Today, Call of Cthulhu released across PS4, Xbox One and PC. I have had my hands on the game for a little less than a week and have been delving into madness. While this preview is a summation of my experience thus far, I plan to deliver a full review in the coming weeks. It should also be pointed out that these impressions come from a copy of the game provided by the developer.
Descend into Madness
Call of Cthulhu is based upon the tabletop game with the same name. That, in turn, is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s notable short story. The game looks to take the systems and world of the tabletop game and juxtapose them into a videogame. This works for the most part.
For as long as I have been able to be edgy, I have enjoyed horror, and more specifically, the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. The Cthulhu mythos are just so interesting to me, and I always love to see the spirit taken in new and interesting directions. In that way, Call of Cthulhu fails to break new ground. This is very much a Cthulhu story, down to the cultists and sea imagery.
Players take on the role of Edward Pierce, a veteran of the Great War who has turned to a life of detectiving. Ignoring made-up words, Pierce appears to be at least a moderate substance abuser with some major personal regrets. These are not explained, but it has not bothered me so far. As someone who survived the Great War, Pierce is allowed to have some traumatic hangups.
Investigating and Exploring
Call of Cthulhu’s gameplay loop is pretty straightforward. Players are let loose in a specific area and are told to investigate. This is done by examining clues in the environment. There are some wrinkles, such as stealth and evasion, thrown in, but this is largely the same framework of the game, it seems. Pierce is no fighting man, and anyone who would fight him, ends the game.
By discovering clues and items, players can upgrade Pierce’s stats and unlock dialogue options. None of these have appeared to be truly groundbreaking, but I love the fact that the game rewards you for putting in the time to explore.
In terms of game systems, at its base, Call of Cthulhu is a narrative RPG. Pierce has stats, including strength, eloquence, occultism, medicine and more. These determine how well Pierce interacts with the world at large. High enough strength, for instance, allows Pierce to intimidate witnesses. The stats feel important without being able to break the game, which is great. Playing a game where you cannot progress because you failed to properly spec the main character would be a disaster. Instead, the stats make progressing in certain ways easier or simpler.
A Refreshing Presentation
Unlike most games out, Call of Cthulhu is a linear RPG. The game is broken up into smaller explorable levels, and this is truly a breath of fresh air. I love that I can focus on exploring a level and taking it in before moving on. It alleviates some stress of feeling the need to fully explore and experience an open world, and I am grateful for it.
In addition to allowing atmosphere to shine through, this presentation makes for a more focused narrative. I love experiencing a narrative at a prescribed pacing after playing open world games where the player can choose to, or not to, continue the story. The pacing is improved as a result.
Not All Peachy
Up to this point, I probably sound like a huge fan of this game. And I am! But there are definite weak spots.
The game’s weak points come from places of presentation. The voice acting, animation and writing is all a little weak, especially when the characters are talking within the world. One of these instances occurs early in chapter two, when a bunch of fishermen are yelling at a cop.
That said, this is an indie game. Lacking the resources of a huge AAA studio, I don’t have too many hard feelings about these. As it stands now, I will have to finish the game and come back with a full report. Without a full review, I would argue that Call of Cthulhu is an excellent and harrowing exploration of the Cthulhu mytho,if a tad weak in certain areas.