Call of Cthulhu – Xbox One Review
There’s something about scary
Call of Cthulhu is a Cyanide Studios adaptation of Chaosium’s classic tabletop RPG (no, me neither) and reinvented it for this console generation as a first person mystery/horror title. Playing as Great War veteran and erstwhile private investigator, Edward Pierce, you’ll investigate a murder steeped in the tradition and lore of H.P Lovecraft. As you’d expect from a Lovecraft inspired adventure, your investigation quickly becomes mired in the occult and you’ll be plunged into a dark, mysterious world where nothing, and no-one, are quite as they seem.
The game is an RPG played first person style, but don’t expect Red Dead Redemption with monsters. Gameplay veers heavily towards investigation. It’s not quite a point and click adventure, you’re given ample freedom to explore and move around FPS style, but you’ll spend most of your time examining objects and peeking into dark corners. A couple of stealth sections, and some light gunplay towards the end provide a little gameplay variety but the emphasis in Call of Cthulhu is very much on puzzle solving and narrative.
You’ll develop Edward’s skills on the way by collecting character points. These are used to enhance his existing detective repertoire and the choices you make have a profound impact on the narrative. Choose to neglect your investigation skills, and you’ll be less likely to spot important clues. Neglect occultism and you’ll gain less insight into the supernatural elements of the story. This is employed to great effect in dialogue too; some dialogue options will be unavailable to you unless you have developed particular skills sufficiently. Based on my one playthrough, it seems impossible to amass enough character points to fully level up each aspect of Edward’s character, so wise and considered choices are required.
It’s the narrative that becomes the undoubted star of the show here. Rarely have I encountered such robust, compelling story telling in a game. I’m not a huge fan of walking simulators or the Telltale catalogue, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself very quickly drawn in to this story. The voice acting helps considerably; each character, even the minor players, appears fully rounded. Likewise, the dialogue is refreshingly good. It’s let down somewhat by some lip-sync issues and an annoying pause as the game cycles through dialogue options, but it’s testament to how well the story is crafted that these are minor irritations rather than total immersion breakers.
At several junctures, you’ll receive a notification that your actions have ‘changed your destiny’. This, combined with the various dialogue wheel options, suggests that a second playthrough of the approximately 10 hour campaign with an emphasis on different choices might provide a different finale. Certainly, the games conclusion has you make one binary choice, but based on my one playthrough I can’t be certain just how much variation exists.
Puzzles are a key component of the game. Some are better than others, with the worst being needlessly obscure. At various points you’ll use Edward’s intuition to reconstruct a scene in a style reminiscent of recent Batman titles. These provide one of the few times that the games shows off any graphical prowess. They look good, and drive the story along but serve as a reminder of how dated the rest of Cthulhu looks (trust me, any impressive pics you’ve seen probably came from cut scenes which are rendered outside the gameplay engine).
Here’s the thing about Call of Cthulhu: It would be so easy to focus on the negatives. Halfway through the game, I encountered a problem, but quickly found a solution. The game wouldn’t let me use the solution until I had triggered a specific line of dialogue from an NPC – I hate that. Also, it isn’t much of a looker, and the audio is frequently choppy – a real bummer in a genre which relies on sight and sound to build atmosphere.
I could focus on these aspects of Call of Cthulhu, but I won’t, because they would do a total disservice to this intriguing, atmospheric gem of a game. The more I played, the less I noticed the flaws, instead focussing on the nooks and crannies in every room, determined not to miss something vital. I became obsessed with levelling up Edward’s skills in occultism and investigation, lest I be denied an important piece of dialogue. I agonised over choices – accept this, reject that, ignore him, help her – all signs of a story well told and a world superbly crafted.
In short, Call of Cthulhu, despite its shortcomings, builds to a cinematic, haunting and satisfying conclusion which will leave you simultaneously relieved it’s over and gasping for more.
Many thanks to Indigo Pearl for the review code.