After 4 long years, Cyanide Studios’ Call of Cthulhu finally releases and tries to bring the pen and paper RPG feel of its namesake to the video game medium and although it does what it sets out to do, it does so in a less than polished fashion. While the game’s strongest aspect is its story, the vessel taking the player on that journey is lacking craftsmanship.
You play as your standard war veteran private investigator Edward Pierce, who is deep in the drink and full of existential glum as he sits in his office weary from the lack of sleep he is getting due to his reoccurring nightmares. Upon waking up from one particular nightmare, he is visited by Stephen Webster, an art collector who wishes for you to investigate a particular case regarding his daughter and her family that died in a fire.
Pierce is uninterested until Webster shows him a disturbing painting depicting an otherworldly scene and just like that, Pierce is off on a journey to the mysterious island of Darkwater where his adventure will have him sink deeper and deeper into madness as he is exposed to otherworldly horrors and a whole bunch of green hue.
As far as gameplay goes, there isn’t much mechanically to Call of Cthulhu’s gameplay and essentially it can be broken down into a couple key features. Talking to NPCs and choosing dialogue options, finding clues and using them to solve puzzles, and stealthily avoiding enemies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since exploration, puzzle solving and character interaction are arguably the foundation of pen and paper RPGs, and I think the game makes good use of these simple mechanics to push the story forward and immerse the player in the world.
The game even includes character stats that you can increase to help unlock additional dialogue options and environmental interactions. Depending on what stats you increase, you can unlock different solutions to obstacles in your way. For example, if you are good at investigating, you will be able to pick a door lock that might lead you to a room you would otherwise miss. This addition to the game definitely adds to the RPG feel and makes me want to play through the game again to see what would happen if I maxed out different stats.
You can’t have a Cthulhu game without madness, and another thing Call of Cthulhu gets right is how it portrays madness/sanity in the game. In one of the menus, there is a status for sanity which changes as Pierce encounters grizzly scenes and otherworldly horrors. As he sinks deeper into madness, additional dialogue choices become available to you which can lead to potentially different endings. The game also works madness into its puzzles and environment, and it can definitely make you as a player feel rather disoriented at times. Personally, I appreciate all the different little ways they make you as a player feel confused and panicked, and I definitely enjoy selecting the madness dialogue options and watching your character slowly sink into insanity.
The story is also enjoyable and does capture that traditional Lovecraftian feel. I enjoyed finding clues and having the story unfold bit by bit as things get more and more otherworldly and unsettling. There are little bits of information scattered throughout the game via clues and dialogue that you can uncover to learn more about what is going on in the world and it does a good job about teasing where the story is headed.
Now, unfortunately, there are definitely some complaints I have about the game especially since it was in development for so long. First off, the graphics were pretty disappointing for a game coming out in 2018, and it really takes me out of the game looking at some of the characters speak since their lips are out of sync with the audio too often and they occasionally look cross-eyed or have a dumb facial expression. The characters also move their hands all the time when they are speaking which leads to the body language not matching up very well with what is being conveyed in the dialogue.
There is also just…so much green…I know that this is a Cthulhu game, but to be honest I think they went a bit overboard with the green color palette. Maybe they intentionally made it that way because I felt so much joy when the game switched scenes to the mansion or hospital during the day since it was such a nice break from looking at green haze for hours on end. Additionally, I feel like combat was kind of tacked onto the game since it doesn’t occur too often and when it does it seems really unnecessary. Some of the puzzles and stealth portions of the game felt more on the tedious side and after a while, I would want to move on with the story but would be stuck sneaking around and hiding in a closet waiting for an enemy to pass.
Call of Cthulhu is far from a masterpiece, but it is an enjoyable game akin to Until Dawn where you mainly are in it to see where the story goes. It is good if you enjoy the Cthulhu mythos and the Lovecraftian setting, but those who are looking for something more intensive or unique might be left disappointed. Personally, I think the game is good but a bit cookie cutter. It doesn’t really do anything special, but it does enough to be okay.
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