Review: Call of Cthulhu (Computer)

Reviewed by Tom Bond, posted Oct 29, 2018, last updated Nov 1, 2018
Oct 29, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): October 30, 2018
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Developer: Cyanide Studios
  • Genres: Adventure, horror
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Call of Cthulhu, a First person adventure horror game by Cyanide Studios that's loosely based off the Lovecraftian Tabletop RPG of the same name.
Tom Bond

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Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

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Call of Cthulhu is a first person adventure game that is loosely based on the Lovecraftian tabletop RPG of the same name, which itself is based around the H.P Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos we all know and love. The Call of Cthulhu follows Edward Pierce, a cliche down-on-his-luck, heavy drinking, sleeping pill abuser private detective and WWI veteran, who is tasked with investigating the death of a man’s daughter on an Island called Darkwater in 1924, during prohibition. As with most Lovecraftian-based media, things aren’t as clear cut as they seem in the beginning and as you play through the game you’ll start to encounter plenty of creepy/spooky events, eventually leading to the potential release of Cthulhu, and the end of the world! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, now, as there’s a whole slew of story and twists and turns that take place in between that and the beginning, and boy are they...interesting! 

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Call of Cthulhu starts off with an appropriately creepy nightmare that our main character Edward Pierce has, involving caves full of offal and dead fish, spooky cultists having spooky rituals, and ends with a spooky tentacle faced man killing a blank faced cop! Spooky! After all of these spooks, you wake up safe and sound on the couch of Edward’s office, empty whiskey bottle in hand, and off you are on the official start of the game. After searching around your office for a bit, and maybe taking a nip of some good ol’ fashion bootleggers whiskey, you’ll receive a call on your old timey phone from the private investigator agency that Pierce works for. After a short conversion, you’ll be given your first major “decision” in the game: Skill point allocation! You’ll be given 6 character points, which you can allocate towards 7 different skills: Eloquence, Spot Hidden, Psychology, Occultism, Medicine, Investigation, and Strength. Each skill is used in different ways during the game, sometimes in dialogue choices, and sometimes while you’re examining various things in your investigation. Spot Hidden, for example, is used by the game to inform you that there is a piece of information or object hidden about a particular room. The higher your Spot Hidden skill, the more precise this indicator is. Eloquence and Psychology, on the other hand, are mainly used during dialogue choices, letting you influence NPCs through fancy words or via psychological observations made by Pierce of the NPC's mindset. Strength is mainly used for threatening NPCs, but occasionally you'll also need Strength to break objects in the game to reach certain areas. Investigation, which is in my opinion the most important of them all, lets you make dialogue choices based on your investigative prowess, but is also used for things like lock-picking. Medicine mainly allows you to make medical observations about NPCs, and Occultism unlocks dialogue choices related to the Occult, as well as allowing you to examine Occult objects and more thoroughly discover what they relate to.

Of these 7, Occultism and Medicine can only be improved by reading random books or observing certain unnatural phenomenon after this initial allocation, whereas the remaining 5 attributes can simply be upgraded with Character Points you receive after certain events in the game. Since Character Points are mainly earned after each "Chapter" of the game in varying amounts, focusing on leveling one particular attribute at a time usually ends up being your best bet for the most part, as otherwise you'll likely end up missing out on important information or dialogue options. Thankfully, each attribute is usually represented in important dialogue choices throughout the game, so focusing on one at a time won't result on missing out on too much. Along with those attributes, in another tab, you'll also find the Sanity system. This system is also very loosely based off of the Tabletop RPG game's mechanic and, depending on how you play, can drastically change how the game's dialogue and story plays out. As you continue on with your investigation, you'll end up in various situations that, if interacted with, can decrease your sanity level. This can be quite an important trait in CoC, where some dialogue choices or actions will have a required Sanity level, and some of the different paths to the ending of the game can only be experienced when your Sanity level is high or low enough. 

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After messing around with your attributes, you'll hear a knock on the door and in walks Stephen Webster, and my very first two major complaints with the game: poor animation, and mini pre-rendered cutscenes. I'll talk about the cutscenes first, because they're probably my least favorite thing about CoC, but before I do that I would like to mention that my copy of the game was not the final version of the game, and may be completely inaccurate, as a launch day patch will be available that I did not have access to. I may review this paragraph at a later date, once this patch is available to me, but for now, this has been my experience with the copy I was given. Every now and again, sometimes on a chapter start and sometimes just after you load a new area, Cyanide Studios decided to use these short pre-rendered cutscenes for things that, quite frankly, should have been done using the in-game engine. The very first mini cutscene is a 15-30 second encounter that essentially boils down to the following: A man knocks at your door, you tell him to come in, have some short 2 or 3 sentence dialogue, Pierce faces the man who walks in...and then that's it. You're taken from a higher detailed pre-rendered cutscene, and pushed straight into the game engine to actually have the conversation. Another cutscene which happens after a short loading screen and lasts a whopping 5-10 seconds involves watching Pierce open a door, close the door, look around...and then that's it, you're put right back into the game. This happens all through the game, taking you straight out of the "immersive experience" of the game, just to show an area in a much more detailed light, and then plopping you right back into that lesser detailed game engine. This wouldn't be so bad if the cutscenes had more content in them, but of all the one's you'll see, maybe 3 or 4 are actually longer than 30 seconds and have content that's actually interesting and important to the plot. It doesn't help that the game's textures and models aren't exactly high detailed, and are relatively low quality.

But even worse are the animations. Cyanide Studios has released a few games like CoC before, and each one has always been seemingly plagued with animation issues. And, unfortunately, they still have yet to figure out how to animate a human being accurately in any way. Every NPC character you speak to seems to have this odd idea that, while talking, you're supposed to wildly swing your arms around and flap your hands with no real reason as to why with every sentence you utter. Facial animations are equivalent to watching a fish breathing underwater, blandly opening and closing their mouths that in no way syncs to the words coming out of their mouth. And this isn't even limited to in-game engine conversations, those short pre-rendered cutscenes you'll watch that are 30 seconds long and involve a character or two will have the exact same overly awkward gesticulations, and the fish breathing facial animations. The voice actors can also be very hit and miss, depending on the situation and dialogue choices you end up choosing, in some cases sounding as if a voice actor recorded the same conversation across multiple days, and doesn't quite hit the same tone or urgency that they might have with earlier lines. In some cases this can be intentional, such as when you choose Occult or low Sanity dialogue options, but otherwise I can't tell if the voice actors had much direction, or their audio simply wasn't reviewed much before being put into the main game. 

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But let's just ignore that, and get on with the main story. After Stephen Webster comes in, he will ask you to investigate the death of his daughter, slightly deranged painter Sarah Hawkins, and her family who all perished in a small fire in their home. Mr. Webster believes his daughter's death, being claimed an accident, is not as it appears, as days after she was killed he receives a rather strange painting in the mail that shows his daughter facing off against a monstrous humanoid with a strange symbol on his chest. Pierce, at this point desperate for a job, takes on the investigation and agrees to head to Darkwater Island to further investigate the manor where she died, as well as the warehouse the painting was mailed from. After checking around your office for some additional information on the area, you leave the area and end up on a boat captained by James Fitzroy, a local sailor and unofficial authoritative figure for Darkwater. Fitzroy recommends you check around a bar for information on the Darkwater Warehouse, and you're finally thrust into the actual meat of the game. Neat! And of course, the first thing you'll notice, is a dead giant killer whale washed up on the beach, with weird cuts and lacerations all over its body. Spooky! If you put some points into your medicine attribute, you can examine these wounds and declare they're not from any "local predator", but the superstitious inhabitants of the island are more worried about the bad luck brought about by a dead whale on the docks than whatever actually killed it. But something even spookier is happening around Darkwater Island than just a dead whale, if you decide to take a good look around, something that quite frankly can't be explained by science! And what is that, you ask? Well how about the dozens of inhabitants who appear to be twins! Yes, along with poor animation, Cyanide Studios dropped the ball spectacularly on unimportant NPC models as well. In the same small area you can initially explore Darkwater, you'll find the same NPC models used twice, sometimes even 3 different times in this same small area. I'm not sure if this is down to a weird glitch or if Cyanide simply thought players wouldn't possible look at the faces of the random NPCs that you'll encounter all through the game, but either way there's some relatively lazy modeling done here, especially when they are probably less than 15 separate civilians who exist in the small portion of Darkwater you interact with. 

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Once you get past the the army of clones, you'll find yourself in a rather open and populated bar, despite prohibition being in full swing, where you'll encounter your first major NPC in the game: Cat. A mysterious person at first and seemingly the only female in town, Cat is the source of all the bootlegged liquor available on Darkwater, and has a rather expansive operation that, unfortunately, gets in the way of your investigation. After some snooping around the warehouses, as well as gathering from information from some of the more talkative locals, you can choose multiple different ways to enter the warehouse where the painting shipped from. You can use brute force or persuasion with Cat, and after a rather lively conversation, you'll find yourself finally able to enter the warehouse where you'll come across the next major gameplay component: Reconstruction. Via some unexplained supernatural powers, Edward Pierce is able to investigate a scene and, using some vague clues around him, can reconstruct the circumstances under which an event happened. During this reconstruction you discover some thief stole a painting from the manor where the Hawkins family died, and after some quick conversations with the local law enforcement, you get to head on to the Hawkings' Manor, where things start to finally escalate in a horror sense, and when the game really starts to pick up. You can choose to have a police officer, Officer Bradley, escort you to the mansion using persuasion, or you can explore the mansion yourself. Either way, things turn out generally the same, with Pierce discovering a secret cave that leads deep, down into the bowels of the island. And what, exactly, is in this secret cave? The cultists, and all those dead, gory fish from the nightmare in the beginning! Spooky!

After some more exploring and observing some cult activities, you wind up being caught by the cultists and you get to watch Officer Bradley get chest fisted by a man with tentacles for arms, just like the nightmare! Spooky! After a brief chase scene, getting crushed by rocks, and waking up in a mental institution, you'll need to sneak your way through hospital guards to escape the potential horrible torture of Dr. Fuller, a mad scientist who appears to be doing human experiments on mental patients for some unknown reason. Spooky! A nurse (and the second female on the entire island) who works there, named Colden, releases you from your cell and off you go to sneak away from the hospital. And here comes one of the other major gameplay components: Puzzles. Which are, unfortunately, another thing that's not exactly the strongest here with the game. There are two main puzzles that can be done in the mental hospital, once again each being a different way of completing the game. This involves either finding a couple gears located behind some locked doors, or sneaking past some guards and flipping 3 switches. Each puzzle is quite rudimentary, and to be honest isn't really much of a puzzle. But regardless, after sneaking around guards and creating distractions results in your escape, as well as witnessing one of the first major sanity events you'll find: a crazy man named Frank Sanders being killed by a seemingly invisible monster he calls the Dimensional Shambler! Oh no!

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After this sequence, and successfully escaping from the mental hospital, you wake up back in the Hawkins Manor with Nurse Colden and Officer Bradley, who was totally not murdered by the tentacle man somehow, and are now tasked with heading to Frank Sander's house, who appears to own a large collection of Eldritch artifacts and art. After speaking to Frank's Widow, the third female you'll find in the game, you get to explore their house and, eventually, reach Frank's gallery, where you'll find all of the spooky Eldritch artifacts. And one of the most annoying, vague, irritating puzzles in the whole game. I'll give a quick rundown of it, and it's going to be rather spoiler-ish, so if you don't want to spoil this rather important part of this game, I would suggest you stop reading the rest of this paragraph, because that's all this one will be about. Gone? Good. I'll give you the basic rundown of what you're presented with, and then with what you're supposed to know to do. To start, you see a particular painting called the Shambler. Sound familiar? That's because it's the same monster that killed Frank! So how did that happen? Well, the Shambler is able to cross dimensions by using paintings. That's pretty spooky! And now you're about to face your first Shambler! Aw jeez!

So out pops the monster from the painting in one of the better short cutscenes, Edward freaks out, and now your task is to banish the thing back to it's painting. How, you ask? Well...you don't know. You aren't specifically told what you need to do at all, and all you have to go on initially is a small glimpse at an oil flask at the end of the cutscene that precedes gameplay. So one would think, perhaps, that you'd flash your lantern at the monster when he gets close and maybe chase him off right? Wrong. Light does absolutely nothing to this particular monster, in fact, and only appears to make him want to kill you faster. So what is it, exactly, you're supposed to do? First, you need to never look at the monster, because that just makes him real mad regardless of what he's doing and he'll kill you. Then, you have to sneak around the gallery, avoiding looking at him whatsoever, and make your way to the other side of the gallery. Why? Because you have to circle all the way back to the beginning, which can only be done by going in a nice circle, to pick up a little drawing behind the painting that shows a drawing of a knife that you then have to find in the gallery. Where's it at? Why, somewhere, of course! So now you have to sneak around and try and find a knife, all while avoiding looking at this monster at all, while also keeping him away from you as you search for this knife. Then you break some glass, calling the monster to you, and have to hide in some closets until he goes away, or until you go insane. You can't stab this monster with this special knife, that wouldn't make sense! No, with your knife in hand, you finally have to make your way to the painting and give that a little stab and you're done. This particular portion of the game took me a whole hour to figure out because of how vague it all is, and could've easily been fixed by adding a simple phrase: "I should find a weapon!" But instead, Pierce just cries and freaks out, because that's what a grown man will do when faced with a spooky monster. 

 

That's not the end of the game, of course, there's much more to do and see before the potential summoning of Cthulhu occurs. But I've spoiled enough of the story, so now I'll mainly touch on some of the more technical details of the game, including graphics and sound. Graphically speaking, there's not much to talk about I'm afraid. The game's textures and models are closer to a game from 2012 than a game from 2018, and this become fairly obvious the more areas you start to explore. Thankfully, because of the Eldritch style of the game, this fits rather well with the aesthetics of the game, and the design of the actually monsters look miles better for a game with unremarkable models everywhere else. Sound wise, ignoring the rather mediocre voice acting, the atmospheric sounds are fairly well designed. Sneaking around in a cave can be quite nerve wracking when everything is quiet and you hear the occasional sound of something not so nice, and the occasional chanting you'll hear when cultists are around fits to exactly what you'd expect for a Lovecraftian cult.

Verdict
Pros
+ Decent storyline for a Cthulhu game.
+ The general adventure mechanics for the game are quite well done.
Cons
- Model animation looks worse than a PS2 game.
- Voice acting can be hit or miss.
- Textures and models are fairly un-detailed.
7
out of 10
Overall
I went into this game with quite high expectations, based on what all the hype surrounding the game, but unfortunately the game didn't meet those expectations. Regardless, however, Call of Cthulhu is probably one of the better video games based on the Cthulhu Mythos, even with of all the technical issue it faces. While animations and voice acting can be rather mediocre at times, and some of the puzzles are quite annoying, the story and overall experience is probably worth dealing with some lackluster technical aspects. If you love Lovecraftian Lore, than I would fully recommend the game to you. And remember, Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!


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