Review copy provided by Focus Home Interactive. Reviewed on PC.
In its application of horror, Cyanide Studio’s Call of Cthulhu has eschewed key components which many developers lay considerable stress on. Yet, in its execution, there is such a charisma which reflects its visions so clearly that it renders almost impossible to score it based on all its goods and bads.
Its roots originate from the horror tale — The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, and is significantly appraised by many but silently detested by a few. It is a reincarnation, if not a remarkable visualisation of Lovecraftian horror, underpinned by a morbid but thrilling mystery and fueled by an enthralling narrative which, even though is marred in the end, does convey a very important philosophical message. It is an illustrious tribute to the late writer and an interpretation of the mortal realm’s feebleness— of how measly and frail we are before the powers of supernatural beings.
WHAT IS CALL OF CTHULHU ABOUT?
Call of Cthulhu is a first-person psychological horror, mystery game developed by Cyanide Studio, published under the banner of Focus Home Interactive and is available concurrently for the PC, PS4 and XBOX.
LET ME REVIEW IT
[Spoiler Warning – Scroll To The Bottom For The Score]
Edward Pierce is a self-indulgent private detective operating under the Wentworth Detective Agency. As a veteran and a decorated ex-army man, he is tormented by nightmares and has to rely on sleeping pills to go on a sound slumber. The story revolves around the bearded detective, who compelled by the agency, hesitantly breaks his torpidity and accepts a case from industrialist and entrepreneur Stephen Webster.
Call of Cthulhu does not adhere to rife uber-realism. Instead, it shimmers with a distinct art-style which is somewhere between realistic and cartoony. The starting phase kicks off within an eerie cavern. Guided by nothing but a lantern, the tutorial box informs the player that some objects lying in darkness need to be lit up before they can be interacted with. It acts as an apparatus to acquaint the players with the controls and the rules set by the game. Only when you start buckling yourself for jumpscares, does the game cut to a sequence wherein Pierce is awoken on his sofa. It might give away an anti-climactic impression, but it is a worthy move none the less. There is ample leeway forthwith, and sundry articles to discover and interact with, in Pierce’s office, complete with the mandatory glass of whiskey buttressing Webster’s initial impression of the office as he quotes, “a drunkard’s lair”, and a phial of sleeping pills as a catalyst to help the detective sleep.
The system is quick enough to notify the functions of the character attribute screen. Allocating points to certain traits will make Pierce more erudite and significantly aid his deductive competence. The traits are divided into Psychology, Hidden Spot, Eloquence, Strength, Medicine, Occultism and Investigation. Each with their own roles benefits the player. Along with that, there’s a very distinct progression system where the player at his liberty can make decisions and shape the story, albeit to a very limited degree.
Stephen Webster is a close kin of the deceased Sarah Hawkings, who is suspected to have murdered her family in a cold-blooded arson. Careful inspection reveals that the victim had been an inhabitant of Darkwater, a fictional island off the coast of Boston. Pierce embarks on a quest in search of tangible evidence and soon arrives upon the unwelcoming shores of the isle on an overcast day. The world is impressively carved and furnished to perfection and glimmers with Lovecraftian elements, setting an atmosphere which is rightly conceived and befitting of a quintessential Lovecraftian horror game.
As I toured down the streets illuminated by gas lamps emanating greenish fumes, I felt the true power of a game hinging on the original novella. From the moment you set foot on Darkwater, there is a premonition of an impending threat. As the green smog eddied off into the ether, Captain Fitzroy advises Edward to visit the Stranded Whale for a drink. There Edward coincidentally stumbles onto a woman, who in the nigh middle, would become a person of interest. From the very beginning, the characters seem to lament the loss of whales and how it hurt their occupation and about the Great Catch and how it saved the island from a famine. Subsequently, while walking up the pier one can catch a glimpse of a whale carcass that had washed ashore marked with savage and bizarre lacerations, that no animal can inflict.
There’s plenty of people to meet and converse with. Although, when I played it for the second time I felt that there is an acute lack of dialogue variety. Neglecting that, the game is polished and has a very mature writing. Some situations can be approached differently. Higher eloquence bestows greater persuasive adroitness. If there is no ground for talking, there is always a different path. For instance, when Edward’s way to the warehouse was blocked by two blokes, I ran up to a couple of inebriates nearby and offered them a bottle of whiskey in exchange for diversion, which in spite of the prohibition, was in ample supply inside the bar. Only that I did not buy it from the bar, because of a silly mistake I made the barkeeper was adamant and unwilling to talk with me. On account of that, I was compelled to purloin it from a shack down the pier. The drunkards created enough fuss to draw the guards away, providing space for me to sneak through.
Other than this, when the linearity of the game comes into question, I can safely say that although it tries to be non-linear, it is only a pretence. It is a moot point really — whether it lives up to what it claims to achieve, but as a game that is inspired by Lovecraftian horror and titles itself “Call of Cthulhu: The Official Game” there should have been a lot more than this. Until now I have not found any use of the inventory system, which was supposedly devised to bring a hint of RPG into it.
What I cheerily appreciate is the staggering lack of jumpscares, which even though there are some, could only be counted on the fingers of one hand. Instead, it has been successful in eliciting fear via its environment design. A vivid illustration of a Lovecraftian world braced by a grasping narrative — a world imbued with fear, anguish, delirium and madness, a proper visual iteration, drawing on the story.
Midway into the game, Pierce starts to experience sinister vistas and hallucinations. As madness descends, the detective is driven to question his own mental stability. In one instance, the detective unknowingly shoots Dr Fuller, a respected medical practitioner but purportedly so, while in the influence of a hallucination. These schizophrenic episodes become more frequent making it impossible to hide inside closets for long. Pierce is a self-conscious character, but with all the paranormal incidents occurring around him, he quickly loses grasp over reality and is plunged into unfathomable depths of insanity. The investigation which was progressing at a steady pace is further reinforced when Pierce discovers a dreadful lair under the Hawkings manor. Walls painted with occultic and diabolic imagery, chilling and fear-inducing, ran along either side of the narrow cave, alluding to the original novella.
There is a fair amount of stealth and puzzle solving, but nothing too complicated. While in incarceration in the Asylum, Dr Colden helps the detective elude. The guards generally patrol in a predefined pattern and can, for the most part, be bypassed with ease. The goal is to switch on the electrocution device to create a distraction, but the power required to do so must be diverted and distributed to the primary power box prior to turning it on. In order to do so, four levers hidden around the facility must be turned as a prerequisite. Once the power is allocated, the main lever must be pulled. And when the guards arrive upon the scene to investigate, you can easily sneak out through the exit. Other than witnessing Francis Sanders die in front of your eyes, which I am pretty sure, was far from an illusion, what I enjoyed the most while I was grinding through the game are the instances of hallucination.
My first encounter with an otherworldly creature called the Shambler was perhaps the most exhausting and rage-inducing moment in the game because I was somewhat lost as to how I can banish the fiend and bring the menace to an end. But in the course of an hour, I was able to locate the object required to destroy the painting and brandishing it, I banished the Shambler from the mortal realm, temporarily. And as it was being sucked into the painting, it clung onto Pierce in an attempt to bring him with it. Although Pierce was able to save himself, his hand was corrupted by the Shambler’s touch (a hallucination of course) and just when he was inches away from stabbing his hand with the dagger, the woman named Cat (recall the woman who Pierce met at the bar) broke the maddening spell, bringing the detective back to his senses and in the process saving his hand with it.
Call of Cthulhu’s world is explicitly detailed and is fairly informative. Exploration is rewarded with information, rummaging through someone’s cabinet or bookshelf would lend you a vague idea about their connections with the mystery, however, there is an astonishing dearth of insight on the lives of many characters, including the protagonist himself, which I believe is a gigantic paradox, and forsooth contradicts the pseudo-RPG mechanics administered. Not to mention that the raving hallucinations are void of Cyclopean and Euclidean imagery, but the incoherent and disorienting nature of it all makes up for the flaws.
Edward Pierce’s deductive prowess confers unto him the power to reenact the scene of a crime and form conjectures and theories based on that. This ability is only available in points of interest, and the game automatically informs the player when to activate it. Of course, the character attributes play a salient role in determining what could have possibly happened at the scene.
In the end, everything takes a grim turn. As the entire island is consumed by madness, people lose control and give in to the delirium. It is the only time you are given a weapon to bear instead of a lantern or a lighter. The pistol has limited ammo and you must see to it that it is conserved as you fight through crowds of people turned insane and ready to assault you on sight.
MY FINAL IMPRESSION
In Cyanide Studio’s Call of Cthulhu, stealth is a contributing factor, and despite its presence, I can hardly feel that there is any at all. I think that the game is quite rushed, especially for something that can be finished in less than seven hours, it is not worth paying ₹1499.
But despite that, it is adequately reinforced by a gripping story and by having an underlying mystery form the base of it all, it has profusely fulfilled what it envisaged — to interpret a powerful philosophical message — of the frailty of us mere mortals before the powers of supernatural apparitions, that we are nothing compared to the vastness of the universe, and that our existence in the boundless cosmos is as insignificant as a pebble amidst a pile of boulders.
Call of Cthulhu, in spite of its drawbacks, accomplishes a lot and in its wake, celebrates the inception of a dilapidated world that has fallen in despair, hopelessness and delirium.