Call of Cthulhu Review

By Mike Sousa on November 1, 2018

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, also known as H. P. Lovecraft, was an American writer who wrote several horror fiction stories during his life, and is today regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre. A trend that was featured in most of his works was the presence of powerful deities who, for the most part, existed only in other dimensions or space-time until someone would get exposed to them or freed them. One of Lovecraft’s most famous works was Call of Cthulhu, and it was in this short story that Cyanide’s most recent title, Call of Cthulhu, was inspired.

In Call of Cthulhu you play as Edward Pierce, a former war veteran who now works as a private investigator. Despite the fact that Pierce is no longer in the army, his time there left a huge impact on his life and mental state, with Pierce often seeing illusions and having weird nightmares. One day, an old man comes to his office and asks Pierce to investigate the mysterious death of her daughter, Sarah Hawkins,and her family on the isolated Darkwater Island. When Pierce gets to the island to investigate, it becomes obvious that there’s more to this case and town than first meets the eye. Soon enough, Pierce is plunged into a terrifying world of conspiracies, cultists, and cosmic horrors that will put his sanity to the test, and make him (and even you) question whether everything and everyone is real or not.

Call of Cthulhu can be described as a first-person narrative-driven experience that combines investigation gameplay with psychological horror and stealth mechanics. The game is split into several chapters, with each chapter taking place in different areas, as well as having different atmospheres and gameplay styles. While some chapters focus more on the narrative and gathering clues, others focus on the horror and puzzle solving, which helps the pace of the game, if you appreciate both genres at least. In addition, several decisions you make throughout the game, whether it’s actions or choices in dialogue, will have an impact in later stages of the game, including the ending.

During the investigation segments, gathering clues is crucial in order to know what happened in a certain location and progress with the story. However, these segments lack the depth and variety that you would expect. In other games in the genre, such as Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes series, you not only have to gather clues, but also question people and analyse the clues gathered in order to make your own conclusions on what happened. That is not the case here, as everything in Call of Cthulhu happens automatically. This means that these investigation segments really just come down to just looking around the area for objects and clues while Pierce makes the conclusions on his own. There are a few occasions where you have to recreate and play out a sequence of events based on clues gathered, but that’s really the extent of these gameplay segments.

Despite this little drawback during these sequences, I also have to praise how exploration makes these segments more fun and enjoyable by allowing players to solve puzzles in multiple ways. For example, there’s a segment early in the game where you have to find a way to open a secret passage, and the game offers several ways for you to do it. You can gather the clues around the room to find the button that opens the secret passage, break through the wall to find the door’s mechanism and open it, or just force the door open with a crowbar. Another fact worth noting is that some investigation segments and clues/objects are not mandatory to do/collect during your playthrough, but just like certain actions you take throughout the game, these will result in a different outcome in the following chapters.

While Pierce is a former war veteran, his combat skills are far below what you would expect from someone who used to be in the army. Since Pierce can’t handle himself in combat, you will often be tasked with passing through certain areas without being detected. These sequences are basic and lack any real challenge due to limited cone of vision of the enemies, however, the most entertaining part of these sections is how you approach each situation. Here you are often required to be creative in order to progress, such as finding some sort of secret passage or creating a diversion to make the guards move from their position. In short, just like several of the game’s puzzles, these segments usually give players freedom to choose between multiple options to get to their goal.

Then there’s the horror-type sections that while for the most part will just leave you on the edge of your seat, since with a few exceptions you are never in real danger, they will definitely give you a jumpscare or two.Whether you are sneaking into a cavern filled with cult members unnoticed, trying to find out the dark secrets of an asylum, walking in the dark with your oil lantern, or escaping death from monstrous beings from other dimension, the game shines in this department with the eerie atmosphere and sense of unease and danger it provides, which really helps the player feels immersed into this horror experience.

Call of Cthulhu also features some RPG elements. As you progress through the story you will earn CP (Character Points) that you can assign to different skills, including Eloquence, Spot Hidden, Investigation, Strength, and Psychology. The more points you assign to each of these skills, the higher your chance of success in certain situations to obtain additional information and overcome obstacles. For example, putting points into Eloquence and/or Psychology might unlock additional dialogue options, with Eloquence increasing your chances of convincing or manipulating people during discussions, while Psychology increases your chances of understanding a person’s motivations. On the other hand, Spot Hidden allows you to find hidden clues more easily, while Strength improves your chances of forcing doors or mechanisms. There’s two more skills besides the five I mentioned above: Medicine and Occultism. Upgrading these will also be very beneficial for you, but unlike the ones I mentioned before, to fully upgrade these skills you need to collect certain items throughout the game, which is always a good incentive to fully explore every area you come across.

While the game’s cinematics are beautiful and I praise the game’s amazing atmosphere during the horror sections, the visual presentation is definitely the weakest aspect of Call of Cthulhu. The environments do look good and detailed, but it’s a whole different situation when it comes to character models and animations. The lack of details on the character models, the terrible lip synch during dialogues, and the fact you will often see two or three NPCs with exactly the same face in the exact same place is something that won’t definitely go unnoticed. Things get even worse when it comes to animations, as these as just as awkward as you can possibly imagine, and I can honestly say I played tons of PS2 games with better animations than Call of Cthulhu.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Call of Cthulhu does a fantastic job at recreating the feel and atmosphere of Lovecraft’s Mythos, but is ultimately hindered by several issues and limitations that prevent the game from achieving greatness. While the horror sections are for the most part brilliant and I applaud the freedom that the game gives players when it comes to dialogue and choices, I can’t ignore the fact that the investigation segments lack some depth and actual thinking from player, that the overall presentation needed more work, and a few other small problems. If you manage to overlook these issues or you are a fan of Lovecraft’s work, then Call of Cthulhu delivers an experience that you will surely enjoy.

Call of Cthulhu was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Focus Home Interactive. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Great narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.
Fantastic horror atmosphere that is faithful to the source material.
A lot of freedom when it comes to dialogue options that affect your destiny and how to overcome obstacles.
Investigation segments mostly comes down to just finding objects/clues.
Stealth sections lack any real challenge and definitely needed some work.
Poor overall presentation, especially with the character animations.
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