Call of Cthulhu (PC) Review

By Ofisil 01.01.2019

Review for Call of Cthulhu on PC

Being an H.P. Lovecraft fan nowadays should be a good thing, as videogames inspired by the marvellously dreadful and pessimistic works of this massively influential writer are quite abundant... and then they aren't, as only a handful among them have managed to capture the essence of his 'Mythos,' with Cthulhu, its most famous "monster," having become a pop-culture joke. Thankfully, Cyanide Studio's Call of Cthulhu, which is based on the fantastic tabletop RPG of the same name, deeply respects its subject matter, and provides the world with an atmospheric, narrative-driven adventure worthy of its heavy name... and then it doesn't.

When private eye, Edward Pierce, isn't suffering from insomnia, he seems to be waking up from nightmares with, weirdly enough, a heavy oceanic theme. As such, this unfortunate WWI veteran struggles with unemployment, and has become married to the bottle. He needs a good case, and a nice, big paycheck. Luckily for him (or not), he gets one, and it has him searching for the whereabouts of a certain Sarah Hawkins. Initially, he will find it strange that the one he is looking for was supposed to have died in a fire, along with her husband and only son. Then again, Pierce will soon find out that looks can be deceiving, as things aren't as they seem to be.

Secrecy, in this case secrecy mixed with the occult, is of course one of the key aspects of Lovecraft's Mythos, and, thankfully, Call of Cthulhu is pleasantly... Lovecraftian, starting with the look of the island of Darkwater, where the protagonist will do his snooping on, as from the half-deserted port and mansions, to the cavernous bowels of this land, this is a bleak, cheerless place, full of hostile people; a place that was probably been dipped in a pool of radioactive goo, as every surface has a, not-so-subtle, ghostly green aura. Hell, even pieces of art seem to be unnerving in here, with statues and paintings looking as if they will come to life and start biting (spoiler alert: they will).

Screenshot for Call of Cthulhu on PC

Those spoiled by titles with bigger budgets, or more experienced crews behind them, will definitely find a couple of flaws to point at, like the occasional bad lip sync, uncanny valley facial animation, or general lack of polish at more than a few spots, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because this manages to be a surprisingly engulfing journey toward bizarre cults, otherworldly beings, and the psychic trauma that will stem from them, and one that's very true to Lovecraft's style, as it mainly focuses in slowly building tension, right before you get to realize that the cosmic horror at the end of the road is unbeatable, and choice was really just an illusion…

Sadly, the developer probably took this kind of determinism a bit too far, as, one hour into what plays like an adventure game, and most will realize that this isn't really one. Pierce will walk where he is told to, and interact with the world when one tells him to, but underneath the façade of a traditional adventure game lays a depressingly on-rails trip that doesn't let you do much besides following the predetermined path. This becomes especially apparent when Pierce has to use his, almost immersion-breaking, detective skills, which let him "see" past events, and deduce what happened in a scene - a part that just requires going from helper icon to icon, and pressing 'A.'

Screenshot for Call of Cthulhu on PC

This lack of a decent wiggle room would be instantly forgiven if the role-playing on offer was good - this takes heavy inspiration from an RPG, after all. Unfortunately, this part is even worse. Despite the existence of a skill tree that lets one choose whether you will be better at investigation, conversation or fighting prowess, this is nothing more than just another big fat lie, as this won't really let you "craft" the Edward Pierce to your liking, unless occasionally being able to unearth tiny bits of info, or unlock one more meaningless dialogue option counts as role-playing - a shame, really, as the hero of this tale is a very human one that's fairly easy to sympathize with.

'Sanity' is another part that fails, and fails miserably, although this could theoretically be one of the game's true innovations. Basically, this takes the, again, very Lovecraftian, notion of forbidden knowledge which can drive a man crazy (yes, and woman - Cthulhu believes in genre equality), and uses it as a (poorly explained) game mechanic that, in practice, doesn't do much. In all honesty, while its most obvious effect is that, just like the rest of your skills, it unlocks a couple of additional dialogue options, the most crucial one is that it acts a crossroad between the four available endings, with each fork giving you the option to see two of them.

Screenshot for Call of Cthulhu on PC

In the end, while this is just a walking sim, at least it's an enjoyable walking sim - not that there isn't room for improvement, as this doesn't go all the way with what it has on its hands, evident at how, instead of a tale that focuses in posing a strong existential challenge on its protagonist as it should, it mainly wants to provide an unsettling, mysterious ride. Despite this, and all previously mentioned issues, it's still not hard to like Call of Cthulhu. Unfortunately, Cyanide has also clumsily forced a bunch of things like stealth and gunplay into the game; things that shouldn't be here; things that could at least be less, well, slapdash in the way they were handled.

Stealth, for example, is used like in most games, with Pierce having to stay away from the enemy's line of sight, but the AI that either can't understand what's in front of its eyes, or suddenly develops a sort of sixth sense. As for the tiny gunplay bit near the end, don't expect to have some FPS fun out of it, as, instead of aiming, you just "point" at the general direction of a foe, and let the Strength stat do its magic. Yes, in the end, Call of Cthulhu definitely scratches that Lovecraft itch, but, sadly, it's bad at everything else. Here's hoping that the upcoming The Sinking City will be a much better dive into eldritch terror.

Screenshot for Call of Cthulhu on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Most Lovecraft fans, or those who are just on the lookout for a good occult mystery thriller, will enjoy Call of Cthulhu, but that doesn't mean that they won't be disappointed as well. Cyanide Studio has wrapped an interesting, and engrossing storyline, with a fittingly oppressive feel, but the actual gameplay part tastes like a half-fried, unsalted octopus *wink-wink-nudge-nudge*

Developer

Cyanide

Publisher

Focus Home Interactive

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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