This review was written using a review code provided to me via the game’s PR agency. This does not affect my judgement of the game and this message is included for the purpose of transparency.
Call of Cthulu is a game I have been following for a very long time. First announced in early 2016, the game was initially slated for a 2017 release. The game was pushed back, and finally released recently on 30th October. The question is though, is Call of Cthulu worth the wait?
Set in the Cthulu Mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft, the game is a video game adaptation of the tabeltop Call of Cthulu by Chaosium. The game sees the player play as the troubled soul Edward Pierce. Pierce is a war veteran, who was part of a group of soldiers who were left deserted during the war. Believed dead, left with no food and surrounded by the bodies of his dead comrades, Pierce was left there for a week before being discovered by fellow soldiers. As a result Pierce suffers from PTSD, something that he believes can be helped by drinking. After the war, Pierce returned to the life of a citizen and chose to become a private investigator.
The game begins with Pierce experiencing a strange dream, which he awakes from on the sofa of his PI office. You look around the office and are posed with the first choice of the game. Does Pierce have a drink, or not? When you make your decision (I chose to have a drink), an occult symbol appears in the top left corner stating that this decision will affect your destiny. Then in walks Charles Hawkins, a man looking for a PI to investigate the death of his daughter Sarah. Sarah died in a fire, however Mr. Hawkins fears it wasnt an accident as it was ruled to be. As Pierce learns about the situation surrounding Sarahs death it becomes clear that there is a chance that there is more than meets the eye about this incident. Mr. Hawkins talks of Sarahs visions, and a mysterious warehouse on the island she called a home. In terms of the drink decision affecting my destiny, Mr. Hawkins referred to Pierces office as a drunkards den. I didnt drink often in the game, so its how unclear (in my playthrough at least) how much the drinking actually affects Pierce.
Pierce sets sail for a place called Darkwater Island, the place Sarah and her family called home. Your first mission is to gain access to Warehouse 36; the warehouse mentioned by Mr. Hawkins. The more Pierce discovers about Sarahs death, the more he begins to question his understanding of the reality around him. Cults, unethical experimentation on asylum patients, and an entity referred to as Leviathan; all of these things, and more, impact Pierces mental state and leave the player desperate to find the answer to the latest question.
In terms of gameplay, the game plays as what I would expect from a typical detective based game. When you first come to Darkwater Island you spend some time learning of the history of the island. You learn that it used to be a very prosperous whaling island. However once the whales died out, so did most of the economy on the island. Now it is seen as a desolate place, where there are few jobs and nothing to do. You interact with members of the community, learn some of the backstory of the Hawkins family and finally set out to enter Warehouse 36.
The warehouse poses the first of the games many reconstruction segments. An easy way to explain this mechanic is by comparing it to the detective segments of the Batman Arkham games. During a reconstruction Pierce walks around the environment, finding valuable clues to gain an understanding of what happened in that environment. The reconstruction is signalled by the edges of the screen lighting up with a blue vignette. The player then presses R2 and L2 to enter the reconstruction and, once everything has been found, you press the same buttons to exit the reconstruction. Its worth noting that I didnt find a way to exit the reconstruction before it was complete. These types of sections of the game are by far where the game shines. Each reconstruction makes sense, and serves a purpose. Its nice to not see them thrown wherever they can be thrown in, as the over-saturation wouldve turned a very enjoyable experience in to a extremely tedious one.
The majority of the game acts as a walking sim/detective combo, which is very nice to play. The plot of the game is unwound in a nicely paced manner throughout the games roughly 14 or 15 hour campaign. However it is when the game ventures outside of this combination that the cracks start to emerge.
Call of Cthulu introduces the player to a very interesting sounding system. The game features a panic attack system. This comes into play when Pierce finds himself in small spaces. He begins to breath heavily, and the edges of the screen blurs. The longer you stay in the situation, the heavy the breathing gets and you can hear Pierces heart pounding. At one point in the game I was crawling through a vent, and this system kicked in. I decided to test it out, and stayed in the vent for a few minutes. Much to my disappointment, nothing happened. I was hoping that Pierce would freak out, given that he was trapped in a small space, and begin running with me not being able to stop him. Alas this didnt happen. It would make sense that Pierce begin running, and the player only be able to control his direction until he feels he is no longer under threat. This makes the panic system a missed opportunity in my opinion.
While most of Call of Cthulu is a detective/walking sim there are other elements to the game. For instance Call of Cthulu contains a skill tree, allowing the player to upgrade certain parts of Pierce to make him more effective in certain tasks. There is Eloquence, which helps Pierce converse with people and get information from them. There is Strength, which helps with physical tasks. The skill tree is upgraded as you would expect; with skill points. These are done by finding clues and the such. There are two areas that cant be upgraded via points though, and these are medicine and occult. These must be upgraded by interacting with material of that type. For instance, studying a book of occult or medicine will increase that skill. This all sounds well and good, however the issue arises when you realise that these skills are essentially unused. The only time I ran into an issue was late game when my occult level, and thus understanding, was too low and I couldnt select an answer that required an understanding of the occult. However, I wasnt locked out from progressing, I simply used my eloquence skill to get the answer I needed. It has no substance to it, no real purpose to the game. Its a shame really, but it feels like the entire tree was included merely for the sake of remembering that Call of Cthulu is based on a tabletop RPG.
The game also includes some stealth elements, which I wont discuss because spoilers. I will say however that these stealth elements are not the greatest I have ever experienced in a game. There was no real suspense to these sections, no feeling of“Oh crap theyre gunna find me!”. It was more a case of me crouching around an area until I could leave, not looking who is around the corner. I just wanted that section of the game to finish.
Late game you end up with a gun and have to shoot your way through a situation. When I got to this part of Call of Cthulu I immediately pressed L2 to aim my gun, only to find that nothing happened. Instead it turns out that merely pressing X shoots the gun, guaranteed to hit the target if they have a fist icon above their head. This part of the game, one that is supposed to see Pierce surviving, feels as if I am having my hand held through the entire process. Place the survival of the character I am playing in my hands. It would of greatly improved this part of the game, and made the experience that bit more fun.
My last issue is with the ending of the game. The entire plot of the game leads to this massive decision, which the player has to decide if they agree with or not. All of the loose ends are tied, and it seemed that an epic confrontation is about to begin. And then the ending just, kind of happens. It makes sense in the grander schemes of things, however left me feeling that the entire thing was rather anti-climatic. It is possible to go back, and redo the ending to obtain the other ending but this also feels anti-climatic. It feels as if the narrative for this game was hyped so much, that there is no possible way the ending can live up to the expectations set up by the plot. I figured maybe that was just MY ending, that maybe my decisions had lead to that. However after talking to a friend who also completed the game, he experienced the same two endings and was left feeling the same way.
That being said
I would still recommend Call of Cthulu for those of you looking for a creepy detective game. It is truly a joy to play, despite the shortcomings I talked about. The game has a well paced plot with many turns that keep the player on the edge of their seat. I found myself wanting to play more and more, wanting to see how the next part of the story played out. If you love a detective game with a good plot, then Call of Cthulu is a game you should definitely play.
Call of Cthulu is a great detective game with a great plot, that is unfortunately let down by an anti-climatic ending and some gameplay elements that leave a bit to be desired. It is one that I still strongly recommend though.