The Cthulhu Mythos has been fascinating and terrifying audiences for generations. Growing and evolving to become one of the most beloved and iconic horror universes in media. Call of Cthulhu by Cyanide Studio is steeped in that mythos.
Being based on the pen and paper RPG as opposed to the original short story has given Cyanide Studio more scope to play with and play they have.
However, the game doesn't always hit the mark with being "Lovecraftian" which, I realise, sounds absurd as it is based on the work of Lovecraft. There are nods here and there to established mythos staples such as the Miskatonic University which will get a reaction from fans of the materials the game is based on but will do little or nothing for casual fans or people who merely wanted a horror experience with little to no prior knowledge of the source material, either the short story or the tabletop experience, but just how good is it, R'lyeh?
The year is 1942 and private investigator Edward Pierce is hired to investigate the death of the Hawkins family in their ominous mansion on the island of Darkwater, which lies off the coast of Boston. It quickly becomes apparent that there is more to this specific case than was originally thought and before too long Pierce is swallowed up in a world of mayhem and madness. Fraught with conspiracy, the occult and cosmic horrors the likes of which will forever leave a stain on his sanity.
Originally supported by a long-dead whaling industry, Darkwater Island is home to scattered warehouses, illegal bars, hidden passageways and less than friendly locals who are mistrusting of outsiders. Confronted by terrors of unimaginable origin, you must find out the truth behind the Hawkins family's deaths while also trying to maintain your sanity. Discover clues and recreate events as you progress and watch the world as you know it fade away to be replaced by an eldritch nightmare.
Like the tabletop RPG this game is based on, there is an emphasis on exploring your surroundings and talking to the locals of Darkwater to find the information you need. The game sometimes plays like a fairground attraction, leading you down a specific path that you will follow until the end.
You will have to use your character stats and items to solve environmental puzzles, as well as draw information out of the Darkwater inhabitants who are willing to talk to you. Higher stats will lead to a higher likelihood of succeeding in these checks.
There are points where multiple solutions to a problem will present itself and because of the nature of the game itself, depending on your stats and play style also depends on how you will best be able to solve the puzzle. One specific point involves a hidden bookcase and a puzzle to open it, should you feel so inclined. There is also another way to open the bookcase if you explore around the room that it is in. These multiple solutions help to make each playthrough you may undertake feel different enough should you so desire, or if you had watched some of a let's play series on the game you can still have your own method of completing these puzzles which will help the game feel more unique to you.
One issue that Call of Cthulhu has in the gameplay is when there is forced stealth or combat. The combat feels clunky and definitely doesn't fit quite right in what is more of an exploration and communication based game for the most part. The combat, for me at least falls flat and drags the whole experience down. The forced stealth is more forgivable but still leaves a lot to be desired, as does any forced stealth section. I was playing the game slowly enough to begin with and I am a fan of stealth games when the mechanics work, I didn't need to be bogged down with being forced to stealth.
The game can, and does, sometimes spoil its own momentum with inconsistent pacing which some may view as a good thing as it can add to the feeling of uncertainty and unease the player will be feeling. For me, however, I felt like the game should of stayed out of it's own way at points.
Call of Cthulhu sometimes misses the mark on feeling "Lovecraftian" in a way that other games that have taken inspiration from the works of Lovecraft don't. Bloodborne instantly springs to mind as being far more Lovecraftian than Call of Cthulhu. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem also is leaps and bounds ahead in the Lovecraftian league tables.
This is not to say that Call of Cthulhu is always shy of the mark, there are genuine moments of sheer cosmic horror that will draw a reaction from even the most hardened of horror game veterans.
Graphics & Audio
In screenshots Call of Cthulhu looks fantastic, the grim and foreboding atmosphere shines through and the colour palette of greens and blues helps to emphasise the sickly nature of Darkwater Island and the connections the island has to the water, and that the water has with the slumbering Great One it's-self.
Even in cutscenes, the models look good, animated fluidly and textured well. The backgrounds and scenes again drenched in the blue and green hues that fit so perfectly with the theming and help create that all important sinister atmosphere.
It is in the live gameplay where things start to get choppy. No moving thing in Call of Cthulhu, abomination or otherwise, moves like it should. Not a single person on Darkwater moves like an actual person. For example, early in your adventures on Darkwater there will be a man in the bar, reading a book and smoking a cigarette. As the man attempts to smoke, the cigarette will disappear into another world and the man seems to impale himself on his own knuckles. Animation is a complicated affair.
There are other times when a character will be delivering poignant, heartfelt dialogue and the characters bodily actions won't fit the tone of what is being delivered, and their mouth certainly won't. Lip synching in Call of Cthulhu is tremendously off.
Another faltering point is that there are, at least at time of writing, a lot of spelling mistakes and oversights in the subtitle copy. If you play with subtitles activated, and in this case I recommend you do as even though they are sometimes spelt wrong and different to what is being said; it is better than missing a point of information due to sometimes shaky audio mixing.
When the audio mixing is executed well, however, it is executed very well. The small creaks and groans of old buildings. The subtle little noises that you don't seek out to find but that find you.
The voice acting is as hit and miss as the gameplay experience, some really well delivered lines are present, these come from the main cast mostly. The other NPCs and background characters have been shown a lot less love however, with one NPC early on in the game only seeming to have one line of dialogue to deliver no matter what. This wouldn't be so bad if you only passed this character once or twice but I passed him a good ten or so times and that dialogue got old. Quickly.
Call of Cthulhu does a lot of things right. It also does a lot of things wrong. The game would have been better suited if it didn't try to force combat or stealth into it's self. If it had just stuck to the investigations and puzzle solving this would be an easy game to recommend. I feel the game would also be stronger if it dropped the character points brought over from the pen and paper RPG and just let the players explore and play freely, but that might just be me.
However it is these points that make it hard for me to recommend, unless you are already a fan of Lovecraft's work or the tabletop game this game is based on you may find a lot is left to be desired. Fans of Lovecraft's work will get a kick from all the nods and the very "Lovecraftian" atmosphere present at times but may also find the gameplay experience leaves a lot to be desired. The controls don't always feel intuitive and the game's main gimmick of reconstructing key scenes doesn't always feel like it makes sense. If you can overlook all the negatives you may come away having had a good time.
There are also multiple endings to unlock which could be viewed as a negative or a positive depending on your feelings towards the game.
With that being said, Call of Cthulhu manages to be a good enough horror game, but not always a good Lovecraftian horror game.
|+ Strong atmosphere||– Animations are lackluster|
|+ Excellent use of environmental horror||– Overdone mechanics|
|+ Often clever puzzles||– Spelling errors in copy|
|– Inconstent pacing|