PC/Mac Reviews

Call of Cthulhu Review: The Colour Out of Game

Why is it so difficult to make a game adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s works? The 2005 release Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is probably the best adaptation to date of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. And while games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness use the themes of Lovecraft to create haunting worlds, direct adaptations are relatively scarce. Call of Cthulhu (not to be confused with the aforementioned Dark Corners of the Earth) isn’t a direct adaptation nor is it completely separate from the Lovecraft mythos and in doing so, it’s more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

You play as down on his luck Detective Edward Pierce. After a long line of failures in your work, you are given a job that requires you to figure out what happened to the Hawkins family, a predominant family who was apparently murdered by Sarah Hawkins. A painter who created disturbing imagery, Pierce travels to Darkwater Island to solve the case. As he unravels more of the mystery, his mind too begins to unravel and he can’t be sure of what’s real and what’s fiction anymore.

As mentioned, this isn’t a direct adaptation of any specific work of Lovecraft. It borrows a lot of the elements of Lovecraft, such as secret cults dedicated to reviving the Old Ones, not being sure of who you can trust, visions of rituals, and even ancient books that will decrease your sanity if you read them. There’s a lot of stylistic stuff within this game that matches what you think of as Lovecraft, as well. Monstrous paintings, statues that have been perverted to look more eldritch and nightmarish, as well as a constant green hue that permeates the game.

All of the stylistic trappings are there. It’s only when you are playing the game, though, that you realize it’s mostly window dressing for a disappointingly sparse game. First, this game is an RPG, based on the Call of Cthulhu board game. You have a set of stats that you can funnel points into after completing objectives and reading books throughout the world will increase your knowledge of medicine and of the occult. These will often unlock specific dialogue or interaction options, however when you are playing the game and exploring the world, you won’t actually see much of this implemented.

For example, you might find a body and you may be given a prompt to use your medical knowledge to determine what happened to the body. However, whether or not this will have any impact on anything down the line is questionable. This interaction may give you a prompt to get more info or it may not come up at all. If you put points into strength, you might be able to break a lock, but whatever is behind that lock may not actually help you to determine what is happening.

Had this element been expanded or been used in a less linear game, these could have created interesting scenarios. However, since a set of events will almost always happen in a specific way, those bonus details only really add minimal info.

The dialogue is also not helped with this system, as lines of dialog are not connected in a meaningful way. At one point, someone was asking my opinion of what was going on. I had a high Occult stat so I was given the option to acknowledge that something supernatural was occuring. The character agreed with me. However, when I acknowledged that something supernatural was occuring in the next line, their reaction gave no indication that they believed anything to be out of the ordinary. What was the point of having that option if it didn’t open up an entirely different line of dialogue?

Between these investigative parts of the game is a lot of stealth. Avoiding detection to solve puzzles is pretty key to this game, so it’s surprising that the AI can be as bad as it sometimes is. In one scene, I was chased around a pillar by a guard only for them to lose track of me when I was on the other side of the pillar. In another section, I was able to brute force my way past an enemy to solve a puzzle. The AI is neither smart enough, nor are the consequences high enough to make these segments threatening to the player.

There is so much good window dressing to this game that fans of Lovecraft will enjoy, though, that it almost makes it worth playing. Seeing a lion statue with a tentacle head is great and you can tell they had a good time of visually designing the world. However, for players who just want a good horror game and don’t care about Lovecraft, there are far better options currently available.

SCORE: 5.0 out of 10

A code for Call of Cthulhu was provide to Pixel Related for review.

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