Call of Cthulhu Review
Cahf ah nafl mglw’nafh hh’ ahor syha’h ah’legeth, ng llll or’azath syha’hnahh n’ghftephai n’gha ahornah ah’mglw’nafh. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.*
It has been 2 years since Focus Home Interactive had announced that Cyanide Studios was developing Call of Cthulhu, giving many Lovecraftian fans, as well as Survival Horror enthusiasts, a new kind of buzz and feeling of strange excitement to be exposed to a new, and ancient, threat. As of the 30th of October 2018, we are able to explore the town on Darkwater Island to investigate the strange events related to the death of the Hawkins family, who all mysteriously died in a house fire. This game is more closely related to the old “pencil and paper” Call of Cthulhu RPG video game instead of H.P. Lovecraft’s original short story of the same name, but it is still an exciting prospect, and the reveal trailers and gameplay videos built up hype. Does the game live up to the hype?
The story follows the war veteran who is now a private investigator, Edward Pierce, still affected by his PTSD as evident by the alcohol and disarray in his office. That’s as much as we know about him, and it’s as much as we get to learn about him throughout the progression of the story. The game begins inside a nightmare sequence, where Edward falls into a pit within a cave, the pit filled with rancid fish guts and bones. As he gets out of the grotesque pit through a gate in the far, he hears a voice speaking to him, and distant chanting. Upon discovering the source of the chanting, the voice continues speaking to you about being chosen, and your futile attempts at changing destiny, whereupon a mutated humanoid starts in pursuit of you. Edward then startles awake, and very humorously blames the entire sequence on the alcohol he drank the night before. You’re then able to explore the office and see a few details of his past, specifically past cases, and his squad in the war.
A knock on your door comes after an abrupt and rude phone call, and in walks Stephen Webster, renowned art collector and wealthy industrialist, asking for Edward’s expertise in a family matter. The Hawkins family had been claimed in a fire according to the Press, but Stephen Webster is convinced that there is more at foot, and despite his daughter, Sarah Hawkins, having often had “visions”, she always had her wits about her and was never a danger to anybody. After inspecting the reports, and a painting that Sarah had sent Stephen before her death, Edward agrees that the files and reports are sketchy and need further investigation, and so agrees to go to Darkwater, a small island where the Hawkins family resided. During the investigation of the island, more and more strange things will become evident as a more dark story unfolds, revealing an occultic threat and their intentions of awakening an ancient entity bent upon destruction.
During the phone call, you are brought to a stat screen where you are able to assign CP, or Character Points, to certain traits of Edward. As you progress through the game, you will gain more CP to assign to the relevant traits. Some traits get used often, while others very little, or not at all. It’s up to you to decide how you want your Edward to be. I chose to upgrade the stats I found more interesting and might need use of the most, such as Eloquence, Occultism, and Investigation. I must say, the only time you are allowed to assign points to Occultism and Medicine is in that first opportunity when it brings up the stat screen, from there on, Occultism and Medicine will only be upgraded by finding hidden books in the game. Upgrading these traits will open up more Dialogue options and unlock secrets in the game otherwise hidden, by use of “Skill Checks”. If you fail these skill checks, the secrets remain hidden, but you will unlock a trophy… A bit of a consolation prize, I guess.
As you progress in the game and unlock secrets, you will unlock entries in the menus that contain more information about what you have found. Pierce has his own Investigative Journal, where you will find the entries. As you meet people, explore locations, find clues, etc. You unlock more of the dark secrets in Darkwater, and uncover the movements of the Cult and who is behind it all. You will also have a section that reviews the people you have met in Darkwater. The character models are often a bit odd looking, in my opinion. Edward Pierce, specifically, looks like a Neanderthal with his small sloped forehead and bushy beard. (do yourself a favour and Google a “Neanderthal” image and compare it to Edward Pierce’s appearance) Other character appearances were a bit jarring as well, unfortunately, but the graphics are made up for with the attention to detail in the environment. I often marvelled at the environments that I was in, and I admired the focus on the colour “green” no matter where you went, which associates well with this oceanic occult.
The investigation mechanics reminiscent of a scene from “CSI”, exploring every corner to find secrets and taking in key hints to reveal what happened in the environment, or to see what will be useful for the next area. Pierce has an amazing knack in “reconstructing” the events that occurred as you discover the hints in the vicinity. These reconstructions are relatively well animated. The concept was approached well, as it often allows you as the player to be the one who reconstructs the scene, leaving you satisfied and shocked at the same time as you finally piece together what happened. Dialogue is also important to unlocking secrets in the environment, even though it can be a tad unimaginitive at some points. There were some intriguing dialogues moments among the unimaginitive ones, but there were often times where I found a dialogue felt meaningless, and more a rehash of what had already been discovered and spoken on. Other times, like one specifically scary moment that counts as a boss battle, the protagonist does not even mention his experience to his associates.
There are some stealth mechanics as well, which worked well in my opinion. Take in your surroundings and it will be quite a fun experience. I did, however, find it quite funny how the guards forget about you after a minute of having lost you around a corner and continue about their business as if they didn’t have to run after a stranger. And a bit later on, the game introduces a combat scenario, which worked more as a point and shoot, and took away some of the tense atmosphere as no matter where you aimed, the bullet always hits the targets head. You get another trophy for taking down a couple of enemies like this though, so fire away!
Aside from the few flaws, the atmosphere in this game is brilliant, combining just enough surrealism into reality to feel as if the world you know is crumbling away, leading you into a vortex of insanity, which is what Cthulhu and his followers want. The game has multiple endings, and depending on what secrets you have found, and who lives and dies, is what will determine the fate of the world. Will you succumb to madness and invoke Cthulhu into the world, or will you take down the cult and prevent ignore the call? You will be tempted to play the game again to find the secrets you missed out on before. The story only takes about 15 hours to complete, so enjoy it to its fullest. Be sure of your choices, as when the game autosaves, there is no going back…
* – The heading is R’lyehian for: That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die. In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu dreams.
Cyanide Studios rendition and take on the lore of Cthulhu is a fascinating one, and this dark, paranormal story that delves into the pools of madness is one that will be remembered. The eerie atmosphere throughout the game keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the more you uncover, the more you want to explore. The story is the more captivating part of the game, as the character model’s appearances leave something to be desired. Even the cinematics seemed a bit pixelated, which was disappointing. The environments were brilliantly crafted, fortunately, which is a redeeming point of the game. This is definitely one of the more well crafted Lovecraftian games, and despite the few flaws, is a game I recommend to any Lovecraftian fan. At the time of this review, you can get Call of Cthulhu for R439.96 on Steam during the Winter Sale, R549.00 on PlayStation Store, and R849.00 on Microsoft Store for Xbox One.