Since the announcement of this game back in 2017, Lovecraft fans around the world have waited for Call of Cthulhu to arrive on PC, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One. But now that it's arrived, the one question that plagues everyone's mind is: does it actually live it up to being Lovecraftian? Did Cyanide Studio manage to capture the Lovecraftian spirit with the game where so many others before them have tried and failed? Let's take a dive into the depths of madness.
We'll be keeping this a very minimalist review because this game keeps you second guessing yourself every chapter – just when you think you solved a piece of the puzzle, it throws you another loop.
Story and Background
The game is based on HP Lovecraft's short story Call of Cthulhu and also takes elements from the Dungeon and Dragons-style RPG of the same name. In this point-and-click horror game, you play as Edward Pierce, a war veteran turned private investigator. After falling on hard times, complete with clear alcoholism and nightmares, you are visited by Steven Webster, the father of the deceased Sarah Hawkins. The death of the Hawkins family is well known, but the father believes there's more to the death of his daughter and wants Pierce to restore her name. Agreeing to do so, Pierce heads off to Darkwater Island to investigate the residents and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the dark island.
Controls and Graphics
In the first bit of Call of Cthulhu you're introduced to the basic game mechanics: walking, looking at items, and interacting with the characters using A or B on your gamepad. I swapped back and forth between PC keyboard and an Xbox controller. I found a lot of the time my keyboard wouldn't work, as there are situations where you have to be quick on your feet. Having my keyboard glitch out made things difficult, but after switching to the Xbox controller I didn't have any problems going forward.
The game's visuals are dark and gritty. Numerous green shines scattered about, though, remind you that Darkwater isn't your typical Island. Although the environments were pretty, the people and things that moved through them looked out of place. When I streamed the game last Tuesday, sailors were "drunkenly" swaying about awkwardly. Shadows and textures struggled to load properly, resulting in a visual mess at times. Lip syncing was terribly done, and there are even misspelled and missing words in the subtitles. And it can be hard to focus on what's happening when someone blinks and you see their whole eyeball.
Then you're introduced to Character Points, used to upgrade your character skills. There's Eloquence to talk your way out of things; Spot/Hidden to see things that are out of the way; Psychology with the ability to people's physical state. You also have Investigation, which is rather self-explanatory, along with Medicine and Occultism. You're given 8 CPs at the start, which can max out two of the character skills presented to you if you wish. Every time you interact with an important character or finish a chapter, you're rewarded with a Character Point.
For those wondering, I tried my hardest to max out Occultism, which turned out to be super difficult. Medicine and Occultism were challenging to max out because you need to find certain items that allow you to get those Character Points. Whether it's books on medicine or something about the occult, I found that these were the hardest to gather.
During your first encounter at the Stranded Whale, you are given the option to act tough and show off your fighting skills or talk your way through the situation. Depending on how you've spent your CPs, you can approach situations like these in different ways. You may choose to solve problems with your fists, but investing Eloquence gives you the chance for a more diplomatic solution. During my first play through, I didn't bother maxing out Eloquence, which led me to earn the reputation of "trouble maker" and stopped me from being served a drink.
One thing to keep in mind is that every time you put CPs in, you're set on a different path with different end results. Choose carefully how you spend them!
In this game, your actions, even the small ones, will have consequences. If you have a drink of whiskey or a bite to eat, if you choose to look at something, if you speak a certain way to another person... all these things have consequences that will impact the game. These choices are also meant to affect your sanity, which alters gameplay. That said, I did a lot of things that were supposed to impact my sanity, and I was never completely sure if it really did or not.
Investigation and Scene Creation
Investigation is the core gameplay mechanic, as you're searching for clues about the events leading up to the death in the Hawkins Family. Some clues are left in the open, but others leave you looking around a room or area for hours. They can be either in your face or hidden to the point that of frustration. I often found myself wandering around looking for clues that should've been more obvious.
You also have the recreation scenes, triggered when you encounter something that just doesn't add up. These interactive scenes have you piecing past events together, but they're already laid out for you. You don't have to put them in any specific order. Going through each scene and uncovering the past would have been more rewarding if I was actually doing my own detective work. These scenes were interesting, but they could have been more immersive, and I would have liked to have seen more of them.
Suspense and Horror
In Lovecraft, one of the key ingredients is that towns are supposed to be rather mundane at first, and the story unravels as you talk to people and get information out of them. If you're familiar with Lovecraft's short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, you know it starts out rather slow, but thing start getting weird after speaking to a drunk guy. In Call of Cthulhu, however, you're thrust right into the weird and the macabre. Because of that, it takes the suspense a while to build. It won't be until the later chapters that you'll find yourself being creeped out and checking if there is something moving behind you. Or, you know, that you're not going to be hit with a random jump scare.
The darkness in the game can be super unsettling in the early chapters. You're constantly worried, looking over your shoulder, and using your lantern to make sure there's nothing hiding in the corners. Be careful with using your lantern, though. I'm not gonna say if there's something that will jump out at you from the darkness… But you know never! I wouldn't want to spoil anything for you...
The Lore of Lovecraft
As a Lovecraft fan, this game left me wanting more, but I think the question on everyone's mind is: did it manage to use the source material in a correct manner and expand on Lovecraft's world? The game captures the lore of Lovecraft, expanding on it further and adding more than just Cthulhu himself. Without spoiling too much (you'll want to discover these things on your own), Darkwater was like Innsmouth (The Shadow Over Innsmouth) but turned up to 11.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip into Lovecraft's world. It has its flaws, as most games do, but as the first Lovecraft game by Cyanide Studio, it was a brave attempt. I honestly wish to see more from them, and I want them to tackle more Lovecraft games in the future.