Greetings gentle readers! Today, thanks to publisher Focus Home, I am bringing you a review of the latest release from Cyanide Studio, the game “Call of Cthulhu”. I did receive a promotional key for the purposes of this review, as a note.
This is described as a “Semi Open World Investigation RPG”, inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft (specifically the story Call of Cthulhu) and built using the Chaosium ‘Call of Cthulhu’ Tabletop RPG rules. The main reason I wanted to play this game, despite not being a huge fan of traditional horror, is that I have read the collected works of Lovecraft and I own a copy of the 7th Edition CoC Quickstart rules, and wanted to see if this game was a good representation of both these things.
Does it capture the truly Eldritch horrors of HP Lovecraft? Does it feel like a Tabletop campaign? Or will it drive you to madness? Let’s dive right into Call of Cthulhu.
Visually I am of two minds here. Let’s get the bad right out of the way: The cinematic cutscenes in this game are rather rough around the edges, and remind me very much of older Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 era graphics. The fog in particular, when used, really makes things muddy and while the cutscenes are not horrible, they are very much at odds with the actual in game visuals.
The in game visuals, by the way, are wonderful and atmospheric and really capture the tone and feel of the game. The village of Darkwater and the Hawkins house, two of the very first areas you visit, and dripping with age and a feeling of unease. There is a green fog as well very gently laid over everything, which at first confused me as to why it was there. Eventually you do learn what the Green fog is, sort of, and then it starts to make a bit more sense. Thankfully the fog does not really obscure the areas you are going to explore at all, and the detail in the environments really stands out.
Lighting also plays a huge part of the game here, with areas of darkness and low light that just add to the mood and tension. You have a lantern and a lighter, both which produce different amounts of light and feel appropriate to their size.
Character models are a little stiff at times with their animations. While their faces are animated well enough, their movements during conversations can be a little…off. Nothing really detracts from anything but you do start to notice the oddities here and there. Especially with their hands.
Overall I am happy with the in game visual presentation, I just wish the Cinematics were a little more detailed and crisp.
While I would never go out of my way to listen to the soundtrack of the game outside of it, I will say that for the most part it again fits the mood of the game perfectly. Its tense, and droning, and at times downright frightening. A few times the music can get a bit bombastic, during chase sequences and the like, but most of the time its muted and disturbing. Further the general sound design is spot on, with moments of quiet at the right times to enhance the feelings of dread.
Voice acting however is excellent, and I loved every characters performance. You could easily feel each characters emotions through their tone. Edward, the main character, could be stoic and professional, and then later be near manic after seeing things that should never have been seen by man. Characters slowly and clearly show their distress and breakdowns through their voices and I adore the overall voice work in this game.
I have no complaints about the sound and audio work this game involves, and it’s really one of the best parts of the game.
STORY AND WORLD
For this part, I am going to avoid spoilers as best as I can, and discuss the games story and then bring up how I feel it compares to Lovecraft’s work that inspired it.
The basis of this story is that of Edward Pierce, a solider turned detective who is haunted by nightmares that he cannot explain nor understand. He has turned to both the bottle and sleeping pills in an effort to avoid these horrible visions. When the game starts, he is hired by a man to prove that his deceased daughter, a lady named Sarah Hawkins, is not a murderer and did not start a fire that killed her, her husband, and her child. The father is convinced his daughter was not the cause, because a painting that was delivered to him after her death. A very disturbing painting. The only clue that Edward has is the address from where the painting came from, a Darkwater Island Warehouse. From there, Edward goes to the remote island of Darkwater in search of answers….and what he finds is not something for mortal minds.
As its own standalone story, this game hits all the things I would want from a Lovecraft adaptation. Madness, Psychological Horror, a strange obsession with the sea and the life within, and of course cults and creepy fishermen. The games narrative is focused on Edward and the things he learns, and choice does play a part in this. In fact, there are apparently 4 endings available to the game, of which I have seen 2 (I was able to go back and watch both unlocked endings I had access to) and these endings are based on both your Sanity and your choices that you make as you investigate the island. I cannot go too much further into this without spoiling things so let’s just say as a standalone horror story its excellent in his execution with no real issues. Although a few things felt like there were left unexplained, such as one character named Cat and how she factored into things. I am still not sure of her purpose.
Now as far as using the original ‘Call of Cthulhu’ short story as inspiration, I feel again this game gets the tone and themes down. A cult, madness, a ship, creatures from the deep, and horrors from beyond space and time all factor in both the original and this games version of events. They even make sure to use the chant “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” which by the way sounds extremely creepy when chanting in a monotone voice.
Finally let me break down how the game plays, and how it compares to the actual tabletop Call of Cthulhu rules that it’s based on. Thankfully, the game is not super mechanically complex, and in fact is very similar to the old point and click style adventure games.
Movement is either your controller thumbsticks, or in my case, WASD. Mouse to look around, CTRL to crouch and sneak, and E to interact. Keys are rebindable, however there have been reports of bugs involving this and there supposedly will be a patch to correct this issue. I didn’t try to rebind my keys at all as the defaults where fine.
As you explore the environments, you will talk to people using a Conversation Wheel styled interface. Clicking to select responses. Some responses will require ranks in a particular skill, and those skills are Investigation, Eloquence, Strength, Spot Hidden, Psychology, Medicine, or Occult. You gain CP or Character Points at certain story events, and you can increase your chance of success in these skills using them. Each CP is equal to 5% more chance of success. However, Medicine and Occult can only be increased by finding items in the world that increase them such as creepy status for Occult or Books on Medical Procedures for medicine. By the end of the game I was able to get my Investigation to 100%, and every other skill other than Occult and Medicine to 70% so you get plenty of CP. I did discover however that during the initial character creation in your office, that you CAN put points into both Occult and Medicine. You may want to consider doing this instead of the other skills as after this point as again you have to locate objects to increase their values.
As you explore you will also find intractable objects that you can use your skills on. These are pretty straight forward such as looking at a corpse and making a medicine check to determine cause of death, or trying to break a lock with Investigation. Each skill has a use, and I found at least once instance where I could use each skill in some manner or another. Some responses are also locked behind your Sanity meter. The more horrors and events you experience that are beyond mortal comprehension, the lower your Sanity gets, and the more open you become to…things. Your sanity also effects how you view the world slightly, although I rarely noticed it. Thankfully there is a section of the menu where you can view your current Sanity level AND see the events that affected it. Interestingly enough, I ended the game with ZERO Sanity, but did not experience every event, which does lead me to believe there is more branching in the game then I experienced which is of course good for replayability. And again, I also only witnessed 2 out of 4 possible endings.
There are also puzzles, usually of the “find object X and place it on thing Y” or Stealth variety. Yes, there are stealth segments, and they are a bit of a pain at times. One in particular (A puzzle Boss Fight involving Stealth), in the Sanders House, caused me to have to go online and find the solution as the game did not do a great job of explaining what my goal was. Had I read the Journal a bit better I might have figured it out eventually, as the answer was TECHNICALLY there, but even then I would have had a trial and error sort of time. Beyond that, most of the puzzles were perfectly fine and solvable.
Finally there are Crime Scene Reconstruction events. These are triggered at specific moments, and your Investigation, Spot Hidden, and Psychology skills are used to help you piece together events that occurred in these locations. This is how you unlock new dialog options with NPCs when you are questioning them, learn more about the events of what happened on the island, and slowly piece together what is going on. Protip: Spot Hidden is a massive help in this game, you will want to keep that nice and high.
I do have two issues with the game however. One is that this game does not provide a way to manually save. It uses autosaves and checkpoints only. While I understand this is to prevent save scumming and avoiding choices, it’s annoying when you have to deal with something at home and have to stop playing, thus having to repeat sections. I don’t mind only one save slot, and personally I would have liked to have seen a quicksave option, and then add in an autosave point for each choice / branch to prevent going back and avoiding them. I really just dislike having to replay sections of the game, and this also means that if you experience a bug you could brick your save and have to restart. And speaking of bugs…
The second issue I had was actually a bug. Starting around Chapter 9 (out of 14) my game, during conversations or investigations, would suddenly decide to no longer register my mouse clicks at random. I could move the cursor all I wanted, but clicking on anything (choices in dialog, menus, ect) would not work. The way I fixed it was by plugging in my USB Xbox 360 controller, using THAT to make a choice, and then the mouse would suddenly work again. I was glad I had my controller in fact because one of these instances happened at the very start of a chapter, and no amount of restarting the game would fix it. I was 7 hours in at that time and this almost bricked my game.
I also had a very minor issue with skill feedback. There is in fact an audio queue for when you succeed or fail a check, but it took me nearly 6 hours to catch it. I would have preferred some text on screen telling me success or failure, but it was not a major deal breaker by any means. Just an annoyance.
So how well does this represent the Call of Cthulhu Tabletop Rules? Well, it actually represents them quite well! You see, in the CoC tabletop game all skills are d100 based. You roll a d100, try to get under your skill rating, and if you do you succeed. This game uses those exact same basic rules, although with a much slimmer skill list (again, only 8 skills available).
Now below, you will find a video I recorded showing the basic gameplay (skill usage, conversation, ect) taken in Chapter 2 on Darkwater Island. This is super early into the game, and I am going to avoid any story bits. This video is without commentary as well and runs about 12 minutes, showing all the UI elements, how activating things work, and even has a cutscene included.
The best comparison I can give for those who need it, is that this game is very similar in style to Amnesia the Dark Descent. There is no real combat, no real chase scenes, and only a few stealth sections. Beyond that, it’s a lot of lore, dialog, exploration, and investigation. Basically, it’s a Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG session played between a GM and a single player, and that is awesome.
Truth be told, however, I am not sure how the price point feels to me. At $30 I could easily recommend this to any horror fan or adventure game fan, but at $45 (On PC) I really can only suggest it to hardcore fans of these genres. It looks to be $60 on Console and that’s…rough. Also this game claims to be semi open world but that is honestly wrong in my opinion. Semi Open World, to me, means hub areas with nonlinear gameplay, but this really is a very linear narrative game in style with only a few sections that are even remotely nonlinear (Darkwater Town and the Asylum) but everything else is very straight forward. Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines is a good example of Semi Open World with several hubs open to explore that branch off into instanced areas.
At the end of the day, Call of Cthulhu the game is an excellent adaptation of Lovecraft’s Mythos & the Chaosium Rules, and anyone who is in love with these two things should have an excellent time with this game. I enjoyed my time with it quite a bit, which given my distaste for horror is saying something. Oh, and there are almost no jump scares, like at all. I think there are 2 sections that involve them, and they are very minor.
You can purchase Call of Cthulhu at the following locations, and it’s on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. I played and reviewed the PC Version so keep that in mind:
- Amazon (Xbone and PS4): https://www.amazon.com/d/Xbox-One-Games/Call-Cthulhu-Xbox-One
- Gamestop (All Platforms): https://www.gamestop.com/browse?nav=16k-3-Call+of+Cthulhu,28zu0
- Steam (PC): https://store.steampowered.com/app/399810/Call_of_Cthulhu/
Thanks again to Focus Home and Cyanide Studios for giving me a review copy of this game!