game clocks in around 8 hours, depending on how long it takes for you to solve the frequent puzzles you will encounter, as well as how much you want to seek out the optional items in scenarios in which you have to recreate a scene that happened in the past. I found these scenes to be pretty neat, as you can actively see what happened instead of a narrative that you would play out in your head. You can usually use your better judgment on how to advance the game; however, there were a few parts I wish that Cyanide would explain a little bit better, or even just give better direction. I found myself stuck in one part in the late game where I was looking for a med kit and finally found it after a half hour. If given proper guidance to where I was supposed to go, it would’ve taken only five minutes. That same segment gives you the ability to use a weapon for the first time in the game as you finally acquire a gun. Cyanide should’ve left this out of the game, in my opinion, because the mechanic does not work well. More importantly, you only have the ability to use your gun for about ten minutes total. I felt that that moment in the game would be tenser without the weapon.
Cyanide was able to take a tabletop RPG and turn it into a fine game with Call of Cthulu The Official Game. Despite the need for a graphics overhaul on the console edition of the game, they truly delivered a game rich with story and suspense that makes me excited for the prospects of Cyanide revisiting the dark and wondrous world of H.P. Lovecraft again in the future.