Call of Cthulhu (2018) Review

Developer: Cyanide SA

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Trademark: Chaosium Inc.

Platforms: PC, Playstation 4 (reviewed), XBox One

Release Date: October 30th, 2018

In the 1920s, H. P. Lovecraft first created Cthulhu in the short story, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Since then, the Cthulhu Mythos was spawned and has been frightening and inspiring people to this day.  The Lovecraftian brand of horror is seen in many videogames such as the 2006 Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.  This most recent entry, simply titled Call of Cthulhu, is inspired by Chaosium’s classic pen and paper RPG of the same name, and brings the madness to life with its chilling atmosphere and compelling story.

The story is set in 1924, when private investigator, Edward Pierce, gets a case to investigate the mysterious death of famous painter, Sarah Hawkins, and her family on the strange Darkwater Island.  A freaky prologue sets the tone for the game which, as expected slowly descends into madness as the game goes on.  The mystery seems straightforward at first, but becomes much more complicated.  One playthrough takes around 10 to 15 hours to complete depending on your thoroughness and puzzle-solving skill.  It is worth it, however, to play multiple times to make different choices, find different items and trophies, and get a different one of the four possible endings. A comprehensive diary keeps record and adds information on the characters, places, and clues found throughout the story.  It helps to comb every inch of each section to get more items that, though are not necessary to progression, expand on the game’s universe.

Players can check on their sanity and level up their skills in the diary. Different skill proficiencies unlock certain dialogue options and help with investigations.  Controls are adequate and usually responsive.  Most of the game is simple walking and point and click, but there are areas as it progresses that include stealth, survival, and combat elements.  It’s these areas that get away from the point and click controls that can be a little frustrating, despite varying up the gameplay.  This might not be as much of a problem if these sections didn’t seem to drag and the characters moved faster when the sprint button is held down.

The game is inconsistent with the puzzle-solving difficulty as some are practically hand held through, while others give no direction whatsoever and you’re stuck wandering around wondering what to do.  Due to this, some puzzles are fun, while others can get annoying or tedious.  Some puzzles were also drug out too long with seemingly no purpose but to make the game longer, though some could argue this adds to the feeling of going insane.  Players can make many choices through the game, though only key choices affect the story.  Conversations have many choices too, but it’s easy to accidentally make a character shut down and refuse to speak to you further.

The horror element is very well done through the creepy atmosphere. Most of the scares come from a sense of generally being unsettled or feeling that something is “off.”  Then there are the few well placed jump scares that keep you uneasy and on your toes.  Abominations throughout the game are wonderfully terrifying.

Part of what makes the atmosphere so creepy are the intricate environments and absolutely phenomenal sound design.  For extra effect, this is a good one to play with headphones.  The sound takes an already scary setting, and ramps the scare factor up.  The settings are beautifully lit and colored in a way that shows the constance of deterioration that should be present in a Lovecraftian work.  The main characters each have little quirks that push the world building further.  On the downside, character models don’t look at good as the environments and many NPCs look the exact same which can get a little confusing.  Another unfortunate, immersion breaking visual is that there are many typos in the subtitles.

Despite some flaws, this is a must get for fans of Lovecraft as it perfectly captures that Lovecraftian vibe.  It may also inspire more people to check out the pen and paper RPG if they want more.  Those not as into Lovecraft may still want to check this out as a good horror game, but can probably wait for a sale.  Either way, don’t sleep on this title.