Video games are just one of the many artistic mediums that have drawn influence from H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories and novellas. Cyanide Studio’s new Call of Cthulhu game, which is based on both the pen and paper role-playing game and short story of the same name, aims to draw abundantly from the concept of a “Mythos” filled with evil cults, extraterrestrial lifeforms, and ancient beings capable of severing your hold on reality.
The dark and gripping detective thriller from Call of Cthulhu quickly devolves into occult madness. It is based on the renowned Chaosium RPG of the same name and tells a Lovecraftian narrative with such excellent writing that I could not help but be swept into the engrossing setting it built.
Call of Cthulhu still offers one of the best epic horror experiences in contemporary gaming, despite the story’s somewhat hazy details and parts of the game’s mechanisms and stages being a bit clumsy.
The protagonist of this book is Edward Pierce, a weathered veteran and alcoholic private detective who primarily acts as a blank canvas for you to experience the story through. There isn’t much to the protagonist other than the numerous decisions you make for him, which are formed by the abilities you choose to improve. He spends most of his time tailing unfaithful spouses or at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, haunted by his time in the trenches during World War I – not to mention some pretty strange dreams.
He feels driven to accept a job offer from wealthy entrepreneur Stephen Webster to investigate the death of his daughter and her family on the remote island of Darkwater, and he travels to the whaling town in search of answers. Darkwater is a strange area, and the suffocating atmosphere will hit you as soon as you tread ashore.
Fishermen look at you over alcohol glasses, while a crowd gathers at the docks around a stranded whale, its skin ripped as if by huge claws. If the fact that this is a Lovecraft-inspired game isn’t enough of a hint that this decrepit village is hiding a dark secret, the early discussion with a bar owner, a ship captain, and the leader of a bootlegger gang leaves no question in peoples mind.
While Call of Cthulhu is marketed as a role-playing game, it is more of a first-person adventure game. You’ll progress your investigation by talking to the residents of Darkwater, seeking for things of significance, and completing a few hard but amusing puzzles, all of which are divided into clearly defined chapters. While the game is primarily linear, there are a few moments that give you some flexibility in how you attain your goal, which is where the RPG components come in.
You can assign character points to a variety of different skill categories, such as strength, investigation, or psychology, at the beginning of the story – and during the narrative as you earn more – to boost your likelihood of succeeding in skill tests for any particular one. The ability to access more dialogue choices or conquer specific environmental hurdles is the most noticeable result of how you allocate your points.
In some scenarios, you can even recreate the past by activating clues one by one to build together a silhouetted version of events. These make the player feel like a detective, and the situations are realistic enough that you could often figure out what happened before Pierce could, which is nice. In one, we are shown a young woman listening in on a conversation between three males who were seated. It appeared that whoever was seated in the farthest distant chair would have noticed her. When you step up to the chair, it immediately conjured up an image of a guy rising to meet the woman, and aspects like these satisfies players.
The puzzles are often engaging, even though some of them are repeated: on three instances, you must trace the track of a pipe or wire across rooms in order to locate the source of power, water, or gas. At another game, you must deduce the combination of a safe from a sequence of audio recordings in an old bookstore. You’re told it’ll take a genius to figure it out, but the solutions are spoon-fed to you, and can be broken in under a minute. These puzzles are also comfortably wedged between stealth portions.
You’ll also have many encounters with a Lovecraftian beast, each of which is tedious but adds character to the game. You can never fight back, so you’re always fleeing and hiding (the game only has one fighting scene, which is a nice shooting gallery against zombie-style opponents late on). You must evade the monster the first time you encounter it in order to destroy a painting.
It’s basically trial and error to destroy it because it demands an unidentified item in a room full of objects that seem the same. If you choose the wrong one, you may have enough time to change before the monster catches you, but most of the time it will find you and insta-kill you, resuming the sequence.
The one boss encounter in Call of Cthulhu, a claustrophobic cat and mouse game with a true Lovecraftian dread, is delightfully atmospheric and scary, but it’s so uniquely structured that it might take you a while to get a grasp of the situation. As a result, what started out as a frightening situation rapidly turned into a intense one. I understand the intent to provide diversity to a dark occult study, and these digressions work fairly well.
The tale was an important factor that keeps the game entertaining for its duration. It will have its tentacles wrapped around your neck throughout. Pierce gradually realizes how deep the mystery goes as the story continues, and the enigma gradually pulls him into new realities.
You’ll enter a nightmarish labyrinth, filled with torture and violence, before waking up on a sofa in the drawing room, unclear whether it was real or not. Pierce is a peculiar protagonist, but he’s perplexed in the same way you are, which makes us have a sense of empathy for him and helps us comprehend his spiral into lunacy. It’s difficult to put down a game when the action matches the ambiguity of the plot.
Switching between two lamps allows you to move between multiple versions of a hospital, opening doors and revealing inscriptions as you go. It’s dark and perplexing, and you’ll pass through doors that will transport you back to the beginning. This and other crazy sections stick out, and it’s a pity there aren’t more.
You can influence the plot by making occasional decisions based on an RPG-style stat system. Call of Cthulhu is based on the same-named tabletop RPG, thus you’ll receive character points to spend on various traits as you play. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of responses in dialogue depending on your stats.
If your strength is high, you might be able to threaten someone out of a tough circumstance if you’ve engaged in elegance. Some doors will only open if you have a specific investigation skill, however a high psychology stat will give you insight into other people’s behavior. However, having a high number of points in a skill does not guarantee success, as Call of Cthulhu never explains how your stats convert into actions.
When you try to open a lock, you know there are dice rolls going on behind the scenes, and you can sometimes anticipate how your choices effect the tale, but it’s difficult to figure out in general, which matches the creepy, mysterious scenario. When you make certain decisions, the game will tell you that they “impact your fate,” but it never explains how—which is one of the reasons people seem to like it so much.
Thankfully, as Call of Cthulhu progresses, any ambiguous sequences that you would feel were present get fewer and farther between (or at least appear to), and the game eventually starts to lean heavily on its original source. Call of Cthulhu takes the material from H.P. Lovecraft’s original short story, wraps it up in a detective scenario, and sends Pierce down the rabbit hole to Insanity Town. The more you discover and explore, the more Pierce’s sanity is called into question, and the reality that lies beneath the mask of reality begins to emerge.
The sheer sense of weight and atmosphere provided by Call of Cthulhu contributes to this impression. The environment animations are great — from a musty old bookstore to a run-down portside bar to dark and claustrophobic dungeons, each new scene gave me an immediate and powerful sense of place. The sounds that fill these areas are equally impressive. The baritone chanting of cults or the deafening wails of an asylum’s abused patients will stay with you for a long time afterward.
In Lovecraftian cosmic horror, knowledge isn’t always a good thing, and while elusive solutions may satisfy the player, they do a number on Pierce as he crawls relentlessly down a path that leads to brain rending discovery. To say anything more would be to give too much away about an exceptionally authentic and well-written story, but be assured, it’s psychedelic, terrifying, and leaves you with more questions than answers.
The graphic design of Call of Cthulhu contributes significantly to the game’s Lovecraftian mood, which is most visible in the representation of the locales you visit. While they don’t have the same level of visual detail as higher-budget games, they make effective use of what they have, typically employing a sickly-green tinged color palette to help give the settlement of Darkwater — a long-declining hamlet – a sense of evil. Deep shadows are also prominent in the gameplay, as you pierce the darkness with your trusty lamp – or lighter if you’ve run out of oil – in quest of hidden things that will aid you in solving the case.
While the ending of Call of Cthulhu was amazing, the immediate build-up to it felt a little rushed, with revelations and surprises coming at you fast and furious. We imagine you’d wind up feeling the same way Pierce did – startled, overwhelmed, and dizzy from the sheer toxic heaviness of what I’d learnt. These last moments can be shaped by varied decisions and revealed clues, and it doesn’t appear like seeing and experiencing everything in one game is conceivable.
Call of Cthulhu is fascinating to replay because of the persistent feeling of mystery and the short length. The game takes you on a spooky journey through a horror nightmare, with a paranormal detective story serving as your guide. The eerily ambient journey can be a touch rocky at times due to average level and encounter design, but the engrossing mystery and intriguing use of RPG elements make it one of the most entertaining Lovecraftian games in years.