The latest game to be influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s occult imaginings is a distinct step-up from other games which have dared to capture the unique psychological and horrific imagery of the rich and complex source material.
‘Call of Cthulhu’ follows the maddening tale of ‘Edward Pierce’ a private detective sent to investigate the tragic death of the Hawkins family on the remote ‘Darkwater Island’. Once there he uncovers a set of chilling truths which see the island and its inhabitants dabbling with forces well beyond both their control and perception. You play as Pierce, and through a mixture of conversation, crime scene reconstruction and your own dabbling in the occult, you must make choices which will ultimately affect the fate of man-kind.
No pressure then.
The game, the official video game adaptation of Chaosium's emblematic pen & paper RPG, has a playstyle akin many other narrative driven RPGs. The RPG elements are non-combat based, as indeed is most of the gameplay, and as such you must prepare a character whose success relies on his ability to manipulate lines of enquiry through dialogue and puzzle solving. As a result, the attributes you ‘level-up’ directly impact the ease through which Pierce will conclude the games numerous investigative set pieces, or which dialogue options will be unlocked when pierce is interrogating witnesses and suspects. All the attributes contribute, and the few character points given at the start offers a subtle way of tailoring your early game experience as your limited skill points early on mean each player will interpret the evidence uncovered from a slightly different perspective. Ultimately, however, you will likely become ‘expert’ in all of them by the end of the game, so you don’t have to worry about levelling the ‘wrong’ characteristics.
The game plays and feels much like you would expect a first-person adventure game would do. You wander around the games beautifully rendered, and genuinely haunting, 1920s locations pressing the ‘A’ button (XBOX Controller for PC) on anything and everything it lets you. From here you will have to solve puzzles, some harder than others, and solve crime scenes. The set piece scenes are well thought through as you study clues and ‘recreate’ the crime scene in a near identical style to that of Rocksteady’s ‘Batman Arkham’ series. The games earlier levels lean heavily on these adventure elements, utilising Pierce’s ‘rational’ state of mind to give grounding to the otherwise creepy and mysterious surroundings and plots.
I wouldn’t say I am a massive fan of adventure games in general, but ‘Call of the Cthulhu’ gets the perfect balance challenge and intuition. This reduces the risk of getting too stuck, which I often find risks killing off the urgency and peril you are required to feel to keep the games mystique and atmosphere tense and foreboding.
Talking of atmosphere, wow. Whilst the game doesn’t have the shock factor of, say the ‘Outlast’ franchise, this game really hits home with its graphic design and art direction.
The graphics are frankly stunning. Playing on my I7, GTX1080Ti equipped PC with everything set to EPIC my frames never dipped below 60 (v-sync enabled). I honestly didn’t expect my in-game experience to match those visual style of the promotional screenshots, but it does. The game succeeds outside of pretty graphics, but more so capturing the essence of a world which is torn between what we see, and what may lurk in the shadows – as you might expect, sound is used to good effect also. The games use of lighting and ‘fog’ really pulls you into the game’s otherworldly storyline and some interesting visual effects represent your characters mindset, especially in the games straight up horror sections further bolstering the games psychological-horror edge.
Leaning heavily on the standards set by games such as Amnesia and Outlast, there are some recognisable ‘horror sections’ with a seriously terrifying monster, and some well executed jump-scares. These set pieces offer a distinct change of pace to the rest of the game, and its all the credit to the games writing and direction that they fluidly shift between subtle adventuring in a creepy environment, to some outright pant shitting moments. This game really draws you in.
Overall, as a horror fan ‘Call of Cthulhu’ really is difficult to fault, and I would say that there are only minor niggles with a couple of game sections which feel a little more like trial and error than problem solving. Ultimately though, ‘Call of Cthulhu’ manages to accomplish what so many horror films/games falter on, the successful balance of pace and atmosphere. I managed to complete the main game (acquiring 70% of the achievements) in around 7 hours, but could literally not stop playing! Through my playthrough I was immersed in a suffocating atmosphere, eager to find out where the story would take me next, whilst all the while making me feel as if I was caught in a whirlwind fraught with peril, where time was of the essence.
‘Call of the Cthulhu’ is out on November 30th, be sure to check it out.