Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as titles such as Firewatch and SOMA, from developer Out of the Blue comes Call of the Sea. Cissy Jones and Yuri Lowenthal star in this fantastical debut title, which promises an island adventure featuring complex puzzles, a rich setting, an exciting mystery and captivating characters.
STORY – THREE’S A CROWD
It’s the 1930s. It’s a tale as old as time. You are Nora. Nora meets Harry. Nora marries Harry. Unfortunately, Nora soon develops a strange and seemingly incurable disease promising a painful and lingering death, forcing Harry to hire an expedition and set out to the South Pacific in search of a cure.
Time passes with no word from Harry. Then Nora receives a peculiar package, directing her to a mysterious island near Tahiti. It’s now up to her to follow in her husbands footsteps. She embarks across the world to explore the island, solve ancient puzzles, find her husband and perhaps finally find a cure for her illness.
You soon discover an ancient and intimidating Lovecraftian presence surrounding the island that threatens both the lives of the expedition and the integrity of the couple’s relationship. For the most part, it’s a poignant story of love, transformation and self-discovery starring two captivating individuals trapped in the whirlpools of destiny.
Whilst it’s occasionally rather inorganic, especially in its opening exposition, the story builds an impressive sense of intrigue around its inspired Lovecraftian elements and only gets better from the admittedly weaker outset. Amongst other things, Lovecraft’s work explored humanity’s ignorance of their own place in the universe by eroding human presumptions of the scope and nature of our reality.
Call of the Sea’s characters successfully capture these more surreal and personal elements of Lovecraft’s work. Nora and Harry come to the island resolute in their perspective. By the end, they come away with a new outlook in a slow process of self-actualization and a broader outlook on the nature of the world they inhabit.
All the while, it omits the more straightforward horror-orientated aspects of Lovecraft’s work. Call of the Sea is not a horror game. Unless, of course, you suffer from any degree of thalassophobia, in which case I can personally guarantee you that one small section of the game will leave you paralysed.
GAMEPLAY – THE WITNESS, BUT FISHIER
Of course, the story sequences are only one part of the game. Otherwise, you’ll be doing one of two things. You’ll be exploring the island or you’ll be solving puzzles. Let’s start with the exploring.I was unfortunately rather disappointed in this regard. The game is very linear. There’s virtually no choice in what direction to take and as such very little reward for exploration – just a few collectibles dotted around that you can afford to miss. You advance, you hit an obstacle in the form of a puzzle and then you overcome it. Sprinkle in a few story sequences in between and then rinse and repeat.
Of course, you could say that the resulting trade off would mean that the areas that are available to explore are all the better for it. To an extent that’s certainly true. But it’s still slightly underwhelming and makes for a less immersive experience than I was hoping for.I wanted to feel lost and desperate as I imagined Nora would be. After all, she is desperately navigating a strange and uncharted island looking for her missing husband. But I never did because there’s only ever one way to go – directly forwards.
However, it’s the puzzles that are at the centre of Call of the Sea. They’re pretty hard. They are often multifaceted, dense and span larger areas than you’d expect. The game hits a sweet spot. It leaves you with all the information you need for you to take initiative and connect the dots. It makes for a rewarding albeit inconsistent experience. I enjoyed some more than others.Thankfully, Nora writes everything of significance in her diary. So it’s just a matter of confirming exactly what it is you need to do, gathering all the information you need, and buckling down with your diary to get it done.
Personally, I sometimes found them frustrating and even resorted to trial and error in a last ditch effort to preserve any semblance of pacing or emotional investment I had. It seems the island had a journey of self-actualization in store for me as well. I don’t like puzzles.
If Nora had simply relayed some feedback or guidance from time to time, the process would have been substantially less frustrating. Perhaps she could have done some thinking out loud to keep me focused and confident in my objectives. She’s very talkative exactly when I don’t need her to be.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – WARM AND FUNKY
Call of the Sea showcases a vibrant, warm and stylised environment. There are ancient Polynesian ruins, lush woodland brimming with life, underground structures and contraptions that seemingly defy the laws of physics. It all looks fantastic and just as you’d expect from a campy romance island adventure set in the 1930s.
The sound design is solid. The island feels alive and dynamic and as if it would continue just fine without Nora’s presence. As you’d expect, Cissy Jones delivers with a charming performance. If you look at Nora, she sounds exactly as you’d expect. Despite having a significantly smaller role, Yuri Lowenthal still delivers a sharp and memorable performance as Harry. They’re a killer tag team.
However, it’s what composer Eduardo de la Iglesia has done with the soundtrack that’s really special. A key highlight for me was the central leitmotif that represents Nora’s journey. You hear bits of pieces of these five delightful notes constantly throughout your journey, ranging in tone and mood from foreboding to triumphant to sorrowful to mischievous. The soundtrack really makes for some memorable sequences and I loved every second of it.
Call of the Sea was reviewed on PC via Steam with a key provided by Raw Fury.