Review: Call of Cthulhu
I'd call myself a fan of pen and paper games, though not in the same way as, say, the FPS genre, for example. Still, it's a welcome and great alternative genre when playing games, and the latest game to enter the genre, Call of Cthulhu, a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale brought to life in a new way, is here. I played the first game on the original Xbox back in the day, it scared me so much, and I loved the game. I've now completed Call of Cthulhu and I definitely have some things to talk about.
Platform: Xbox One S. Introduction The game starts off with the protagonist having a nightmare set in a underground cave, not knowing at all why he's there or where he is.
This is the first time I got control over him, and exploring the cave reveals that he's not alone. Even though he's panicking, due to him not knowing where he is and because of the dead animals scattered throughout the cave, he's still able to think in a somewhat clear way, giving me an indication of what kind of a person the protagonist is, and how strong he is mentally, right away. It's clear immedietly that the game's tone is very dark and serious, as well.
Not only because of the gruesome animal parts that are within the cave but also because there's a sense of true horror at times. Aftering progressing for a bit, Edward finds himself spectating what looks to be some sort of ritual, though not in the presence of only enemies. A fight breaks loose and he shortly wakes up after. Edward Pierce, a veteran of the first world war and a private investigator on the brink of loosing his license, gets a visit by a mourning man in need of assistance.
The man's daugther (Sarah Hawkins) and family, have been in a terrible accident that led to their death, and their mansion has gone up in flames. Knowing that this just can not be the case cause of the odd circumstances, the man wants Edward to travel to Darkwater in order to find out what actually happened. Having next to no choice, Edward decides to help the man, mainly due to the fact that the case does seem very odd. This is where the game truly starts off. Visuals/performance The first game, on the original Xbox, wasn't bad looking at all. In fact, the graphics were pretty good, especially for its time, and it ran very well at the same time.
However, there are some weird artifacts to talk about surrounding the Call of Cthulhu game released in 2018. Right away, the feeling of playing a game with graphics set to today's standards, is there but they definitely could've executed its visuals better. I'm not even sure if the game is running in native 1080p on the Xbox One S, which is a clear sign of lazy optimization. Although the game does look rather good, it should easily run in a native 1080p resolution.
Character models are well made, with them showing off obvious detailed work that has been done, though at up-close views, they look a bit rough. They look like real people but there's something about the hair that's off, which is a bit weird. There's also the character animations during dialogue scenes, that seem to be set in a loop where they express themselves in generic patterns (their hands/arms move in typical ways, for example) that sometimes don't even align with the conversation's matter.
It's kind of hard to explain, and it's not even that noticable at first but when I had spent a lot of time in dialogue moments, I had a tendency to easily notice it. There were times where I thought the graphics looked rather gorgeous, especially when being outdoors and roaming around Darkwater, and when exploring the Hawkins manor. Most of the Textures seem to be of high resolution, too, at most when picking objects up to examine them, showcasing it in extreme detail. The level design is actually very good and each new area made me motivated to explore as much possible. Each place has its own unique look, like the Hawkins manor with its beautiful interior design.
Now, while the visuals might seem pretty good, the framerate is a different story. The majority of the gameplay does not suffer from drops within the framerate but then there's times where it can drop pretty significantly, though only when in outdoor scenes due to them being a lot more open than the indoor parts. Still, this shouldn't be a thing and only shows, yet again, that Call of Cthulhu hasn't received the right amount of optimization. The framerate is a bit unbalanced, some outdoor scenes can offer no drops at all, while some can drag the framerate down to a noticable extent. It almost feels like the game has an unlocked framerate, with gameplay inside buildings sometimes feeling like 60fps (at least around 45fps).
Loading times can get a bit lengthy, around 1-2 minutes long, and while it's not that significant, they definitely could've been much shorter. Moving over to cut-scenes, there's really nothing to mention other than that they're extraordinarily well made, even to the point of them nearly giving me the same enjoyment level as watching a cut-scene in Rockstar's games, or Microsoft's Quantum Break. I really enjoyed watching them and they made it feel like I was watching a H.P. Lovecraft movie. The lightning is very realistic looking, too and it gives some scenes a nice feel to it.
Now, as for voice acting and overall audio design, I honestly didn't expect it to be this good, especially when it comes to Edward. All characters are voiced by great voice actors, and it helps shape the game into a very enjoyable experience as the game features a lot of dialogue. I never got tired of hearing the characters talk, mostly because of how detailed, realistic & high quality it is, and it couldn't really have been done any better. Just walking around in the bookstore, for example, has a very realistic sound to it, with the floor making creaky noises, and the asylum being filled with screaming inmates.
It's just well made, every sound is clearly of high quality, and the Shambler's scream, for example, is terrifying! There's something about the Hawkins manor's silence that creeps me out, and it proves that even silence can be of high quality audio design. In general, the game looks great but does have some rough looking edges, while also suffering from framedrops, though sound quality sort of makes up for it. From arriving at Darkwater, exploring caves underneath the Hawkins manor, to being in a asylum, there's never really any dull moment. Story I always thought that the original Call of Cthulhu game had a pretty good story, even though I wasn't old enough to fully understand it. It focused on exploration and being a real pen & paper experience. This Call of Cthulhu game isn't that different as it too focuses on that.
When I first arrived at Darkwater, I was already convinced that the game would be a game that's a very different game to what I am used to playing but that's not a negative thing, from the moment I completed my encounter with Sarah Hawkin's father, I was hooked on the amount of storytelling right away. I LOVE watching cut-scenes, and this game does a superb job at giving the right amount of them, as well as giving the player a feeling of watching something very cinematic. Something I wasn't expecting is the length of the game and its story, many moments made me think that the game would end in any minute but to my surprise, it kept on going.
There's a bit of twists here and there throughout it, which only gave me more and more excitement about the story. The story is divided into chapters, with there being around 12-13 of them, each being around at least an hour long (when not exploring much). Once I arrived at Darkwater, I was free to explore the port and its nearby places to be able find out more about the island and the mystery of the Hawkins. While exploring, I met captain Fitzroy, a sea captain that at first seems to be a neutral person that never really looked at Edward the way most people on the island looked at him.
The events of the game's last moments tells a different tale, however. At the local pub, Edward meets Cat, Darkwater's gang leader. In order for him to gain more knowledge surrounding the mystery of the Hawkins, he has to talk with her to be able to access a warehouse that they owned. Upon entering the warehouse, Pierce discovers a painting that was present when the house caught fire, made by Sarah Hawkins, giving him more than enough evidence of the whole being case very off. Knowing that the painting shouldn't be there, he travels to the crime scene with Officer Bradley, a face that shows up many times throughout the game. The story is very good and the pace of it is perfect, with a dash of horror inbetween.
The puzzles, although there not being that many of them, are pretty easy to solve yet still made think for a while, especially a puzzle where I had to pinpoint a specific coordinate on a spinning globe in order to open a hidden door. I tried solving it for quiet some time but ended up just using my strength to force the door mechanism's gears to activate. Those are the kinds of puzzles that I love, the ones that make you think a lot, and explore. Having explored the Hawkins manor, Pierce discovers that Officer Bradley and him aren't alone in the building, which leads them to the caves underneath the manor, the same place that Edward was located in while having a nightmare, revealing that it wasn't really a bad dream.
Even just reading this to myself makes me want to replay the game! The story is that interesting! The story focuses on Sarah Hawkins and her paintings, too, there's a deeper meaning behind it all, and the events of the game can be altered by the player. There's different outcomes to certain events. I really liked this and thought it gave me a more realistic control over the game. The people of Darkwater are affected by everything that happens in the game, though more in the form of them having nightmares very often, making them unable to sleep. The one thing that I never really fully understood was the fact that there's several (more like 20-30 of them) bottles of sleeping pills in the game, that I was able to find.
It's almost like the sleeping pills was making people forget about their nightmares by helping them sleep, resulting in them being more and more far away from the reality of Darkwater and its secrets. The story overall is a true pen & paper experience, with a lot of storytelling, cinematic cut-scenes, exploration, while also featuring combat and horror segments. The ending isn't bad but I didn't expect it to end the way it did, and I also wanted it to end differently. Some might not like the ending and I fully understand that but it's not bad, in my opinion. Gameplay I wasn't expecting the game to be that filled with horror, and it isn't but the few times that did scare me, like the encounter with the Shambler, and some exploration gameplay (for example, exploring the Hawkins manor) definitely had a creepy feel to it. The game is solely a first-person experience, and from the moment I was able to move Pierce around, I got a small taste of things to come. Right away, I was able to interact with things like doors, and pressing the A button to get a brief description or opinion of what's in front of Edward.
When I first arrived at Darkwater, I was able to freely walk around and explore, speak to people (which can help gain knowledge), examine objects, find clues, and read books/notes. This is something I did a lot of as the game is a pen & paper game, after all. The gameplay can be see as simple by some but for me, it's actually very deep, mainly due to the fact that it's also kind of an RPG. The game features a skill system with 7 different skills (eloquence, spot hidden, investigation, strength, psychology, occultism, and medicine), all being upgradable by using character points that are awarded by progressing through the game. Some skills, occultism and medicine, can only be upgraded by reading specific books.
Each skill is vital to Pierce's success in solving the Hawkins case, as each skill has its own focus. For instance, spot hidden helped me find hidden objects/clues that otherwise would've been hard to find, and strength helped pick-locking more advanced doors by the end of the game. I genuinely enjoyed this system and it really felt like I was awarded with a more effective character. It made me more motivated, as well! The skill system is just one of the many traits of this game, and I wasn't exactly expecting it to be in the game. There's not really a quest system other than the ability to see your objective, as well as being able to complete secondary objectives from time to time.
The secondary objectives aren't really that deep, though and mostly only serves as quick options like deciding to give a medkit to either Cat or a dying officer, sort of (at least that's what it seemed like), or finding an optional object for the case. When it comes to npc characters, I didn't really like seeing the same bland face all the time (some are different but there's one that constantly shows up), it only shows that they didn't spend a lot of time designing different npc models. The more defined npc characters, the ones that I was actually able speak to for more than 5 seconds, have their own unique faces, personality, and dialogue options for Edward. For example, the man behind the bar/pub didn't fancy newcomers like Edward, but still ended up giving him some information.
Some dialogue options can only be picked by meeting specific requirements like finding a occultism book to be able to speak in a ancient language, and some required a higher skill level with a specific skill. The menu for Edward consists of inventory management, current information about the case, information about Pierce himself, Darkwater, and clues. I think it's a perfect menu and that it contains everything the player would need. Typically, a chapter consists of having to find clues, talking with people (as in finding out what they know, and I was able to get more out of them by having a greater psychology or eloquence skill, for example), exploring places, interacting with objects, reading notes/books, and re-constructing crime scenes/scenes that might hold value to the case, working in the way as pretty much going backwards in time.
Re-construction scenes actually happen fairly often and is vital to putting the pieces together for the case, I thought it was pretty cool, too. Playing as different characters is also in the game, so I wasn't only playing as Pierce. One of the additional characters is Cat, one that had a bigger part in the game than I thought. When Edward meets the Leviathan, an entity that only the people that are part of the cult knows of, he's able to see through other people's eyes, which is how I was able to control other characters. It's a welcome change to the game's typical gameplay, and offered me the change to get a bit of perspective regarding other characters in the game. I definitely liked it. Speaking of controling other characters, by doing so, the introduction of combat shows up.
I was hoping for at least some sort combat to be in the game, and while it shows up very late, I'm happy that there's at least some of it. There's no melee combat, there's only gun combat, and that's what I was hoping for since the Call of Cthulhu game on the Xbox had gun combat. It is a bit off, though and not the most implented feature. I was never able to reload my gun whenever I wanted to and the amount of bullets was very scarce. Every time I fired my gun at an enemy, the framerate took a pretty significant hit, as well. It almost feels like as long as I aim the gun towards anywhere near an enemy and pull the trigger, it'll be hit. It's still pretty awesome that's it in the game, though.
This wasn't the only time I encountered enemies, though, as early as being in the caves, I had to hide from enemies in order to progress forward. Later on when in the asylum, I also had to hide from enemies, while creating a diversion. Being seen results in the enemies trying to catch you but thankfully there's places to hide in to break the line of sight. The game is pretty graphic, too, with some scenes having a lot of blood in them. I like that's very dark and serious. Whenever Edward needs to see in the dark, I'm able to use either a lantern or flip lighter. Some scenes can be pretty dark so it's very useful. All in all Call of Cthulhu is very worthy and true pen & paper experience that really shouldn't be missed. Its visuals might not be the best but they're still pretty good, and while sound quality is well made, I wanted there to be better optimization overall. The focus is obviously on the story and it really shows as it's one of the best stories I've seen in a pen & paper game. The game is similar to the older game, with there being combat and horror segments but it's not trying to be too similar, which is great cause it creates a unique experience that isn't trying to get its success off of an older title. Edward Pierce is a perfect choice when it comes to the protagonist and I don't think there could've been a better character for the role. The game made me think a bit more than usual at times due to puzzles but I only enjoyed that, even though I wanted there to be more of them. I enjoyed every second spent in this game and truly recommend it to everyone that's a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as classic pen & paper games.
Call of Cthulhu is available both digitally & physically, with a price tag of $60 ($40 right now as part of Deals with Gold on Xbox One). Interested in buying the game? That can be done here: Call of Cthulhu - Microsoft Store. A review copy was provided for review purposes. This review is written by Jesper Ingemansson and is based on his honest opinion about the game.