HP Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu is one of those cult classics that are remade almost every generation and regardless of the reception, manage to reemerge from the depths “as per the whims of destiny”. The latest iteration of the game has been developed by Cyanide Studio and Focus Home Interactive fulfilled the publishing duties.
From the very beginning, franchises with cult-followings have suffered from one core problem- Every new title tries to appeal to the mainstream audience, and more often than not, it doesn’t quite work out . What’s worse is that the game’s own fan-base gets alienated, and at the end the publisher is left with neither the sales nor the reviews.
This doesn’t mean that the games themselves are always bad. It’s just that they are not what anyone expected, or wanted for that matter, resulting in shelving of the franchise for another decade or two. One of the best examples to demonstrate this unfortunate cycle is Prince of Persia. The 2008 reboot didn’t appeal to fans, neither to the majority of the mainstream audience. The game did get a decent reception, but the sales were not as per Ubisoft’s set target and so the franchise was forgotten.
Getting back to the title at hand, Call of Cthulhu is no newcomer in the video gaming industry. The franchise has seen multiple games in the past decade. None however, were able to generate significant momentum or gain the attention of the mainstream gamer. This newer iteration, although fails to shed its cult-centric skin, tries a bunch of new things, and not all of them work.
Call of Cthulhu: Story
Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu retains most of the bizarre staples of the Lovecraftian genre- gore, mystery, tentacles and most importantly madness. You’ll run into mutated cultists, inter-dimensional creatures, roam underground tunnels, burn down a mental facility (accidentally of course), see dead people come back to life and by the end you’ll have absolutely no idea what’s real and what’s not.
The game follows Edward Pierce, a war veteran and now a private investigator who travels to the isolated island of Darkwater to solve a case. It sounds simple enough at first, involving arson and the death of the resident family as a result. The story is fairly slow paced at the beginning, but once you are a few hours into the game, the mystery begins to gnaw at you. It becomes more and more bizarre as you progress through it, and a major chunk of it is left to your imagination.
Combat is more or less non-existent, and the few sequences present rely on stealth and finesse. Other than that most of the gameplay comprises of investigation and puzzle-solving. The puzzles range from simple to frustratingly complex.
Like many games these days, Call of Cthulhu adopts an RPGish approach with respect to the dialogs and skill trees. The main attributes are strength, eloquence, psychology, investigation and hidden clues, and except the latter they all unlock special dialog options, so it is better to invest in a select few. Occult and medicine are two more available options, but they can only be upgraded by collecting relevant books.
There are many sequences that seem like hallucinations, and have you follow your own instincts rather than any set objective. Often when this happens, Pierce has panic attacks wherein his vision begins to fade and the camera acts erratically. The developers appear to have implemented this to enhance the horror levels, but honestly it doesn’t do much.
Call of Cthulhu: Lack of Horror ElementsCyanide has tried many things to make the game scary, but most of them fall flat. The inter-dimensional creature is kind of terrifying, but other than that there’s not much to fear in this game really. Gore, mystery and well-designed puzzles, yes, but horror is a big NO.
Soundtrack and Visuals
The environment as a whole is pretty solid. Most of the areas have an eerie, pin-drop silence, and the ones that do not are often full of deranged cultists. Distressing pictures and scribbles are common in almost every chapter and there is enough lore to satisfy the most hardcore fans.
However, if you look closely the soundtrack and the visuals are less than impressive. The soundtrack although does succeed in making the player uncomfortable, it isn’t something the more seasoned players will appreciate. The graphics quality is also quite sub-standard, but despite that I ran into frame-rate drops and lags in the second half of the game.
I was hoping for something more when I went into the game, something that would genuinely make me recoil in fear. Call of Cthulhu doesn’t even come close in that respect however. There’s enough intrigue and lore to keep the fans of the genre invested, and perhaps even people who like puzzle based games or point and clicks, but other than than I don’t see much reason to recommend it to others.