H.P. Lovecraft’s work to me has always meant the useless inferiority we humans have when faced against the cosmos. (Although now people don’t hold him in such high esteem after some recent revelations about his character). We’re nothing and can do nothing in the face of true, abject terror. Which translates differently than horror. When I read his books it was all about creeping dread that reaches a crescendo into pure madness. More unnerving than scary because the characters could no longer experience something like fear. How well does this macabre form of writing hold up in the interactive video game, Call of Cthulhu? Well that is the question you can’t avoid asking because we’re nothing more than little meat puppet playthings.
Edward Pierce is the poor unfortunate soul in this tale. He’s a washed up, private investigator who has an affinity for the devil’s nectar. After being threatened with losing his P.I. license, an old man appears and informs Edward of a curious tale. There’s a pained and talented artist whose family mysteriously died in a house fire on the island of Darkwater. This Sarah Hawkins also happened to display some odd behaviors around her work and the supernatural occurrences with them. One such occurrence involved an elaborate painting making its way to an art collector after her supposed death. Naturally, our protagonist takes the case and sets off for the gloomy and coastal town. What starts as an investigation of a burned mansion eerily shifts to discovering a dark secret of the island and a long steep into madness. What’s real and how much free will Edward actually has all play a part in this inhuman story.
Call of Cthulhu is played from a first person perspective and handles like a basic crime thriller for the first third of the game. You can interact with objects in mostly linear levels in order to discover the truth, find a way forward, get yourself out of a jam, etc. You’ll also interact with other characters who have varying degrees of importance to the mysterious fire. Once you stumble upon the weirdness that makes Edward look like Alice in Wonderland, you’ll have to primarily sneak around with passable, expected stealth mechanics and on the rare occasion shoot a gun that doesn’t require much aiming. In fact, except for a handful of times, this game doesn’t require much thought. It’s usually always clear where you need to be (with no mission markers), what you need to do, or what you need to find even if nothing tells you about it.
Now the developers would like to tout that this title is an RPG or at least incorporates RPG elements. And it does. But at a very basic level. There’s a dialogue wheel that will allow you to ask standard questions, unlocked questions from exploring, and special ones that only show up when the story allows and you have certain abilities upgraded. When you complete certain tasks or story missions you’ll get CP which allow you to level Edward up. These points can be put into different categories such as Psychology, Investigation, Strength, Eloquence, and Spot Hidden. Each one controls various aspects of gameplay or dialogue and can be leveled up five times. There’s also Medicine and Occultism, but they are only upgraded by finding items or objects through your playthrough. While these upgradeables are always nice to pull off in real-time, they change very little and could have been done without.
Lovecraftian fans though probably only care about what I have to say next. Is Call of Cthulhu frightening or unnerving? Most of the time it is in very true fashion to its source material. Both in general scares and gameplay mechanics. Twisted creatures, abominable visions and nightmares, disfiguration, and senses defying encounters just to name a few. In actual gameplay, there are levels where you can only progress by swapping dimensions, battling unseen monsters visible only to a few, witnessing subtle but ever-changing parts of a normal environment, and just taking in the creepiness. To the point where I was actively questioning what was real or what wasn’t. Like were these “taken” humans still humans? Looking back I can say I wasn’t ever scared by Call of Cthulhu, but definitely left at unease and uncertainty at what I was witnessing. It might have been put to better effect had the entire game not been mostly linear with a few, slightly open spots.
It could have definitely been put to better effect however, had the graphics and animations been serviceable. I don’t believe I’ve seen doughy facial expressions or jerky character animations like this in a sixty dollar game. Lip movements never match what’s coming out of any given character’s mouth and human movement has never seemed so robotic. There was never I time I didn’t have the subtitles on and after the first few hours, of my first six-to-eight-hour journey, I avoided looking at anyone’s food hole. Yes, one playthrough will last you that long and I haven’t really seen any differences on subsequent playthroughs. Not that it matters terribly as you can reload a checkpoint that easily lets you see all endings in five minutes. There’s also a sanity feature that goes up depending on choices you make or objects you interact with, but I still didn’t see how it affected anything or why it was here at all.
That technical stuff aside, voice actors did a superb job. There were even nice accents and speech inflections as long as you don’t look directly into someone’s mouth of course. Seriously these types of issues were easily the worst part of the game. If it wasn’t for the genuine thrills, WTF moments, and having Cthulhu attached to the title, this game would have scored a lot lower just because of the animations and character graphics.
Call of Cthulhu PS4 Review
Call of Cthulhu brings the Lovecraft vibe well and true. Once the mystery of Darkwater unravels prepare to be unnerved by quite a lot. You'll just have to use basic stealth mechanics and a watered down RPG system to do so. Still they were passable and found myself enjoying them all the same. The real crime were the awful character animations. These jerky movements and lack of audio/visual sync ruined many a moment for me. It would have ruined much more than moments though had this title not had a veritable place in the Cthulhu mythos.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using a PS4 Pro.