Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol
Release Date: October 30th, 2018 (Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4)
Genre: Role-Playing, Survival Horror
Publisher: Focus Home Entertainment
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Being a teenager may be one of the greatest and also the scariest time of someone’s life. Between newfound freedom, puberty, transitioning to and later wading through high school, and much more, the entire phase is placated on oddity and transition. It is a period of self-discovery that usually ends up with the person experimenting with a hodgepodge of different clichés and styles. Luckily, everyone eventually finds their own personality and style, and soon begins to cultivate these as they move into young adulthood. The same can be said for Call Of Cthulhu, which is a video game adaptation of the tabletop RPG by the same name that was inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call Of Cthulhu.” The Cyanide Studios-developed, Focus Home Interactive-published, game incorporates Lovecraftian and psychological horror themes centered around a detective story. Fresh off Halloween and in the meat of fall; is this a game to scare up some nightmares or a nightmare that scares off gamers?
Lovecraftian horror emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown/unknowable and how it drives men to madness. It is easy to see why this is always paired up with psychological horror. It is also easy to spot the Lovecraftian aspects with the man being Edward Pierce. With his sanity straddling the fence during the entire game as it grows more unstable as he gets closer to understanding the many secrets and horrors of Darkwater, Pierce shows the classic Lovecraftian theme of detachment. While being a grizzled veteran of the first World War, he has drowned his memories and nightmares in liquor and sleeping pills since then. It is now 1924 Boston and he is a private detective who is close to losing his license for not taking on enough cases. This is where the fantastic story kicks off as he takes on the case of the death of a well-known painter by the name of Sarah Hawkins.
When Call of Cthulhu leans into the detective point-and-click adventure aesthetic, it works fantastically and is the reason the first three acts are the best part of the game. It is when the game strays away from this that it begins to crumble. Like a teenager, the game begins to dabble in other areas in hopes of finding itself. This includes puzzle solving, action sequences, and a singular combat sequence where Pierce wields a gun. The latter set piece is also where it is confirmed that the game uses behind-the-scenes dice rolls for anything tied to the skill tree. The player could be pointing directly at an enemy and completely miss them because the dice roll against the strength stat was not the needed value. While dice rolls are necessary and work fine in tabletop, the system is horrendous in video games. (At least in this implementation of the dice rolls and, truthfully, it applies to the RPG elements as well).
While these elements are faithful to the game, the fact they are used solely for the behind-the-scenes dice rolls ultimately leads to them feeling worthless and frustrating. The fact the game is only seven to nine hours long makes the addition of the skill tree and the slow progression of upgrading it all that more frustrating. Again, the game works best when the player is just quietly wandering through various rooms hunting for items to interact with, like documents and recordings, as a detective working to solve a murder case. Even with cliché environments, low budget visuals, and technical issues, spending time investigating and diving deeper into the Occult in Darkwater is by far the best part of the game. The aforementioned combat set piece is Exhibit A, B, and C to this claim.
The technical issues falls into two groups with the first being the some expected budget-minded issues like stiff/nonexistent animations, muddy textures, and pop-ins and the latter being issues that should have been instantly caught by testers. This group including video and dialogue not being synced and vastly noticeable slowdown. These are compounded by the fact that there is not an actual human Dungeon Master running the game. This means that the behind-the-scenes dice rolls can for example subsequently cause a room to be closed off for good after Pierce breaks a lock. There is no rerouting, and because the game is a pack of half-baked ideas there is not a secondary way the player can enter the locked room. This is further highlighted by the very linear missions in the late game which throws out any pretense of roleplaying but would fit well in a detective adventure game.
While this review may seem overly harsh, Call Of Cthulhu is not horrible. It just fell into the modern trap of turning what could have been a perfectly good AA game at a $30-40 (USD) price point into a AAA $60 (USD) game. The run-of-the-mill adventure set pieces and terrible action, and lone combat, sequences feels like an executive told the developers to add them in to help justify AAA pricing. If the developers are allowed to produce a AA level sequel that gives players more of the first three chapters of this game minus the RPG and dice roll elements, they would do the source material better justice. This is because when the game sticks to being a detective adventure game it is exceedingly compelling and leaves the player entranced. The length of the game is perfect, the game is just hamstrung by its price and issues associated with having to pack in AAA expected sequences and set pieces. Overall, Call Of Cthulhu is not a bad way to spend a fall weekend. (Ryan Williford; Gaming Editor)
Review copy provided by Focus Home Entertainment.