Have you ever heard of Chaosium? Me neither, but the 2018 videogame Call of Cthulhu was inspired by the legendary(?) board game of the same name and part of the universe created by Greg Stafford. That’s a broad introduction as I know as much about the Call of Cthulhu board game as I do about Gloomhaven.
Other eagle-eyed readers may spot the c-word in the title and would be correct in their hypothesis that Cyanide Studio’s game is indeed based on the works of children’s author, H.P. Lovecraft. It certainly has that fishy scent to it, that’s for sure.
Edward Pierce, a WWI veteran, has set up shop as a P.I. An archetypal dick who gains his superpowers from a bottle of whisky. Alas, this affects his business acumen, and he’s close to getting struck off the books of a more prominent detective agency. But in walks one man and his job.
Said chap hires Pierce to travel to Darkwater and unveil the truth about his daughter Sarah. Sarah and her family died in a fire. Early evidence suggests it was an accident, but Sarah was a bit loopy and may have caused it. Scratch the surface, and there’s a bit more to it than that, and Pierce finds himself in a web of deceit, confusion and the occult.
Call of Cthulhu is very much in the mould of most Lovecraft titles, and it comes across that the developers know their source material (no clue on the boardgame aspect). The visuals are a highlight, excluding the character’s dead eyes that resemble The Dude’s eyeholes from the movie Tron. They were a bit naff.
Pierce is a decent enough protagonist. Other than a penchant for whisky, he’s not the typical alpha that can one-punch an assailant, come up with pithy lines, nor is he a womaniser. How refreshing. Still, it’s not all that important, and ‘the truth’ is about discovery, and we’re in the dark as much as he is.
Call of Cthulhu is a first-person… psychological thriller? I say this as the horror elements are minimal; it’s more to do with madness. Because it’s a detective yarn, Pierce will investigate his surroundings, interacting with books to acquire skills, then reconstructing crime scenes in a manner that’s similar to Sherlock Holmes Chapter One.
Touted as an RPG, there’s a skill tree to level up that includes spotting hidden objects, manipulating others through eloquence, investigation skills (including lockpicking), psychology and strength. The latter is a dud as the combat is next to nothing.
Besides these skills, Pierce can improve his understanding of medicine and the occult solely through locating books and interacting with objects – it’s impossible to invest in these skills manually. Call of Cthulu is an easy game, and if you have the patience of exploring, it’s not so hard to level up by doing your job and investigating.
Two sections spoiled the festive Cthulhu fun: a stealth-like set piece in a gallery. There wasn’t any hand-holding here, and after countless deaths, I finally found out what I was supposed to do. There was also a nightmare-like area of doors and paths appearing and reappearing, forcing respawns. It wasn’t difficult; it was just bloody annoying and felt like pulling teeth.
Call of Cthulhu came out in 2018 – a pre-covid world. I was always hesitant to get it due to the triple-A price and poor reviews (who reads reviews?). But, a Lovecraft phase and GOG sale forced my purchasing hand, and while it was probably six months ago I bought this and only played it during Christmas, it was worth the pennies. However, I wish the endings (multiple), weren’t so abrupt and anti-climatic.
So what’s wrong with it? Quite a few sites said it was like a walking simulator; the gameplay was unimaginative and the combat poor. IGN reiterated the same faults but gave it an 8.6. Presumably out of 10? The (negative) consensus from user comments included ugly visuals, lack of combat and abrupt ending. However, some players either didn’t realise there were multiple endings or bailed after the first playthrough. Perhaps I’m less demanding or easily pleased, but other than the dead eyes and similar-looking fishermen, I thought the visuals were great as they created an eerie atmosphere – a terrific one at that.
How long is Call of Cthulhu? For me, about eight hours with three different endings, over 14 chapters. No doubt there are more endings as I didn’t unlock all the occult options. Yes, it’s a little easy, and despite the promise of a ‘genius’ puzzle (which was stupidly easy), it would have been nice to have more challenges other than the annoying stealth-based ones. However, for mood, storytelling and cosmic escapism, it was well worth the sale price, which was something like 20 Gil.
Other Lovecraft games worth playing?