Call of Cthulhu is an adventure game and tells the tale of Edward Pierce, the town of Blackwater and the mysterious mindscapes of its inhabitants.
Call of Cthulhu: the premise of the story
When Edward Pierce, a World War I veteran turned private investigator, is asked to look into the mysterious dead of a young woman and her son, his life takes a turn for the obscure. As troubled detective with a taste for the bottle does, he fills his days by solving cases, mostly for the Boston socialites. Maybe Pierce needs to silence painful memories only a veteran can have, maybe he just wants to spice up his rudimentary daily routine.
Going from one inconsequential investigation to the next resulted in Pierce taking on fewer cases. Luckily this downwards spiral gets interrupted when Pierce gets a visit from a well-known Boston art collector. The man’s daughter, a painter of the obscure, has reportedly died in an accident. However he has reasons to believe his daughter might still be alive. He persuades the detective to travel to Darkwater, a forgotten island off the coast of Boston to investigate the mystery.
The Gameplay of Call of Cthulhu
Call of Cthulhu is based on the similarly named pen and paper RPG by Chaosium which in turn takes its inspiration from a short story written H.P. Lovecraft. In practice this means that this video game is not a one to one adaptation of that famous short story by H.P. Lovecraft.
For the most part Call of Cthulhu plays as an adventure game but there are also some more action orientated sections to the game. Players will progress through the story by investigating the people and different locations of Darkwater. The pace in which the story unfolds benefits from solving, often straightforward, puzzles along the way.
There are seven skill categories which the detective can upgrade, points are earned during the course of the game. For my first play through I pursued molding Pierce into an expert interrogator/psychologist/strongman. With the skill categories; occult and medicine the player can’t directly choose to allocate points towards. However these are organically upgraded throughout the course of the game by finding and interacting with medicine books or occult phenomena. Depending on the level of proficiency in the different skills, players unlock options during conversations/exploration which might lead to Pierce having a different understanding of a situation or found evidence.
To top things off Call of Cthulhu also has a sanity system. Basically this means that all of Pierce’s actions and experiences are taken into account and determine the detective’s level of sanity at any given moment. Pierce has been through utter madness and it is the knowledge on his state of mind that makes him an unreliable narrator and what keeps the game interesting.
The moment to moment game play consists mostly out of investigation and having conversations with key people on the island of Darkwater. Sometimes upon entering a location where important events transpired, Pierce can reconstruct the scene. Displaying some top-level deduction skills that would make Holmes proud.
Call of Cthulhu the good the bad and the ugly
Fans of (cerebral) horror should definitely consider playing this game because it offers an enthralling and concisely told story. Call of Cthulhu keeps its audience guessing about what is going on, its systems are designed in a way that even when the story came to fruition I wasn’t sure what to believe.
I rarely restart a game after having just finished it. The different factions (and what they represent), makes me want to go back to witness all the permutations of the truth the game has to offer.
Call of Cthulhu isn’t perfect, the game has some issues, mostly on the technical side.
Edward Pierce his locomotion doesn’t feel good. Moving my build of the detective around the game world sometimes feels like he is limping (or held back by tentacles arms). While Call of Cthulhu is mostly methodical and investigative in nature there are rare moments where action is required. It is in these moments that shows its weaker side. Sometimes the lack of smooth control would result in death, leading to a level of trial and error which feels like a remnant of the past.
Dialog is an important aspect of the game, it is used to gain information and choices made during these interactions provide the player with agency on the game world. My experience during these moments of questions and answers would have been more powerful were it not for overly exaggerated character animations and (cgi) cut-scenes where the lip-syncing is off. Overall the voice acting is done well but below I’ve included a 35 second snippet of a meme worthy moment taken from the first ten minutes of the game.
You can’t understand you’re not sailors.
Then there was a time where the flow a conversation didn’t make sense – I chose to play dumb, not letting Pierce talk about a certain experience. Only for him to divulge information about said subject one unrelated question/sentence later-.This was definitely a moment were I rolled my eyes and shook my head in disbelief. However to me this is also a testament to how engaging Call of Cthulhu overall is.
With Call of Cthulhu Cyanide studios managed to mix the best parts of the Cthulhu universe with the sanity system of the pen and paper RPG. The end result is an horrifically enticing adventure game which on the presentation side would have benefited from some extra polish. A definite recommendation for those who like story heavy games like Life is Strange. Considering the difficulty of the game’s puzzles Call of Cthulhu can easily be enjoyed by people who normally don’t play video games.