Given how prevalent the Cthulhu mythos has become within horror fiction over the past however many years, it was only a matter of time before CALL OF CTHULHU: THE OFFICIAL VIDEO GAME materialized.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the elusive, beloved Cthulhu has been featured in a game. Back in 2006, Headfirst Productions and Bethesda released Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Despite being a commercial disappointment at the time, it has slowly become one of the most revered horror games to date. Outside of the video game, the popular Call of Cthulhu tabletop game dates back to 1981 and is currently in its seventh edition. Needless to say, the lore and character itself is one that gamers can’t seem to get enough of.
Though I never played Dark Corners of the Earth, I have enjoyed a myriad of other Cthulhu-related games. That said, I’m sure I speak on behalf of many when I say that the character has become a bit too saturated, so when it was announced that “the official video game” was in the works, I felt a bit skeptical as to what it could do to separate itself from the many other interpretations of the lore. By calling itself “the official video game”, one can only hope that the developers have painstakingly combed over the source material in order to deliver an experience that is second to none.
CALL OF CTHULHU was developed by Cyanide and is based on the popular 1928 short story by H.P. Lovecraft and follows Private Investigator Edward Pierce as he is hired to take on the case of the Hawkins family, who died tragically in a fire. Taking place on Darkwater Island off the coast of Boston in 1924, Edward sets out to uncover the truth behind this strange whaling community with mysterious residents and a dark secret.
Anyone who is familiar with the story knows what to expect with CALL OF CTHULHU. Throughout my experience with it, I knew what the climax would hold for Edward Pierce and the many characters I encountered along the way. With that said, the game manages to do a nice job at ensuring you stay invested along the way thanks to its pacing. While there are multiple endings to experience, the one I got felt anticlimactic, to say the least. Sure, I got to see what I expected, but I was left thinking, “Oh, is that it?”
Not all of the voice acting is excellent, but a majority of the main cast is decent as is the writing altogether. Sonically, the score can feel a bit same-y at times, but there are some moments here where the ambiance greatly added to the tension of a scene, especially near the end.
The character design in this game sometimes leaves something to be desired. A handful of these characters have terrifying faces and it sometimes feels unintentional. There was more than one instance in which my girlfriend literally screamed when the camera suddenly zoomed in on a character’s uncannily horrifying expression.
There were minor technical issues I experienced as well. The game, unfortunately, crashed on me, albeit only once. While load times after dying are thankfully short, they can often feel quite long while waiting for a new chapter to start. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it was noticeable. Lastly, there was a bizarre issue I encountered in which only one character would often move at a much slower frame rate than the rest of the NCPs. Since it only happened with this one character, I initially thought it might have been a stylistic decision, but after realizing how inappropriate it felt during certain moments of the game, I realized it had to have been a glitch.
Altogether, one of CTHULHU‘s biggest strengths is its atmosphere. Darkwater Island is appropriately immersive and mysterious, effectively capturing the brine and clamminess of a seaside town. The graphics themselves may not always be up to snuff, with weather textures leaving something to be desired, but this is a game that nearly always has something interesting to look at and I really enjoyed my time exploring the world Cyanide created.
CALL OF CTHULHU advertises itself as an RPG but actually shares more similarities with a walking simulator than anything else. And that’s not meant to be taken as a pejorative, mind you, as I’ve enjoyed walking sims in the past. For the majority of the time, you will be exploring sections of the island and striking up conversations with the many characters you’ll meet along the way, slowly uncovering more about the mystery at bay.
Here’s where the RPG elements come into play: throughout the game, you earn points that can be spent on upgrading Edward Pierce’s character abilities. These include Investigation, Eloquence, Strength, Spot Hidden, Psychology, Medicine, and Occult. Medicine and Occult can’t be directly upgraded, and instead are upgraded through exploration and reading books, looking at artifacts, etc. As a result, I found myself applying most of the points I earned toward Investigation, Eloquence, and Psychology, as so much of the game consists of dialogue and exploration. Depending on how you upgrade your character, you’ll unlock different dialogue options for when you converse with another character. One cool idea regarding the Occult skill is that, the more you upgrade it, the more susceptible you are to being swayed by Cthulhu’s way. This unlocks some neat creepy sequences and can potentially corrupt the morality of your character.
While it’s a nice idea on paper, these RPG elements don’t typically feel impactful. Perhaps one of the only times in which upgrading my character skills felt useful was when I encountered a locked door sometime in the middle of the game. I was unable to pick the lock, as my skill level was low. I quickly applied some of the points I acquired toward the Investigation skill and I found myself able to pick just about any lock from there on out.
Though some of these decisions may come across as superficial, I did find CTHULHU to be fun to play. Occasionally, the game throws a few stealth sequences at you as well as one combat section near the end. I understand that the developers probably felt that it was necessary to add some variety to the game, but personally, these came across as feeling forced. As someone who doesn’t mind walking sims, I rarely got bored of the walking, talking and puzzle-solving, so these diversions came across as jarring to me.
It may not be perfect, but CALL OF CTHULHU managed to provide me with enough entertainment throughout its 10-12 hour runtime to make the journey worthwhile. If you’re looking for something truly terrifying, this most likely won’t cut it, as this is a game that is more focused on delivering an eerie, atmospheric adventure. And, at the end of the day, perhaps that’s what hardcore Lovecraft fans will be looking for.