I haven’t been this excited to review (video version above) a horror game in a long time, frankly, because I haven’t given a shit about any that have come out lately. I’ve been following the development of Call of Cthulhu for quite some time because it’s always sounded like the perfect setting for a horror game. A remote island off the coast of Boston, a mysterious family murder, being unable to tell if anything was real or not… and FISH GUTS. On top of that, RPG elements that don’t involve any kind of fighting, tons of interesting characters to interact with, and multiple endings! Considering the context of the game, which is madness, controlling your sanity, investigating crime scenes, and eldritch gods… at least one of those endings has to be good satisfying and happy, right? I’m too excited to wait, I gotta get my hands on this game and find out! Let’s get this spooky show on the road!
Do the developers of this game understand the concept of happiness?
Right away, the game throws you into a nightmarish situation where you have no idea where you are and are basically pushed and shoved further into madness. This is a running theme in the game, but we’ll get back to that later. This part was in the preview of the game so I can safely tell you that the intro sequence is just a dream, but compared to some of the stuff you see later, it’s tame. You play as Edward Pierce, a veteran of WW I, a Private Investigator, and a drunken, PTSD-riddled, washed-up wise-ass. You’re then given your main objective for the remainder of the game, which is investigating the Hawkin’s family death on Darkwater Island. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a small whaling island off the coast of Boston, and it’s pretty damn beautiful everywhere you go. Pretty much as soon as you hit the island, you can see that something is seriously wrong around town. I mean, the whole island is a sickly, toxic green color, and there’s a dead whale washed up on the dock with giant bites and claw marks in it. Honestly, if I was Edward, I would have just gotten back on the boat and gone home to find a different case to take.
Before you get to the island, you’re given some Character Points that you can freely add to any of your stats. You can dump them all into one thing to immediately master it, or spread it out evenly, pretty basic stuff, and honestly, I can’t recommend one thing over the other. Unless you are a master in a particular subject, you can still fail prompts for them during the game. These skills involve your investigative skills, which involve being able to find items and pick locks, strength, psychology, and eloquence. You can also increase medicine and occult knowledge by finding books throughout the game. Some chat options are also influenced by your sanity level at that point in the game, and your sanity is affected by multiple factors. The more that you learn about the occult, or choose to read sacred books, the less sane you’ll be. Using speech options from the old language also decrease sanity, and sometimes investigating things too much will decrease your sanity, as you’ll discover things that you simply can’t understand with normal logic. Depending on your sanity level at the end of the game, the ending will be different, and I’m not sure exactly how to get all of them. I don’t know what the percentage of sanity is that you need for each ending, but it’s fun to go back and try to do things differently to get different situations and endings. Especially when you just pick the most sadistic story possible, and drive Edward completely insane.
Well, the story behind the game is great, the gameplay loops is fun and interesting, but the game certainly has its fair share of issues. I mentioned in the preview of the game the the environments look amazing, and I think that still holds true. It’s not made to look hyper-realistic, it’s definitely got a somewhat unique artistic style, almost like Bioshock Infinite. A lot of the characters also look pretty good, but one who certainly doesn’t is Edward, in the pre-rendered cutscenes that aren’t in first-person. There’s one particular part in the game where I swear to god he looks like an orangutan in a trench coat with a somewhat human face. I don’t usually gripe about graphics, in fact I don’t think I ever do, but in this case, he just looks stinky. There are some other character models that don’t look so great as well, and it’s almost always when the cutscenes are pre-rendered. I think I would rather they all be in-engine, because it feels like they’re taking the control out of your hands completely.
This is not good in a game that’s supposed to be completely and totally driven by your choices.
There are some animations that are re-used over and over again when talking to characters that makes them feel a little same-y. There’s one animation in particular that I swear is from Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, and it looks weird and dated. It takes away from the immersion in a game that NEEDS to be as immersive as possible.
There are also some pretty poorly handled stealth sections in this game, including one where you have to randomly guess which item will solve the puzzle for you. There are ten of these items with basically nothing telling you which one might be the right one, so you could try 9 items before you get the right one. Also, the whole time you’re being hunted down by a grotesque monster that’s really hard to locate even with headphones. He shows up again later to randomly jumpscare you, and it feels really cheap and stupid in a game that’s otherwise pretty smart. If you have a good gameplay loop in your horror game, don’t dumb it down with crappy stealth sections and jump scares, because it makes me want to stop playing. There is ONE segment where you have to confront a monster and stave it off using the light from your lantern, and I really liked that part. That was probably because it combines exploring, investigating, and running away from a monster all in one contained segment. This game only falters in actual gameplay when it tries to go for cheap thrills, and I wish it just wasn’t in the game.
Call of Cthulhu surprised me in both good and bad ways, though the good typically outweighed the bad. Unfortunately, the crappy animations and occasional not very good-looking character models ran throughout most of the game, which is a shame. I feel as though the game is open to sequels, depending on the ending you get, and that could fix a lot of these issues and truly make one of the best horror games ever. The concept is great, and the execution is pretty good, some sections are fantastically tense and creepy, but it’s just not consistent. I do recommend this game due to the premise, beautifully haunting setting, memorable moments, and branching storylines, which require repeat playthroughs. Just expect some bumps in the road, it’s great, but it ain’t perfect. Now I just to make sure that I never learn anything outside my comfort zone ever again, because according to this game, it will drive me mad. Or maybe that’s only for WW I veterans with no appropriate coping mechanisms that suffer from depression and anxiety and treat it by being an alcoholic…
Nah, I’m just gonna stop learning. Seems safer.
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