Game Review: Call of Cthulhu (Xbox One X)

A first-person role playing survival horror game, Call of Cthulhu was developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive. As its title suggests, it is heavily inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, The Call of Cthulhu while incorporating other Lovecraftian themes and horrors.

Simply put if you’re a fan of Lovecraft then this is a must play. Even if you’re not too familiar with the horror master’s work it is still worth experiencing as the story is very well told.

Players take on the role of private investigator Edward Pierce. A damaged war veteran who has horrifying nightmares and medicates with alcohol. After a particularly disturbing nightmare (the opening playable segment) Pierce awakes in his office. He is visited by a man who wants Pierce to investigate the death of his daughter, a famous painter named Sarah Hawkins.

According to police reports; Sarah, her husband Charles and their young son all died in a fire that started in the family mansion. However, Sarah’s father isn’t convinced that foul play wasn’t the cause. After showing Pierce the final painting that Sarah did, Pierce also begins to suspect her death may not be as straightforward as it seems.

He agrees to take the case and heads off to Darkwater Island where the Hawkins mansion is situated. Darkwater is an odd place, where local beliefs and the culture doesn’t gel with Pierce’s attitude.

Once a thriving island thanks to the booming whaling industry, the whales just disappeared and the island has fallen into shadows since. Those that still live there are superstitious and suspicious of outsiders, especially ones who are looking to dig up the past.

As Pierce, players are tasked with investigating the island and surrounding areas (semi-open world) to uncover the truth behind Sarah Hawkins’ death. Was it just an unfortunate accident or is something far sinister going on here?

The story of Call of Cthulhu is fantastic and the deeper into the mystery Pierce goes, the player goes too. Incredibly immersive, the crafting of such a deep and dark plot is worth commending.

Part of that immersion comes from the fantastic visuals of the game as well as the music/sound effects and voice acting. A serious amount of time and effort was put into making Call of Cthulhu as great as it possibly could be. From the moment players first step onto the creaking and rotting docks of Darkwater to the exploration of the Hawkins’ Mansion to the cold, damp and terrifying caves around the island, it’s hard not to be impressed.

The detail in characters is just as impressive too and with a cast of interesting individuals each stands out in their own way.

Of course, all this would just be window dressing if actual gameplay wasn’t up to scratch. Happily it is, although it’s perhaps not where the quality of the game lies.

Playing from the first person perspective, Call of Cthulhu is not about picking up weapons and going on a rampage. In fact there is only one segment near the end where Pierce will wield such an item and you’ll get to use it.

Instead, you play this as the character does. He is a PI so your job is to investigate. That includes exploring, finding items, looking for clues and solving puzzles. Players can level up skills that Pierce has making certain tasks and events easier to navigate. For example spend some of your skill points in improving Pierce’s speech abilities and you’ll have more options available during dialogue. Spend skill points on improving Pierce’s ability to find hidden items and you’ll find objects that give more detail of events.

When faced with a crime scene, a special mode can be entered where Pierce can retrace the events that occurred to create a fuller picture. This sounds interesting but isn’t as it’s just a matter of finding a set number of objects that trigger Pierce’s comments.

Then there are occasional action sequences where you might be chasing someone down or running away while a cave collapses around you. These are short and require little in the way of skill, just keep moving forward.

The lengthiest and most in-depth sequences involve stealth and crop up a couple of times. One such segment tasks the player with escaping a mental institution. After getting out of his cell, players must find a way to distract the guards by the exit. However, night patrols are in session and being spotted by a guard will result in a game over screen. In attempt to make this far less frustrating then it could be, the developer decided to make the AI braindead. Moving in patterns that are easy to work out.

There is something far less immersive about the game when you can get a guard to investigate a screaming prisoner only for him to stand outside the cell gormlessly before disappearing altogether completely.

Then there is the ‘fight’ with a Lovecraftian horror, easily the most frustrating part of the game. Frustrating because it is trial and error with the idea being for players to find an item that can dispatch the creature. Except there are loads of similar looking items and with the creature roaming and the lighting of the environment, finding the right one can be an extremely annoying task. Especially as any noise you make brings the creature your way and it will almost always kill you.

Events like this inevitably have a bearing on Pierce’s sanity, something that the game implies is important but never really comes to fruition. Decisions that you make tell you that it will affect your fate but the multiple endings aren’t massively different. In fact, there is only one that really stands out as the one to see. A deliciously twisted and horrifying finale.

Things like this detract from the overall experience of Call of Cthulhu but it doesn’t stop it being a fantastic tale of Lovecraftian horror. This is the best Cthulhu game I have personally ever played and for the story and visuals alone, it is well worth playing.




Call of Cthulhu
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