Back in 2005, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, completely changed the way I looked at horror games and to this day, I recommend it as the best Lovecraftian game you can play. After playing the new Call of Cthulhu from Cyanide Studios and entering the madness once again, I still recommend Dark Corners of the Earth as the best game based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Check out the rest of our Call of Cthulhu Review to find out exactly why.
The game is dubbed as a role-playing survival horror based on the pen & paper RPG from Chaosium. Therefore, it makes sense that there will be RPG elements at play, but for Call of Cthulhu, it feels like RPG-lite. You take on the role of a private investigator named Edward Pierce. Edward is quite down on his luck and his PI business isn’t doing all that well, not to mention that his alcoholism is pretty severe.
Playing off in 1924 when prohibition of alcohol is a thing makes things even worse for Piece. Right from the start, there is something very eerie about the whole situation, even in Pierce’s office in Boston where he experiences a vision of what looks like his death at the tentacles of a dark figure. Then, someone approaches him to investigate the questionable death of the Hawkins family.
Right from the start, you are introduced to the skill tree and RPG mechanics such as increasing Pierce’s effectiveness by adding character points into a variety of options, namely eloquence, strength, spot hidden, psychology and investigation. This all determines how good your character is at certain things and helps you overcome puzzles and obstacles throughout the game. Then, there’s also a medicine and occultism section of the skill tree, but those two options can only increase by finding and interacting with objects in the world.
After a brief introduction, Pierce sets off to Darkwater Island. As soon as I stepped off that ferry in Darkwater, the game truly began and right from the start, it was clear that the Cthulhu Mythos was present, hidden just beneath the surface of the eerie town and its inhabitants. Although the game does start quite slowly, every hour of gameplay felt as if more and more Cthulhu Mythos started slithering in. Combining this sense of dread with a sanity mechanics, which sees Pierce try to hang on to his sanity while experiencing a wide variety of phobias, was fantastic. Even when you need to move through small spaces, claustrophobia starts to kick. Trying to stay sane in a world where you can trust no one, not even yourself, was such a horrifying and great experience.
Couple this sense of impending doom with a brilliant atmosphere the game creates and you definitely have a horror game worth experiencing. In its finer moments, Call of Cthulhu made me afraid to peak around the next corner. I felt truly distrusting towards the characters I met during my investigation and that’s something few games do well. Darkwater is drenched in whispers (both inside and outside Pierce’s head) and every new area my investigation led me to was filled to the brim with dread-inducing atmosphere. Not to mention the disturbing imagery that will stay with you after you’ve finished the game.
That’s the type of experience a Lovecraftian horror game should give players. However, the brilliant atmosphere is sometimes broken by what I can only describe as poor character models and animations. Supporting characters look stiff and walk in such straight lines that they might as well have come from a previous-generation title like Morrowind.
I mentioned earlier that Call of Cthulhu feels like an RPG-lite experience and honestly, I wish the RPG element simply wasn’t there at all. It feels like an unnecessary addition to the game and the choices you make while speaking to NPCs don’t really matter all that much. The only thing that really stood out was that depending on how much of your sanity remains intact, the ending could change a little. Then, there’s also the issue of the skill tree. Sure, levelling up one of Pierce’s abilities could help you, but it also feels like you can complete the game without spending any character points.
The game suffers from a bit of an identity crisis in my opinion. It tries to be an RPG, a survival horror, incorporates stealth mechanics (poorly), puzzles and investigative gameplay. Stealth feels almost broken. I first encountered the stealth mechanic roughly 3 hours into the game and then realized that NPCs just walk in set paths. At one point, I accidentally stood up and guess what? The NPC right in front of me didn’t even notice me since their paths are so rigid.
Then, there are the puzzles and most of them can just be brute-forced through, sometimes literally if you have put enough points into Strenght. The puzzles aren’t all that complicated, to begin with, but you can just force your way through them with a trail and error approach.
Investigative gameplay is where the game shines at times, but falls flat at others. Basically, pick up everything you spot – that’s it. Pierce also has the uncanny ability to reconstruct scenes in his mind and it looks pretty cool, but then again, all you really need to do is pick up every object. That’s where levelling up the Spot Hidden character skill came in very handy. However, you still need a light source to pick objects up. Sometimes, I could see an object right in front of me, but I couldn’t pick it up before taking out my lantern or using my lighter.
Sure, the lighting effects do look great and when there’s a draft you can see the flame on your lighter flicker. There are some really nice effects that help build even more atmosphere. Apart from the slow start, the story is also very well-paced. The game pushes the player forward with the story and it felt like there was very little time for exploration.
When I could explore, for example, the town’s bar a bit, there were moments that felt amazing. For example, I was walking around in the bar, trying my best to get the bartender to give me a drink (he didn’t like me all that much). When walking around, I overheard some townsfolk talking about an interesting subject but when I turned around, they all went silent and looked at me.
These types of situations made the game feel like such a detailed and intricate experience, but other times characters would just stand around and it almost felt like I was invisible.
Call of Cthulhu isn’t a terrible experience, not at all. However, numerous issues, unnecessary systems and poor implementation of stealth, it simply doesn’t live up to its predecessor which released 13 years ago. The game delivers a brilliant atmosphere and Darkwater is drenched in Cthulhu Mythos. At times, I had some genuinely frightening encounters and actually felt scared peaking around the next corner.
At other times, however, the atmosphere was broken by poor character models and terrible animations. It didn’t help that investigations and puzzles could be brute-forced. With that being said, the pacing of the story and the tension it builds does work out well. Couple that with a “Sanity” system that felt unique and it was great to experience all the phobias, explore the town a bit and learn more about the eerie town of Darkwater and its history.
In the end, Call of Cthulhu tries to be too much all at once. I, for one, believe that Lovecraft fans will enjoy the 15-hour experience just like I did, even though multiple glaring issues rear their ugly tentacles.
This review was based on a review code sent to us by Focus Home Interactive
Available On: PS4, Xbox One and PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 30 October 2018 | Price: R849