Life is full of choices, isn’t it? Do you go left, right, or straight into the pub? Do you become an accountant or a badly paid actor? There are tricky decisions to make through your journey across the world. In games, it can be the same, especially with the number of massive open world games on offer. The decision process can be quite overwhelming at times and to be honest with you, anything that promises 80-odd hours of gameplay is a bit daunting. So it’s nice to be able to play a game like Call of Cthulhu that tells a fairly linear journey, with just a few choices to the narrative, before seeing it all done and dusted in 10 hours or so. The question is though, is it any good?
H.P. Lovecraft novels created the myth of Cthulhu, and the world built around it has been a huge influence on sci-fi writing, whether that be in films or games. This is a huge shame for the author who died in poverty, with his acclaim only reaching dizzy heights after his death. There have been other games directly mentioning the Cthulhu title and more still that have been influenced by his methods of dealing with the fine line between mental illness and myth. In fact, near-on every horror game in the last couple of generations have sampled his work and so when you play Call of Cthulhu for the first time you will probably know this world better than you think.
The story is excellent, engrossing and tells a gripping yarn. It starts in 1920’s Boston and you play as Edward Pierce, a private detective still haunted by the first world war. A man comes into your office and offers you a case involving a missing woman, possibly murdered in an island off of New England called Darkwater. A quick note, if anyone tells you to go to a place called Darkwater just say no, because the clue is in the title. But off we go on our investigation and things, of course, are not quite what they seem. A tale is told of old otherworldy sea gods, transformation, and different dimensions with added crime and murder. It’s had me hooked from the beginning to the end and I thoroughly enjoyed the Lovecraftian experience found in Call of Cthulhu.
The gameplay aspects see it all come across as very linear, but there are secrets to be found throughout and choices to be made that will affect both your destiny, and the endings of the game. Wandering around, picking up objects to use or examine is pretty much par for the course, and you’ll find yourself utilising a running mechanic in order to hurtle away from the horror throughout. Later on you get access to a gun for a short time too. But this game is all about solving puzzles, taking in some detective work, and heading on out into a journey full of exploration. As you do so, you’ll find skill trees containing a number of different attributes – but do you put your skill points into the occult to get more of an understanding of the strange objects you find, or should you focus on the investigation side of things so you can decipher clues and pick locks successfully?
In order to do all this you need to chat to people to get clues and there are numerous dialogue choices available which come together to determine your route through. There are some interesting puzzles included too, and the developers really do try to mix up the gameplay elements to surprise you throughout; changing characters for some chapters and a host of boss battles that mix stealth and hiding in cupboards. There’s a great feature which reminded me a lot of the Sherlock Holmes games, allowing you to use a detective mode to try and reconstruct events as they happened by finding items and examining them. It has to be said that these are great, and I have never tired of these immersive and imaginative sections.
For all the good, some may just find Call of Cthulhu to be a bit too linear and if you don’t embrace the story then there really isn’t much in this game for you. There are also some problems with combat sections where it doesn’t feel as fluid as it could be, some of the boss battles I could easily have done without, and that’s without mentioning the ‘follow the trail in the dark’ section that nearly had me crying with frustration. Generally though it’s a very solid, extremely entertaining game that I loved.
It’s all a bit of a mixed bag visually though and some sections are excellent with immense levels of detail in the objects discovered, really invoking the period of time the game is set in. There are also some fantastic interiors which are a pleasure to explore. However, sometimes Cthulhu does get a bit generic and the greenish palate used (intentional for the story) doesn’t do it any favours. The character models are decent too, but there are some lip sync problems. Other than that though, sound wise it comes with a good solid soundtrack that is used well, especially in the more dramatic and slightly stranger moments. The voice over work is very good delivering some stand out performances that truly sell some of the more outlandish plot lines.
I’ve been surprised by Call of Cthulhu as I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t expecting too much apart from an average horror game. However the atmosphere is great, the story strong and the gameplay – at least when it’s at its best – is really engaging. There are some problems with a few combat sections and boss battles, but overall the good certainly outweighs the bad.
If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work then I feel this is one of the best experiences out there, simply because it loves its source material. Yes it’s a linear journey and you’ll struggle to find much in the way of replay value, but that’s okay because it’s a welcome breather from the huge open worlds that are dominating the games scene.