H.P. Lovecraft made an amazing and vastly interesting world, but one that is also chillingly horrifying. Part of his world is brought to life once more in the recent adaptation of the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game. The year is 1924 and you play as a drunken, washed-up detective named Edward Pierce. Detective Pierce is a World War 1 veteran who is about to be fired when a new client walks into his office with a case he must accept. The man is Stephen Webster, father to Sarah Hawkins, an amazing painter who had been painting increasingly disturbing images. After a fire in the Hawkins’ mansion, the citizens on the island thought them dead but Stephen believed his daughter to still live so he contracts Pierce to find her and solve the mystery surrounding the incident. Thus Pierce finds himself on Darkwater Island, an old paradise for Whalers that fell to ruin and is under nearly complete control of a crime boss named Cat. There, you must investigate the mysteries of the Hawkins family, the dark disturbing painting of Sarah, and just what is going on with the island of Darkwater.
I have always been mildly interested in H.P. Lovecraft but only ever heard some stories and some overviews on the “Old Ones”. So my knowledge is limited. I have never played any of the older Call of Cthulhu games or the tabletop RPG so I went into this game without expectations and with nothing to compare it to other than modern horror games. I was mostly surprised. The game starts with Pierce having a nightmare of himself in an underground tunnel and introduces the lamp mechanic and how you need it to interact with certain objects. Leading to someone getting murdered by a Cthulhu looking cultist. Waking up, you are able to explore his office and even take a drink of whiskey, which I did and a message popped up saying it will affect my destiny. So I decided to take a drink whenever possible.
The game has a stat system that you can put points into with each category starting out with at least one full level reached and needing an increasing number of points for the next level. With the exception of Occult and Medicine which you need to find objects in the world to level up. I decided to try and get all my stats up to the same level which was probably a mistake since I could never persuade people in dialogue choices and my strength was never high enough for it to matter unless I had to do something for the story. I decided to quickly max out Investigation then Spot Hidden after that. Spot Hidden is an interesting stat, because if it is not high enough certain hidden objects either will not spawn or not become interact-able so you may miss out on an object or clue that can lead to a new dialogue option or flesh out the world a bit more.
When talking to people there are various dialogue options that pop up with some that you can use to try and persuade them. There are some that are just there to gather more information, and some will continue with a new dialogue branch with the option of not always being able to go back to previous tree. Some options you can unlock by finding bits of information either by talking to people or looking around the environment. When talking to people, they emote and move around. It is not like a lot of games where you can be talking to someone and they are stiff as a board making no movement except for their mouth with the occasional expression. They will move their arms, go through various very expressive facial expressions and even in the case of a couple of drunkards sway back and forth.
A lot of effort and heart was put into the animations which is why it pains me to say that they ultimately end up looking pretty terrible. They do seem to get better as you progress in the game, but early on, NPCs do not like to move their upper arms much when talking and they tend to clip into their torso a lot. There are some moments where the animation will end and they zip right into a default or new animation with little or no follow through. Hopefully when the game comes out or shortly after they will patch the game with updates for better animations.
To continue with some good points, and there are many good points, the environment is spot on. Pierce’s office is what you would expect, if you have seen an old detective movie or hell even ‘Who Framed Roger Rabit’ you can already picture his office. But when you get to Darkwater it is much darker and grimier even during the day. You can definitely tell that the island has seen better times. As soon as I got to the island I felt a sense of foreboding and creepiness like something was not quite right. That feeling never went away but only amplified at points and died down a tad at others. Almost like waves hitting a rocky shoreline. The horror elements are amazing throughout. There are minimal jump scares and they all serve a purpose. Monsters rarely jump out at you. They will generally skulk around or come out of a tight spot very slowly and methodically. There is no fighting it and at a further distance, it turns into a mist-like form that you can’t even tell if it has a shape.
Gameplay feels fitting, as you play a detective and you actually do detective work. You walk around, talk and question people, look for clues, and at certain points can enter a “reconstruction” mode where you piece clues together with phantasmal like images. The gameplay also mixes up fairly often with nothing seeming out of place and keeping learned elements and themes throughout the rest of the game. It continues to stay fresh while not feeling like a jumbled mess.
The game has a decent length though at the time of writing this I am unable to continue my play-through at about 6 hours in at the very start of Chapter 12, a dialogue choice pops up and I cannot select any of the options. The character I am interacting with is still moving and I can mouse over the options but I cannot select anything. I restarted from the last checkpoint, restarted the game, verified the game cache, and even reinstalled but nothing worked. Hopefully, it gets fixed as I really love the story and want to know how my choices will make it all turn out. I am sure I will get the “bad ending” but hey I played in a way I felt appropriate for the character and it would be nice to get that pay off. I even had a similar bug happen in the middle of Chapter 2 where I had to find parts for a machine and put it back together. After finding only 2 of the 3 parts, I tried to put what I had on the machine and the game would not allow me to exit that selection. I could move my mouse and the game was not frozen I just could not do anything. Reloading my save solved this.
Overall, I do recommend Call of Cthulu. There are some issues like the poor animations earlier on and the fact that I could not finish the game after playing it for 6 hours, but I am sure at least the later issue will be solved in a timely manner after launch and there is just so much to love so I will definitely continue to play on. Between the atmosphere, genuine horror, various characters, and replay value, Call of Cthulhu is a great game to play if you’re looking for a spooky good time. – TS
Call of Cthulhu is now available on PS4, Xbox One & PC
PC review code provided by Evolve PR