When I started Call of Cthulhu I thought I was ready for the madness, I was right and I was wrong. Developer Cyanide tries to bring us a story inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s short “The Call of Cthulhu,” that will push us to the brink of insanity. Did they accomplish their goal? Let’s find out.
The game begins with private detective Edward Pierce who is in search of a case that will keep him in business. Apparently work has been hard to come by recently. It is clear early on that something isn’t quite right with the war veteran as sleeping pills and booze appear to be on the menu. You start off learning about the detective as you look around the office when a knock comes at the door. It is the father of Sarah Hawkins who is there to request your services on a case located in Darkwater. His daughter the artist tragically died in a fire along with her son and husband but he thinks it was no accident. He has you look at a painting and that is when your detective skills kick in and you determine that not all is as it seems.
Mr. Pierce agrees to take the case and leaves for Darkwater immediately. On the island is where the game really starts to flesh itself out with what you will be doing and that’s investigating of course. Each setting within the game play out by chapters and at the beginning of each chapter it gives you a nice description of what is going on. So let’s talk about the gameplay.
When you first arrive at the docks in Darkwater the tone for the game is set. This place is dark, gritty, and full of what appears to be drunken fishermen. This is what you get in Call of Cthulhu even when the characters clearly shouldn’t be inebriated. The character models for some odd reason do not move in a natural motion and the majority of the time the voice over doesn’t match up well. It can get distracting at times but as the game went on I found it didn’t matter all that much.
You walk about in first person as your investigative skills kick in and you start to question the inhabitants of the town. Of course, if you are going to investigate that means you must have options. This plays out like other games in a circular wheel of questions and if you are a well versed detective some questions will be unlocked for you. I didn’t understand why this was done so early in the game but I don’t think it mattered much. The dialogue can be anywhere from intriguing to laughable but the overall experience I enjoyed. Mr. Pierce can either be stern with his questioning or he can use a more subtle approach, the choice is yours. For the most part you have as much time as you need to decide on questions but be warned, at certain points you will be forced to make a decision quickly.
Aside from the interactions with the NPC’s (which I enjoyed) you can discover and interact with clues or points of interest. This can be cumbersome and the cause of frustration when trying to pick something up. Right when you think you are in the correct spot it doesn’t work and you have to adjust your character. It’s not a major issue however it could have used more tuning especially when this is a big part of the game. I mean you are investigating and need to examine a lot of items.
That brings me to the reconstruction of a scene. The detective can go into reconstruction mode and each tiny piece of evidence will help unfold what happened in the current area. I liked this part of the game and found that it worked rather well. As you walk around and interact with items you start to get a clear picture of what happened and basically a back story on some of the characters. This was a neat aspect of the game and I think the developers should have utilized it more in the game.
The combat in Call of Cthulhu is pretty much nonexistent until you get into the latter part of the game. Even then though it doesn’t give you the sense that you are in combat. This game isn’t a slug fest or a first person shooter, not even close. While you get to shoot at some point it doesn’t hold up (You will see what I mean). The main part of the game is investigating and stealth. In many situations you want to be as stealthy as possible because if you are caught, it means game over. The stealth isn’t overly difficult and in the beginning it might actually be too simplistic. Sneaking around a corner to have an NPC stare you in the face only to say “Is something there,” doesn’t scream realistic. With that said for some odd reason later in the game it seems to even out.
The decision making in Call of Cthulhu is of high importance in the game. Wait is it? Ok I admit that even though the game tells you that your decision can change your destiny I had no idea if that really happens. There are multiple endings to the game I can assure you that and even though I felt I needed to make good decisions I can’t say that it mattered. You can however help yourself by helping detective Pierce hone his skills. As you progress you get CP points that you can spend on Eloquence, Strength, Spot Hidden, Investigation, Psychology Occultism and Medicine. Occultism and medicine you will need to find certain things in the game to help upgrade those attributes.
I liked and hated this part of the game only because there were a few locks early in the game I couldn’t unlock. This was because I didn’t spend my points towards that when the game first began. At the start of the game you get a phone call and it lets you distribute some of the points to get you started. Had I known, I would have spent more points on that so I could unlock the locks early on in the game. Everything else regarding attributes worked well though and the better you do at your job the more points you will accrue.
I know that Call of Cthulhu is supposed to be dark and mysterious but honestly the look of the game wasn’t exactly ground breaking. I thought to myself at times that the game didn’t appear to have the current Gen look or feel. This wasn’t a huge issue for me because I enjoyed the creepy setting and the darkness of the game. The fact the game wasn’t incredibly polished added to that feature in my opinion.
The story here is very Lovecraftian and around the halfway point of the game if you have things figured out well then good on you. Call of Cthulhu is shrouded in mystery and weird events. I cannot tell you how many times I paused and said, “What in the hell is going on?” It was certainly more than once. The game does this very well and it gives you that sense of madness seeping inside Detective Pierce’s mind. You will not find it hard to like this part of the game. While you are focused on finding out what happened to Sarah Hawkins and her family crazy occurrences start to pop up all around you. Are you mad? Is everyone else out to get you? Who could be hiding the truth from you? What really happened to the Hawkins family? Question after question builds and when you hear the voice for the first time (You will immediately know what I am talking about when you hear it) you begin to realize this might not end well. I had a hard time finding anything to dislike about the story part of the game. There isn’t a ton of characters to keep track of and at times the dialogue falls flat but for the most part it will keep you on the edge of your seat. Perhaps not due to fright but the unnerving feeling you have when it comes to just about everyone in the game.
I enjoyed Call of Cthulhu for what it is and what it brings to the table as far as an investigative game. The gameplay is fun even though it can be clunky at times and the story is great even though there are some issues. There entails the problem with this title. It is inconsistent across the board. Some parts are done really well. Some not so much. There will be moments the dialogue draws you in and other times where you wish you hadn’t heard what was said. The character models move around in a weird way and give you the appearance that everyone might be on the same diet as Mr. Pierce. Then there are times where it fits the narrative of the game. The decision making and questions in the game are well thought out. They do seem to have a purpose, the only problem is I am not sure how much it actually cost our detective in the moment. In the end Call of Cthulhu will be a mixed bag of emotions. You will either love the story or feel the gameplay wasn’t fluid enough. With it only being around 8 to 10 hours to complete some might not like the length of the game. I however found it perfect. The one thing I will say is this, if you start the game you will finish it to the end and oh man what an ending.
A review copy was provided for this game.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10