Call of Cthulhu Review

By Mark Delaney, 11 days ago
While so many games these days claim to be Lovecraftian in spirit, none come as close as Call of Cthulhu, and for good reason. It's not just inspired by the weird writings of the author, it's an adaptation of his overarching universe. It comes in a long line of games sharing the same name, but this one borrows from the tabletop game in interesting ways, although those bright spots are more often overshadowed by some poor design choices and a lack of polish across the board.

30/10/2018 - Carousel

Call of Cthulhu is marketed as a first-person RPG, but it more often feels like an investigative adventure game with RPG elements. Players take on the role of World War I veteran and usually drunk private investigator Edward Pierce in 1924. His practice is on the verge of closing and he needs a strong case to build himself back up. That's precisely what he gets early in the game when he's sent to Darkwater, a fictional fishing community off the coast of Massachusetts. Even Pierce attests to not having known the place existed, so even within the game's universe, the setting is meant to tease the madness and confusion that is to come.

The game's story is its best asset, doing very well to bring H.P. Lovecraft's world to life, from the green amorphous blobs that hang in catacombs of mansions to Pierce losing his mind and struggling to keep all his facts straight. The mind running wild, succumbing to powers greater than itself and unfathomable to our kind is a staple of the famed author's work, and Call of Cthulhu captures all of those crucial aspects very well. For fans of the Great Old Ones and other Lovecraft throughlines, this makes for a great adaptation, especially since so many other games just borrow from the author. This isn't Lovecraftian — it simply is Lovecraft. The final third goes so far off the deep end, you may as well be resting at the same depths as the titular creature.

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If you're not a fan of Lovecraft, there's unfortunately little else to keep you entertained. The game utilizes a cool skill check mechanic that's done in the background of the gameplay, which keeps the tabletop RPG inspirations everpresent, like when you try to pick locks or use strength. These moves come down to percentage chances that you build up in your custom skill tree, so you can carve out your own version of the PI. Where it all falls apart is the bare bones investigative work that needs to be done. A few times, the game will rely on players piecing together information on their own to solve problems, but the vast majority of the time an investigation means walking into an area and clicking on all the items with icons on them. It holds your hand too much, which means you never really feel like the detective you're supposed to be.

Aside from the investigations, there are a few stealth sections that aren't horrible, but neither are they very fun. For a game that often tries to give you multiple ways to advance, these stealth sections are curiously linear. There's also no gunplay in the game save for one late moment where it's more like a point and click done laughably wrong. Regularly, Call of Cthulhu offers strange design choices like these, and although the levels try mixing up the gameplay, most of these variances would have been best left out, and maybe would've allowed the developers to hone the other parts of the game with missed potential, like investigations.

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The game lacks polish in pretty much every aspect. That's evident in the gameplay sections being head-scratching at times, but it's even more obvious in the blurry visuals, the stiff animations, and the sometimes absent lip syncing. I've often said horror games get away with some foggy, less than stellar visuals because it helps create a certain mood of a dingy, spooky world. That's still partly true here, but the textures and characters' hair especially go beyond inadvertently moody. They're just poor. It's worth mentioning this polish at least didn't extend to bugs, save for one unfortunate problem where the game crashed four times, including three times at the same moment right at the end.

The game's achievements come early and often, doling out 15 gamerscore quite often among other unlocks. As the game has a branching story with several endings, you'll need multiple playthroughs to see them all and get all their corresponding achievements, although sometimes you can make a choice, quickly pause before it saves, let the achievement pop, and reload your checkpoint to make a different choice. If you save your canonical choice for last you'll retain the storyline you want to see while still picking up the alternative achievements along the way. This method did not always work, but it usually did.

Check out our Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft are going to enjoy this game more than most as it brings to life his weird and memorable world to an extent few games, if any, have ever done. Every character and setting feels pulled from the pages in a way that is definitely admirable. It's just too bad much else that surrounds it doesn't impress as much. With a lack of polish in every way, diluted investigations, and rigid stealth sections, Call of Cthulhu isn't the investigative adventure-RPG most will want it to be. If you adore the author, this adaptation is worth a look. Otherwise, you can toss it back into the ocean.
3 / 5
Call of Cthulhu
Positives
  • Brings Lovecraft's world to life impressively
  • Background skill checks bring a fun tabletop element
Negatives
  • Lacking polish everywhere
  • Investigations are meant to be the focus but are made too easy
  • Stealth sections are curiously linear
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent seven hours on Darkwater, losing his mind and the plot by the end, just the way Lovecraft likes it. He gathered 33 of 49 achievements for 590 Gamerscore. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher for this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.