Lovecraftian horror draws itself from the unknown; the desire to discover a deeply rooted truth that is shrouded in mystery. However, that search for knowledge comes at a steep price. It may lead you down a darker path causing you to lose yourself, figuratively or literally, to the madness. The themes of H.P. Lovecraft, and the Cthulhu mythos particularly, are driven by discovery. The need to put the pieces of a metaphorical puzzle together, and the desire to shine light on the darkness of the unknown.
Call Of Cthulhu, developed by Cyanide Studios, takes inspiration both from Lovecraft’s original short story as well as the tabletop game. This first-person survival game becomes a mind-bending dive into the author’s world that delivers a masterpiece of madness and mystery. Players control Edward Pierce, a drunk, down on his luck private investigator. He’s tasked with uncovering the truth behind a horrible tragedy that has befallen an innocent family. However, not all is as it seems on the island of Darkwater. A more sinister mystery hides under the surface of this case, taking Pierce on a ride into the very fabric of sanity itself.
Detective Pierce, on the surface, appears as a very atypical drunken detective archetype. I find this forgivable for the most part as it is drawn from source material that became the template for much of modern horror storytelling. However, if you pay attention to the information given by observing objects and environments, you gain a deeper sense to his personality and backstory. Where he goes as a character is down to your choices throughout the game. I like this approach and I like him because while cliche he still has a relatable past and his actions in the game generally reflect you the player making him even easier to relate too.
Cyanide expertly nails the atmosphere. Overdone clichés such as jump scares are mostly shooed away in favor of creating dread and unease. Something always feels off about Darkwater and its people. The tone reminds me of Silent Hill 2’s psychological approach to scares in a good way.
There is a feeling that something dark looms over this little fishing village ever watching. Paranoia grows as the loyalty of allies and friends are forever called into question as your sanity begins to slip more and more. This escalates throughout the game, and you begin to doubt even what your own eyes are showing you. Environments change, characters act suspicious, some even die and appear in the next scene unharmed asking you, “What are you talking about?”. This distrust continues to build all the way until the game’s eventual climax.
Call Of Cthulhu sells itself as a survival horror game. I would say it’s more reminiscent of a classic puzzle adventure with stealth elements. Searching for key items in an area to interact with characters or environments is a prominent aspect of gameplay. A typical example of bribing drunkards with whiskey to distract guards very much reeks of adventure game logic. Stealth generally takes a backseat until certain set areas. I like this aspect of the game. Its focus on story and detective work is really fun, where uncovering a mystery becomes the driving force of the plot, discovering information is really gratifying.
Combat is all but non existent. I like this aspect in that it helps make the player feel completely vulnerable at all times. Though there is some dissonance between the main character and yourself when they establish early on that he is fully armed, yet for some reason, never sees fit in most situations to at least pull his gun out either in game or cutscenes.
Another key gameplay element is uncovering information, either by finding clues or talking to characters to gain intel. There is also a crime scene reconstruction mechanic to learn more about the case. Exploration is often rewarded with hidden items around the various environments. All of this success is dependant entirely on the ability levels of your skill tree.
Call Of Cthulhu’s skill tree allows for a divergence in how you choose to approach the game. Would you prefer to use verbal eloquence to persuade characters into divulging information? Perhaps you’d rather use your investigation skills to uncover the truth, or just threaten to beat people to loosen their tongues. Each style of has its own separate pathway to success, and how well you flourish is based upon how leveled-up your skills are.
There are limited ability points to pour into upgrades, forcing you focus on whichever playstyle suits you. This adds great replay value, as you can not do everything in one go. It also leads to tough decision making. For example, choosing to boost Psychology will allow you to learn people’s motivations. However, this could come at the sacrifice of, say, your Investigation skills, meaning you won’t be able to draw detailed conclusions from crime scenes.
The game mechanics weave in choice and consequence. Characters may choose to withhold pertinent information if they don’t find you untrustworthy. People can refuse to help making puzzles even more hard. The save system forbids reloading after a choice is made. If you regret a result then you must live with that choice unless you want to start over.
One flaw of Call Of Cthulhu is that it wants to be too many things at once. While the systems work adequately, certain mechanics of the game could have been improved or dropped in favor of further developing the other core mechanics. I enjoyed the detective stuff in the game but found it could have been even better refined with a little bit of time. More work in reconstruction, more options to figure out what exactly happened. Whereas the forced stealth sections I found oddly jarring, simplified, and unneeded so I feel these could have been dropped to focus more on the detective elements or spent more time making it much more enjoyable.
Other problems lie in the presentation department. The word that comes to my mind the most when playing Cthulhu is inconsistent. While the environments are well designed and detailed, the same can not be said for the character models. Several NPC models repeat often; this island must be more inbred than the Lannisters for how similar everyone looks. The voice acting occasionally falls flat as well. Some poorly delivered lines occasionally distracted from the experience.
Sometimes the game feels a little inconsistent in terms of escalation and maintaining its momentum. An example of this would be a set piece that occurs in the middle of the game which is of such awesome high quality in terms of its scares that I feel it almost cripples the rest of the experience. In terms of “entering madness” this set piece is really the pinnacle of the game. it doesn’t ever reach that level again and the whole game feels like that in terms of its set pieces. Again it all feels very inconsistent. Finally, throw in an end game which tunnels you down a linear set path that leads to a very underwhelming set of endings. This contradicts the games earlier branching pathways.
Despite some glaring flaws, Call Of Cthulhu is a very well-written, atmospheric survival experience that successfully immerses you into the world of H.P Lovecraft. It feels like a true love letter to his work and acts as solid game on top. This is a must buy for any fans of Lovecraft, or even general horror game fanatics. Cyanide should be commended for doing such a great job capturing the essence of the author’s work. A truly horrific experience in all the right ways, Call Of Cthulhu: The Video Game does Lovecraft’s work justice.
A PS4 review code for Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.
Call of Cthulhu: The Video Game$59.99
- Intensely atmospheric
- Well written story and characters
- H.P Lovecraft's themes done so well
- Branching pathways and multiple solutions to puzzles
- Amazing replay value
- Becomes to linear towards the end
- Stealth feels too simplified and undercooked
- Consistency in how it builds its horror is a little off
- Detective work could have been refined more