Did we answer the Call of Cthulhu?
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
This was a very odd choice of game for me to jump at reviewing. I hate pretty much everything within the horror genre, be it games, films or books. Its just not my cup of tea. But there is always an exception to the rule. For me, that exception is the H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos”. I jumped at the risk of jump scares galore, to revel within the insanity that I’d hope would be within Call of Cthulhu.
Call of Cthulhu is the latest offering from Cyanide Studios. It is a hard subject matter to breach, there have been plenty of games in the past that have tried to embrace Lovecraft’s mythos, but haven’t been able to grasp the atmosphere required. Mostly due to these games being quite old, and not quite being able to get the right immersion in the same way that modern games can. It is difficult for many gamers to understand. Most games are games you play to beat, there is the big bad boss, and you play through the game, get more powerful and overcome the challenge. However, Cthulhu is not a boss, He is not something that can be beaten. He is an Elder God, beyond mortal comprehension. Thus, many gamers don’t understand not being able to beat Him.
Cyanide Studios, quite rightly, went with a different approach. Instead opting to have the players play the role of Edward Pierce, a private investigator from Boston, who is hired to discover what really happened to Sarah Hawkins on Darkwater Island. Pierce’s investigation leads him all around the island, through a variety of locations, which gradually get creepier and creepier, as Pierce inevitably uncovers what is really happening on Darkwater Island.
Call of Cthulhu isn’t perfect, it does have a few graphical glitches, and a few clipping issues (some of which will hopefully be fixed with a day one patch!). But something Cyanide have absolutely nailed is the atmosphere. As soon as you arrive on Darkwater Island everything just feels creepy, leaving the player with a sense of paranoia – exactly as any media based on the works of Lovecraft should make you feel.
Something I was quite glad of, not being a fan of horror games, was that there wasn’t a horrendous amount of jump scares, I think there was only one that truly made me squeal like a little girl, resulting in stopping playing for half an hour or so… to cook dinner, yes, I had to stop to cook dinner… The atmosphere did have me on edge the whole time though, leaving me with a sense of wrongness about myself. The artistry, music and sound effects all work together brilliantly to make the achieve this Lovecraftian feeling about the game.
The character graphics sometimes let the game down, usually with issues that are fairly common to indie developers opting for slightly higher end graphics, which isn’t to say that AAA developers are innocent of this at all, where there is often clipping issues. It was quite common for clothing to clip through itself, or other clothing. There were also instances of faces not articulating correctly while speaking etc, leaving teeth or eyes clipping through the face. Hopefully some of these are fixed in the day one patch. It is important to note that these are by no means game breaking graphical issues – here’s looking at you Assassin’s Creed Unity! But they do, unfortunately, break the immersion slightly at a few key moments. There were times where there was some intense story happening, where the setting, music, dialogue, lighting and everything tie in perfectly to pull the player deeper to insanity – only to let out a snigger at Pierce’s coat sleeve passing through his trousers or something similar.
Talking of the story, it was spot on. While it’s probably not quite the full on “butterfly effect” game such as Detroit: Become Human, choices you make throughout the game do change the possible outcomes later, showing the Mark of Cthulhu with the note “This will affect your Destiny”. This will vary from having different dialogue options available when speaking to people, depending what you’ve uncovered so far, to how you might have to play through an area depending on what you might have picked up or not picked up. So far, I’ve found two different endings, depending on the final dialogue choice of the game, but I’m uncertain if there are other endings available if you take different choices throughout?
Being the Cthulhu fan that I was, I generally opted to delve deeper into the occult, opting to learn as much as possible about the Elder Gods, risking my sanity further with every option. Until ultimately, I gave in to “The Call”. It will certainly be interesting to play through the game again opting to avoid giving into the occult and steering clear of “The Call”.
Another way of tailoring the game for each playthrough, is to choose different options for Pierce’s “Character Points” CP. These can be spent to improve Pierce’s Investigation, Eloquence, Strength, Psychology and Spot Hidden skills. There are also skills for Medicine and Occult, which are increased via finding books etc on Darkwater Island to increase your knowledge of these areas. How skilled you are in different things affects your options while playing. Increased Psychology might give you a better understanding of what people are going through, unlocking different dialogue options. Being stronger might give you options to overpower people, or possibly to get to additional areas (I didn’t increase strength on my play through). And the other skills all have similar effects on changing possible outcomes within the game. I maxed out Investigation, Spot Hidden and Psychology during my first play through. This meant I could learn extra facts, hidden objects stood out much clearer (as well as being told there were hidden objects within an area) and I had loads of extra dialogue options because of understanding the psychology behind the madness overtaking the island. While I was searching for as many objects as I could, I didn’t manage to even get to 4/5 skill points in either medicine or occult, so there were quite a few dialogue options that I couldn’t click on – which was unfortunate…
There are a few points in the game that slightly deviate from the “Private Eye”, almost, point and click style gameplay. These are mostly stealth encounters, with one “boss fight” and an optional stealth or “FPS” section. The Stealth encounters aren’t quite as polished in their delivery as the main aspects of the game. The locations they’re set in tend to get you turned around easily in an almost maze like fashion – while stealthing itself isn’t too difficult, keeping track of where you’re trying to get to can be! There is are two “boss” encounters, one which is a deadly stealth style encounter, and the other where you have to keep a creature at bay while trying to banish it. While the final “type” of encounter is where you have a gun, and thus have the choice of stealthing, or shooting – your choice of which can have an effect on what options you have later on – as choosing to get gun happy will leave you without ammo. Unfortunately this isn’t actual FPS, Pierce will auto-aim at the closest enemy within range, then you get the option to shoot, which will either one shot, two shot or miss the target. You don’t seem to have a visible ammo counter, you just shoot until Pierce exclaims he’s out of ammo.
Call of Cthulhu is a great game based upon the Cthulhu mythos, and I hope we see more similar games in the future – I know of at least one more currently in development. Because I think that finally technology has got to a stage where the right level of immersion can be gained to throw the player deep into the atmosphere that the mythos requires.
Slight graphical issues aside, Cyanide Studios have hit the nail on the head with Call of Cthulhu. The story, setting, effects, music and sounds all merge together to create a near-perfect atmosphere to tell a story about the effect that He Who Sleeps has on a sleepy island community.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
(In His House at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.)