What comes to mind when you think of the term Lovecraftian? If it’s a bevy of eldritch cosmic terrors, or maybe a smattering of cryptic scientific findings and insanity inducing nightmares than developer Cyanide Studios has just what you had in mind with their title Call of Cthulhu.
Call of Cthulhu is an adventure game based on the tabletop RPG which is in itself based on the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century. As private investigator Edward Pierce, you are tasked with exploring the island of Darkwater in a first-person perspective. During your play through you will be gathering and reading evidence and using it to make dialogue based decisions to drive the story forward. The narrative branches out, where certain events can be altered or even missed altogether depending on the path you choose to take, as well as what they discover in the world.
Accompanying the story heavy adventure are odd stealth/survival horror sections and puzzles to solve. There is a light RPG stat system which will affect how well you will do in these sections and in the dialogue that’s available to choose from. Do you specialize in strength to exert force or work on your intuition in order to talk your way out of difficult situations. Whatever your path, chances are you’ll go somewhat mad on the way, something that’s both an essential part of the Lovecraftian mythos, as well as affecting your demeanor and options in the game world.
While Pierce can gain points to put into these skills by completing tasks and solving mysteries, the Medicine and Occultism skills cannot be leveled in the same way. Instead, these special skills can only be incremented by discovering Cthulhuian artifacts and reading medical texts which gives you ample incentive to explore every nook and cranny of the environment more thoroughly.
Fortunately, the world of Call of Cthulhu is brilliantly designed with locations and an atmosphere that is hauntingly compelling. Sickly green lighting pervades and ominous audio cues only serve to increase the sense of ever-encroaching doom. Thankfully however, you can use light sources to your advantage, wielding a lighter to illuminate areas, but this comes at a cost with limited oil reserves for your lamp or limited range of light for your lighter.
My main gripe with Call of Cthulhu has to involve a distinct lack of polish in a number of areas. From waxy stiffly animated character models and glitchy environments, to throwaway mechanics. poorly written lore texts, and mismatched dialogue trees; it all feels unfortunately unforgivable in a full-priced release. There’s also the notorious subject of Lovecraft’s aggressive xenophobia, something that perpetuated his works and is conspicuous in its absence with Call of Cthulhu. This could have been an opportunity to tackle some of these issues and challenge some of the concepts, but it’s only sidestepped.
Call of Cthulhu is arguably at its grim best when its strives for less rather than more. It fares much better when it embraces the detective and exploration cornerstones that serve as the foundations of the experience. Whether you chose to commune with obscene forces from another realm, drink yourself into oblivion, or, embrace a kind of puritanical self-denial, the abundance of choice in Call of Cthulhu proves welcome, as does the enticement for repeat play which manifests itself as a direct result.
Overall, Call of Cthulhu is a solid adventure title that’s not overly long and it’s one that demands replaying to discover all its secrets. The story is genuinely compelling and is recommended for fans of the mythos and horror games alike. Unfortunately, the lack of polish makes it hard to recommend for anyone who is on the fence or doesn’t appreciate Lovecraftian elements.