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Call of Cthulu is a first person adventure game developed by Cyanide Studios. It draws heavy inspiration from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, besides directly naming one of the author’s terrifying creations in the title. Part gothic horror game and part noir detective story, Call of Cthulu paints a morbid but interesting picture and asks players to examine it closer. A mixture of puzzle gameplay and horror set pieces keep things from getting repetitive, but does Call of Cthulu distinguish itself from standard first person horror fare?
The Bottle Calls
Call of Cthulu centers around private investigator Pierce, a World War 1 veteran struggling with alcoholism. Set in the 1920’s, the world feels dark and ominous. Like Pierce’s circumstances, things are generally bleak and dreary. Struggling to find work, Pierce takes up the first offer that comes across his desk. A young artist named Sarah Hawkins has perished in a house fire, but the deceased’s father begs Pierce to investigate. Spurred on by rumors of the paranormal and foul play, Pierce sets off to the island of Darkwater. Just off the coast of Maine, Darkwater contains the looming and dilapidated Hawkins Mansion, which contains more secrets than Pierce bargained for.
The story takes you to some pretty interesting locations, and the variety of settings keeps things fresh. You’ll explore abandoned warehouses, old hospitals, occult bookstores, and plenty of other evocative environments. Things generally stay dark and foreboding, but never for too long. Call of Cthulu does a good job moving you from place to place well before you get bored. Generally speaking, the story is surprisingly compelling and keeps the pace up. There are a few sloggy sections, but overall the linear layout of the game allows the story to standout and feel more meaningful.
Good ‘Ol Detective Work
Solving the great mystery of Darkwater will test your investigative technique, but it won’t challenge you too much. As Pierce, you have a handful of characteristics that allow you to approach crime scenes and characters in a variety of ways. Traits like Eloquence, Strength, Psychology, and Investigation can be increased as you progress. Having a high enough skill opens up alternative puzzle solutions and dialogue options, so it’s smart to invest early on. For example, an early puzzle can be brute-forced if you have a high enough Strength trait. Similarly, you can pull information out of people by intimidating them, persuading them, and more.
Occasionally, the game presents you with a crime scene to reconstruct. These scenarios have you piecing the scene together clue-by-clue, as you investigate the surroundings. It’s an interesting way to present information and keep gameplay fresh, and solving the simplistic scenes feels rewarding. There are other more traditional puzzles scattered throughout the game, which provide a nice break from the tense atmosphere.
On the down side, Call of Cthulu contains a handful of stealth sections and open-ended puzzles that hurt the pacing and feel awkward. Generally speaking, most of the experience is a linear adventure, with some sleuthing and clue collecting. Its not incredibly heavy on combat or puzzles, and that’s mostly for the better. Stealth feels weirdly clunky, enemy AI is predictable and tedious, and puzzles can be obtuse and confusing. Instead of adding a dash of gameplay and suspense to the experience, these sections feel like hollow gameplay padding.
Should You Buy Call of Cthulu?
Call of Cthulu succeeds for the majority of the experience, but falls brutally short in spots. It’s a very creepy game, with some interesting locations and a tense atmosphere. The story plays around with the occult in some cool ways, and it’s a decent mystery with the expected Lovecraftian inspiration. Unfortunately, gameplay can be hit or miss, and some chapters feel like filler. For every cool investigation sequence or chase scene, there is a clunky stealth section or obtuse puzzle. There are some really great ideas and satisfying horror elements to Call of Cthulu, but it lacks polish and focus at times. It feels like a mishmash of other horror games, namely Outlast, Layers of Fear, and Amnesia: the Dark Descent. While it’s not as memorable as any of those other titles, Call of Cthulu manages to stay entertaining despite its flaws.
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