Developed By: Cyanide
Published By: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox, PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 PRO
At first glance, Call of Cthulhu seduces your curiosity as evident from the trailer below to explore what it is as it is a title that not many would be familiar with unless you are a fan of HP Lovecraft. There were other titles that have drawn inspiration from the Cthulhu mythos such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, Alone in the Dark, Amnesia but they were merely inspired by and not drawing directly from the source material itself. So in 2018, comes Call of Cthulhu from Cyanide as an attempt on re-telling the tale of Cthulhu through exploration and investigation.
You play as Edward Pierce, tasked with investigating the missing daughter of an art collector. He is given only the daughter’s painting as a clue and through a series of events leads your investigation to an island called Darkwater, where it slowly becomes obvious there are more forces at hand that are involved in her disappearance. The premise of the story is indeed an intriguing one even to a non-Lovecraftian fan however it isn’t enough to overshadow the myriad of flaws plaguing the game. However, if one can look past them, you can find yourself appreciating the effort that went into the game even though it does not match the ambition going for it.
Definitely not a looker
The very first unfortunate detail I would highlight is definitely the graphics. It is the first and foremost jarring thing about the game. The textures are especially rough on closer inspection and the choice of having most of the game’s setting in pale green and dark hues does not do it any favours. The areas you get to explore aren’t beautiful to look at nor do they give the feel that much work is put into them. Nonetheless, this could probably be intended as it lends to the whole theme of the game. Another jarring thing is definitely the character models as they look more on the level of a PS3 era title. In fact, the game’s overall visuals are truly dated and you can definitely feel that improvements can be made even if it isn’t an AAA budget level.
Lack in brains and but doesn’t make up for it with brawn
Few things to note, firstly the whole game involves walking in the First-Person view and pressing a button to explore items or areas that will be prompted in front of you. Second, the game does not involve any form of combat as Edward Pierce is not meant to be “combat-ready”. Lastly, the game is based on a table-top RPG which means that the developers took some mechanics from it and translated them into a couple supplementary ideas for the game. It does not work the same but it is close enough.
As mentioned, the majority of your time will be spent exploring Darkwater Island. You move around to explore every corner while chatting up the locals to get a better understanding of the lore behind the Island. This part of the game plays out like any similar games that require you to check up on every available clues or item and try to see which one fits in order to progress in the story. There are puzzles involved of course though they seem to be rather uninspired and boring. Many of the puzzles are pretty straightforward if not lacking in even trying to challenge you to put some brainwork into it to solve them. Everything is just conveniently laid out for you to solve it. So much for “real” detective work.
The game also does not involve Edward swinging a weapon. The only tricks up your sleeve are your ability to crouch and hide from enemies. Even if you do get spotted, you just need to run away a certain distance and the enemies would forget that they were chasing you in the first place. It is at this point that I personally felt there should be an option to grab something to knock baddies instead of heavily relying on hiding and sneaking alone. Because although the developers clearly wanted the player to feel terror at every turn, just running far enough cheapens the experience significantly.
For the most part, Call of Cthulhu plays out like any standard point and click adventure game. The other part however, involves a mechanic where you can “level up” certain skills of Edward so he performs better. This is where the developers quite literally took what was on the table top version and modernized it. Edward has a few skills that can be upgraded. However, the system here is not as straight forward as it looks. For instance, increasing Edward’s Eloquence to a certain rank opens up gated dialogue options. The table top influence comes in the form of percentages with a dice roll system working behind it. For example, even if you have Edward’s Eloquence on Professional rank which opens up a new dialogue option, there will still be a chance that it will not work to your favor. If it does work, you will be given additional information that helps in your investigation.
What works well on a table top doesn’t always work for a video game. Nonetheless kudos to the developers for trying to give a nod towards the table top influence. On a personal note, many games of this sorts are too straight forward and predictable and so this system in place gives a small refreshing approach.
Misplaced Horror, Disjointed Story
Just as a disclaimer, this game is not scary despite the screenshots and genre labels. Call of Cthulhu has always been billed as more of a mystery and horror. The game, however, lacks both. There are no various horrifying things hiding at dark corners nor does it have jump scares. It is a game that tries to be scary but for some reason does not commit fully to it. There is a part where you will be placed in a dark area of a hospital and you need to manoeuvre your way around whilst trying to avoid a hideous looking monster. Sounds scary right? Unfortunately, it didn’t play out in the slightest that way at all. The monster’s movement is predictably scripted. You just can’t go wrong with it. Although I did not get pass it until my second attempt as I was more confused rather than scared. Once I knew what I needed to do and the layout of the area, the rest was easy.
The flow of the story also did not help much in adding to the horror atmosphere. While on the surface, the story is easy to follow but the transitions from one part to another do not flow properly. You will end up with more questions rather than having at least some of them answered if not none at all. By the time I was done with the game, I was left more confused with the story rather than feeling more intrigued to find out more. The lore from the items you picked up certainly does not add anything as well thus nothing seemed to fill the blanks that I had in my understanding to the story. I know how in some ways not having all of your questions just adds to the foreboding nature of the story presented but here it just falls flat.
Call of Cthulhu is a very flawed game but it does have its fun moments if you just lower your expectations and just play it for what it is. I would advise though to play this game with no guides at all an just go in and play it at your own pace. I know that this review pointed out a lot of its flaws which for me where too obvious to ignore however, I do feel that is in part that it was not fleshed out as much as it should have been and the tabletop version is meant to be played with a group with a more free flow organic story that players get to craft as they go. That is not something that is easy to replicate into a video game. Nonetheless, I will still give Cyanide credit for trying. Call of Cthulhu shows there is more to expect from the genre rather than relying on familiar tropes and that with more investment and care to craft a more complete experience it will surely revitalize the genre.
My final word is that Call of Cthulhu is worth a playthrough but you will probably want to wait for a sale (and generous discount) to pick it up.