So I should probably come clean now: I’m not really a fan of Lovecraft. That’s not because I actively dislike anything Lovecraftian though, but rather that I’ve just never found myself invested in it. You could ask me a question about it, and all I’d probably be able to say is that there are gross sights to see and a cosmic entity named Cthulhu. I know how to pronounce Cthulhu correctly though, so that’s something I suppose…
Bearing that in mind, you can probably see this review of Call of Cthulhu as someone checking out an eerie looking first-person adventure more than anything else. I might not be able to go into the depths of all the Lovecraftian references and how it ties into the original short story here, but at least I can tell you if it’s an enjoyable game that’s worth your time or not. Spoiler alert: it is, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a few stumbling blocks throughout the adventure too.
Call of Cthulhu puts you in the shoes of Edward Pierce, a detective who suffers from disturbing dreams following his time serving in the first World War. After accepting a job to investigate the death of a family on the dreary island of Darkwater, his life takes an even more chilling turn as he slowly finds himself losing his sanity as he looks to uncover the truth.
The setup of the tale is fairly run of the mill, but Call of Cthulhu does a good job of keeping the player intrigued by what’s going on. There are plenty of characters to interact with that reveal pieces of information about everything that’s happening, whilst a plethora of documents unveil more about Darkwater and it’s troubling history too, so you’ll always feel like you’re discovering something new. Best of all, you’ll make choices throughout the game that can affect how events play out. Whether it’s a simple action you make, something you say to someone or just how much Edward’s sanity has been affected by his surroundings, there are plenty of triggers to be found in Call of Cthulhu that can change the course of the narrative – sure, it’s not always something severe, but it did enough to make me feel more involved with the tale and certainly motivated me to play through it more than once.
Of course, you’re in the shoes of a detective, so there’ll be plenty of investigating to take part in during your time in Call of Cthulhu. A lot of this just involves interacting with Darkwater’s inhabitants, with plenty of dialogue options in place that can steer each conversation in different ways. Some options will only be available if you’ve invested into specific skillsets though (more on that in a bit), so you’ll often find that you have to approach things in a specific way if you’re not persuasive enough.
This doesn’t just apply to conversations either. Sometimes, you’ll have to get to specific areas that are blocked off, with multiple options in place to help you reach your goal: do you try charming someone to let you through with your suave conversation skills, do you use your raw strength to move an object out of your path, or do you use your sneaking abilities to pick the lock of a door? It all comes down to how you’ve invested your skill points.
As you progress through the game you’ll be able to upgrade your abilities, with points assigned to each area of Edward’s skillset. It shows off some of Call of Cthulhu’s more RPG-like aspects, with the player essentially able to set themselves up with the skills that suit their playstyle. Things like your strength and investigative abilities are primarily upgraded by progressing through the game, but there are other skills at your disposal that take a more interesting approach. Your medical skills require you to read medical journals to improve for example, which not only demands an extra bit of exploration from the player but actually feels fitting on a contextual basis too. It’s something I could appreciate and shows even more that it’s up to the player to ensure Edward is capable of surviving the horrors that Darkwater brings.
I’d be remiss not to mention Call of Cthulhu’s crime scenes – it’s in these moments that Edward’s investigative skills really shine, with the player having to put together all the pieces of the crime in order to find out what really happened. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t do anything you wouldn’t have seen in any other game with investigative elements (think Telltale’s Batman games for example), but the supernatural and dark twist that comes with the game makes them all the more fun to uncover.
Besides the game’s focus on investigating Darkwater, there are also more action-orientated moments where you’ll have to really get hands-on in order to survive. Unfortunately, it’s in these areas where Call of Cthulhu falters a little. There’ll be moments where you have to sneak past enemies in small stealth sections for example, but unfortunately a dumb enemy AI and a lacking cone of vision means you can typically get through them with minimal fuss. On the other hand, there’ll be times when you need to take part in a bit of shooting, but that doesn’t demand a lot of skill and feels more tacked on than anything else. Whilst it’s nice to see that the developers have tried to add a bit of variety to the experience, neither aspect does enough to offer any real thrills to the player.
At least it nails the horror vibe throughout though, with it never feeling ‘in your face’ but rather unsettling the player by constantly showing off disturbing sights that might not always necessarily be real. It’ll have you fearing the unknown as opposed to a cheap jump scare, which not only ramps up the tension bet feels a lot more refreshing when compared to other horror games available right now. It just shows how good of a job the developers have done in offering a world that’s atmospheric, eerie, and has plenty of dark secrets lurking around every corner.
Whilst Call of Cthulhu’s world looks creepy, the visuals can actually be a bit of a mixed bag. The environments themselves are atmospheric and eerie, but have dull and grainy textures in place here and there. Some of the characters feel like uniquely disturbed individuals too, but others look like they belong in some low-budget last-gen title. Don’t get me started on their animations either, which often look incredibly janky and make the characters around you feel robotic. There’s never anything horrible to see in the game, but for everything Call of Cthulhu does right in creating a haunting world there always seems to do something wrong too. With an extra lick of paint it could’ve been a visual treat, but right now it leaves a lot to be desired in some areas of its design.
Call of Cthulhu offers an enjoyable and eerie mystery for players to uncover, with the investigative elements and the atmospheric narrative (of which you can influence) standing out as some of the game’s strongest points. I certainly found myself absorbed in the tale, and seeing Edward’s sanity slowly slip away definitely made for a haunting experience.
For everything the game gets right though, it seems to do something wrong too. The stealth and action sequences are dull for example, whilst the visuals are a little janky throughout. There’s never anything that’s outright bad on show, but there’re too many moments that just felt average that brought the whole experience down a bit.
I’d certainly say that the positives outweigh the negatives though, and Call of Cthulhu offers a gripping adventure that kept me hooked in until the very end. It might not be the best first-person adventure you’ll be a part of, but it’ll certainly be one that’ll stick with you long after playing it.
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC