Call of Cthulhu (Xbox One Review)
H.P.Lovecraft’s works have been celebrated across every medium throughout the years, from board games to movies to other novels, and back. Yet, when it comes to games there are only a few memorable titles that stick out, like Bloodborne and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. As of late, it feels like the theme is overshadowed by the pursuit of Norse mythology and the never ending wave of zombie survival games. So it would seem like now would be the perfect time to break the mould and dip in to the well of madness that is Lovecraftian horror.
The expectations of a project so closely tied to H.P. Lovecraft’s literature are somewhat nuanced in Call of Cthulhu. Madness does not stir out of the gate, but culminates at the end of a slow burn across thin exposition. As Edward Pierce, a seasoned detective on the verge of collapse struggling to find cases that meet your lofty standards, you’ll be intrigued by the death of a wealthy family. The case reeks of suspicion due to its inconclusive end. You’ll soon be whisked away to a remote and desolate island to begin your descent in to madness, uncovering the truth behind the Watkins family’s deaths. While it’s not a direct adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu, it does follow similar beats. The setting does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that’s both foreboding and intriguing. You’re cut off from the world on the island and a subtle green palette envelops the world like a faint, unsettling mist. Then there’s the eerie and questionable inhabitants that have taken residence that don’t take too well to outsiders poking about their business. Cynaide has created its own unique tale with the combination of atmosphere, twists and turns that every Lovecraft fan can appreciate.
What fans of Lovecraft might not embrace is the distinct lack of exploration of Cthulhu himself and the mythos surrounding it. Everything is vague, at best, and confined to manuscripts placed around the world that illuminate the story just enough to see you through. Instead you explore Edward Pierce’s own story. While many Lovecraftian tales are shrouded in mystery, allowing you to question the true meaning, I was hoping for a slightly more direct interpretation. Especially when considering that these tales are lauded for bizarre imagery and hideous monstrosities that felt largely absent from Call of Cthulhu.
While you’re looking high and low for traces of Cthulhu, you’ll stumble across some genuine crime scenes to investigate. With Edward’s expertise in the area, it would be rude not to put your skills to good use. When you arrive at the crime scenes you’ll be prompted to start your investigation to find clues to progress the plot depending on Edward’s current stats, ranging from things like knowledge of the occult to medicine. Depending on these stats, different objects will be available to interact with and a strong overall understanding of investigation will help Edward deduce certain elements of the crime by simply observing the scene. Then there are the social skills, like psychology, which enable Edward to understand the intent behind the perceived actions. Getting the most out of these scenes comes from striking a balance as, like all good RPGs, it is not possible to become proficient in every skill. That means the precious few points you obtain through story progression and finding clues will need to be spent wisely and cannot be exploited. Thankfully the system is forgiving enough that you will never hit a roadblock, but spreading yourself too thin might result in you leaving the crime scene shorthanded.
When Edward isn’t able to solve the scene, he will need to stealthily cross enemy lines and explore to find the answer. These instances are few and far between, offering bitesized puzzles as respite from investigations. These puzzles are often based on matching items to find an exit, but prove fairly enjoyable. Well, they are fairly enjoyable until you come face to face with one of the few extra-dimensional monsters stalking these sections. Stealth sections are divisive at the best of times and Call of Cthulhu’s are somewhat troublesome thanks the game’s camera and the difficulty that comes with attempting to peer round corners. While trying to survey the area, you’ll be caught more often than not and it can prove quite frustrating.
As the weight of the stealth sections bears down on you, it feels like a matter of luck that determines whether or not you pass. The monsters appear to have a sixth sense that instantly notifies them of your presence at whim. That’s not to say the sections are impossible. You can gauge enemy location through audio, in spite of its seemingly out of sync pacing, and then make a mad dash for the exit. There’s no doubt that these sections could be handled a bit better, thankfully there aren’t too many, lest we go insane.
And insane you might go, depending on the choices made throughout the game. Chasing down the truth will see Edward slowly lose his marbles as his sanity meter spirals out of control. In return, you’ll be rewarded with knowledge that will better explain the goings on, as well as opening up dialogue options based on the ‘R’lyehian’ language. This ancient language goes without translation and turns your dialogue tree into a mish mash of archaic symbols that represents Edward’s mind succumbing to madness. It’s a small touch that ultimately fails to affect the experience much other than some conversational choices that boil down to binary decisions. It’s an underutilised mechanic that lacks any real payoff that detracts from the tension that was building up throughout the game.
Call of Cthulhu is fun while it lasts. Crime scene investigations are overly simple, but keep the story moving at a steady pace. Stealth sections break up the monotony when they can, yet there aren’t enough of them and the few there are could be handled better. And Edward’s sanity meter had more potential to shape the world other than a few simple conversation choices. Call of Cthulhu is nothing stellar, although it will scratch the cosmic itch for anyone seeking a halfway decent Lovecraftian story.
Call of Cthulhu
- Great Atmosphere and setting.
- Investigations even though simple, are enjoyable.
- Stealth sections help break the pacing.
- The First Person camera is problematic in stealth sections.
- Some A.I. have the ability to detect you without seeing you.
- Sanity meter underutilised.
- Does little to explain the intricacies of the Mythos to newcomers.