Review

Call Of Cthulhu Review - Squid Logic

  • First Released Oct 29, 2018
    released
  • PC
  • PS4
  • XONE

A descent into madness.

Even if you haven't read any of H.P. Lovecraft's literary works, you likely possess a passing understanding of why he is broadly recognized as one of the most significant horror writers of the 20th century. His ideas of unspeakable, unknowable terrors driving men (and it is almost always men) to madness, and his creation of the Cthulhu mythos with its pantheon of ancient gods utterly indifferent to the lives of men, have influenced countless novels, films, pen-and-paper and video games in the years since. This latest effort, from French studio Cyanide, spins a familiar tale of artistic obsession, unnatural experimentation and the frailties of the human mind into a mostly successful--if not exactly revelatory--exploration of Lovecraft's core thematic concerns. But its achievements in narrative and mood-setting are regularly undermined by some lackluster sleuthing, run-of-the-mill adventure game puzzles and a handful of truly terrible pseudo-action sequences.

Edward Pierce is a private investigator in Boston who seems to specialize in underwhelming his employer, the Wentworth Detective Agency, and self-medicating the trauma he suffered during World War I with alcohol and sleeping pills. Still shaken after waking from yet another nightmare, he agrees to look into the death of Sarah Hawkins, her husband, and their son three months prior in a house fire on the tiny island and former whaling port of Darkwater. Sarah's father seeks out Pierce after taking posthumous receipt of one of his daughter's paintings, a rather heavy-handed depiction of a woman cowering before some kind of demon. Pierce, summoning all his investigative acumen, suggests Sarah was trying to send a message via her art.

The rhythm of Pierce's detective work, and thus the bulk of the game, is established as soon as he disembarks at the fog-drenched and permanently midnight Darkwater docks. You can explore, in first-person, a small location, talk to the various locals and examine certain items of interest. Conversations are presented with a dialogue wheel offering multiple topics, some of which are only unlocked if Pierce has learned relevant information while occasionally others are delivered as binary choices--pick one and you can't go back to pursue other spokes on the wheel. The voice performances here is entirely serviceable, and not nearly as hammy as one might fear given the setting, though the writing itself suffers from some jarring tonal shifts as you navigate the branches of dialogue and countless unfortunate typos in the subtitles.

Taking cues from the Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG, you can earn and assign points to a collection of stats that, in theory, let you tailor Pierce's detective expertise towards Investigation, Psychology, Eloquence and so on. These stats affect both the dialogue options--a high level in Eloquence might enable Pierce to choose a more persuasive line of questioning--and the ways you can interact with the environment, i.e. Pierce can draw upon his knowledge of Medicine to reveal something about a corpse. Yet these moments rarely, if at all, feel significant; they mostly seem like minor excursions en route to the same outcome.

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In general, the RPG nature of the game feels undernourished. The idea of these stats is, I assume, to let you know you're applying specific techniques of investigation; in some instances, it succeeds, most notably in the few occasions when Pierce is able to solve puzzles in multiple ways. But much of the time the differences between having leveled up your Strength stat instead of your Investigation stat feel ambiguous at best and trivial at worst.

It's ambiguous at best because you get the feeling that's what the game is aiming for in order to drive central narrative themes. When you make certain choices or perform certain actions the message, "This will affect your destiny," pops up in the top left corner in a manner similar to a Telltale adventure game. What's never clear, however, is how your destiny has been affected. There's no end of chapter screen that recaps the crucial choices you made and little sense, by the game's conclusion, of how those decisions lead to the choice Pierce has to confront in the very final scene. On my first playthrough I was faced with two possible endings, while on my second, after making a bunch of different choices throughout, I had unlocked a further two without any real understanding of how I'd been given the chance to alter Pierce's destiny.

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Call of Cthulhu, and Lovecraft himself, revels in the inexplicable, the ineffable, the fallibility of human perception and its limited capacity to understand the world. Over the course of the game, Pierce finds himself grappling to make sense of what he's seen--or what he thinks he's seen. As his grip on reality, already tenuous to begin with, further loosens, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to reason out cause and effect. On a narrative level, this serves the story well, maintaining suspense and hitting you with well-timed twists. But on a more mechanical level, as you select each choice with a shrug of ignorance, it feels weirdly distancing and ultimately unsatisfying.

Much of Pierce's detective work is routine. You scour each location for hotspots with which to interact, pocketing clues and the odd useful object. Progress is typically a case of diligence--find enough hotspots and Pierce will work out what to do next. Sometimes, however, he's able to "reconstruct" past events that occurred at the present location, but while these tend to be interesting in terms of plot revelations they, again, only require you to find the relevant hotspots and click on them. There's a kind of grim pleasure to be had here, I suppose, a measure of compulsive enjoyment gleaned from tracking down every last hotspot that some players will find gratifying. It's rote work, though.

When Call of Cthulhu breaks out of its procedural setup, it reveals itself at its best and at its very worst. The high point sees Pierce trapped in a hospital you've previously visited--and thus, crucially, should be familiar with. He has to traverse a shadow version of the hospital, navigating its pitch black corridors using only the fading light of a lantern to unlock a route through the normal version. By drawing upon the knowledge you've accumulated previously, it works fantastically as a tense and unsettling puzzle.

In contrast, the low points arrive when you're forced into the game's handful of action sequences. In one, you're hiding from a monster that will kill you instantly if it gets too close. You eventually realize you have to find a particular item--one, it should be said, out of a dozen near-identical items scattered throughout the adjacent rooms--and use it in a particular spot. The only clue you're given is a comment Pierce makes when he picks up the correct item, noting that this one "seems different somehow." I'm not ashamed to admit that, in the heat of the moment, I failed to pick up on this dialogue change as I was a little bit distracted by the howling monster pursuing me across the room. During this trial-and-error cycle of death and reload I must have attempted this sequence 30-odd times before I eventually worked out what to do and was able to systematically try each item until I found the correct one.

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In another, Pierce is equipped with a handgun for the only time in the game and has to make his way across an area populated with slow, shuffling enemies. On my first playthrough, I died while experimenting with what happens when you get caught and, when the game reloaded, found myself without a gun. The only way I could proceed was by running around the area, luring enemies into chasing me around until eventually, a gap opened between them that was wide enough for me to dart through. It turned what was probably meant to be a dramatic, seat-of-the-pants dash for safety into a comical farce. (On my second playthrough I simply shot everyone, thanks to my gun not disappearing, and it proved rather more mundane than dramatic, but at least it wasn't frustrating.)

Dwelling on these few low points may seem overly harsh--they account for no more than a small portion of the whole game, after all. But they are not merely poor moments in an otherwise solid game; they're awful pieces of game design utterly inconsistent with the rest of the game. Much of Call of Cthulhu is a perfectly competent adventure game built on firm, if uninspired, point-and-click traditions. And while it won't dazzle you with ambitious, creative puzzle-solving, its central story is as haunting and consuming as you want a good Lovecraft tale to be. But then, like some nightmare creature, an action sequence comes out of nowhere and ruins the experience.

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The Good
Enjoyably spooky story is suspenseful and has some good twists
One particularly great puzzle sequence is tense and unsettling
The Bad
A couple of truly awful action sequences are frustrating
Too much rote clicking on hotspots becomes tedious
Loads of spelling mistakes tarnish the game's writing
5
Mediocre
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

David Wildgoose wants to spare you the pain he endured. If you do play this game then know this: In the art gallery section, the dagger you need to thrust into the painting is the one furthest away from you at the start. You'll know it when you get there.
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saint311

I haven't seen reviews for their cycling games, but it seems like Cyanide is always just on the brink of releasing a great action-adventure/RPG type game and falls just short.

I want to root for them, b/c i do like the Orcs/Styx series (only games of their's i've played), but I'm reluctant about games like Werewolf: The Apocalypse b/c of poor reviews of games like this, old Game of Thrones, etc. All their games at least seem to have good-to-great stories (even if the writing is cheesy, flawed, etc).

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DudeBroPartyYo

Play the old game

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PappaFost

Wow, all I had to hear was the phrase "spelling errors". Not proofing the game text is VERY telling.

Avatar image for sebb
SebB

Just finished the game. Squid logic indeed. The score seems about right. The game could have used more polishing. And the ending... the f***ing ending. The options at the end are just very unhelpful.

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Speranza318

2018 PC gaming: Poor voice acting, tons of spelling errors, no UWHD support, fake 4K textures, poor optimization on GTX 1080 and better cards, no SLI support.

Result: $40 game that gets poor ratings.

Good job Gamespot, you actually got this one correct giving it a 5/10

Avatar image for sebb
SebB

@Speranza318: Not to mention that ridiculously high dynamic audio range. You turn the audio up because you can't hear a thing in those cutscenes and characters standing more than a few steps away from you. Then the fu**ing Shambler starts screaming in your ears or your character starts talking and you feel your eardrums burst. Were the devs tuning the audio with Loudness Equalization on? Lol. Ridiculous.

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zyxahn

Wildgoose is on another chase. Some low level humor. You know this comment section is going to be filled up with everyone professing their knowledge of all things Lovecraft.

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FreakinRay

just a correction:

"The only clue you're given is a comment Pierce makes when he picks up the correct item" is not correct.

you actually find a piece of paper with the correct dagger drawn on it near the painting.

Avatar image for sebb
SebB

@FreakinRay: After breaking every single glass case in sight and trying out different daggers, and dying about 15 times I gave up and went to look for the solution on the internet. Why do horror games need to have frustrating gameplay like that? There are quite a few other levels in this game where you die and repeat, and the thing becomes trial and error. That to me is poor game design.

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FreakinRay

@sebb: I didn't have that experience. I'm sorry you did.

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SebB

@FreakinRay: I still stuck with finishing the game. Finished it yesterday and I think overall it was okay, worth a 5/10. I think it should have been polished more before release. Especially considering that it's a story-focused game where the experience of the story really matters given that most people will not play it more than once. The graphics, especially the characters, and animations could have used more work.

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captainapples

"The voice performances here AS entirely serviceable, and not nearly as hammy as one might fear given the setting, though the writing itself suffers from some jarring tonal shifts as you navigate the branches of dialogue and countless unfortunate typos in the subtitles."

A run-on sentence with a typo complaining about typos is immensely ironic.

Avatar image for sebb
SebB

@captainapples: There were typos in the documents you could read as well. And I think some of them were not typos just poor translation from the French devs, Cyanide. And before anyone accuses me of being racist, I'm French, born in France but been living in the UK since 2006 when I started my professional life.

Overall, I think this game was decent. I can't get over how ugly the character's looked though, and I'm not even talking about the squids. Just the regular characters. Not sure what they were going for there, lol. Stylized maybe.

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NSA_Protocol44

I played it and loved it. The reviewer has mentioned things that are not really THAT bad. The real bad things about this game are the animations and the graphics, everything else is great.

BTW the sense of mystery could have been a tad better, everything is given away fast. It should build slowly on the mystery.

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SebB

@nsa_protocol44: Yeah I think the game could have used more polishing in the areas you mention.

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JimAbadon

@nsa_protocol44: wow, someone actually stated they disagree with the reviewer without saying something insulting or snide about them. Now, I'm worried that Cthulhu really will rise and enslave us all, it's the end of times.

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NSA_Protocol44

@jimabadon: Cthulhu Fhtagn

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Midna

There isn’t enough Lovecraft inspired games.

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Vojtass

@midna: There are plenty of Lovecraftian board/card games though.

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Midna

@Vojtass: Are they like D&D games? I always wanted to learn how to play those type of board games but I don't know anyone who plays them.

Avatar image for Vojtass
Vojtass

@midna: Do you play other board games? If so, you should introduce a new one to your gaming group. Ask them first of course. There are various tabletop games: some of them are more faithul to Lovecraft's works (e.g. Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness, Elder Sign, Arkham Horror, Arkham Horror: The Card Game etc.) and other are loosely inspired by the Mythos (e.g. Cthulhu Wars, Deep Madness, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Tides of Madness). There are many differences: some of them are fast and light card games (Tides of Madness). components heavy games like Eldritch Horror, miniature based Cthulhu Wars, application driven Mansions of Madness (2nd edition) or collectible co-op card games like Arham Horror: The Card Game. I'm sure you will be able to choose something for you.

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NSA_Protocol44

@midna: Indeed and i wish we had more of Lovecraft inspired entertainment.

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SebB

@nsa_protocol44: The best video games which have lovecraftian elements for me so far are Alien Isolation and Dead Space 3.

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gamingdevil800

I'd give the game a 7. The review mentions that segment with the monster hilariously I happened to pick the right dagger by chance on my very first attempt not sure what the odds are on that.

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SebB

@gamingdevil800: Very low. Especially that it's in a corner of a room that you wouldn't bother to explore. I died 15 times and tried every dagger I could find before I gave up and went to find the solution on the internet. Fu**ing Shambler, lol.

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JimAbadon

I'm a bit disappointed, I wanted this to turn out good since I'm a big fan but metacritic seems to also agree that the game is pretty mediocre. Unfortunate yet it appears that Dark Corners of the Earth is the best Cthulhu-based game we're going to get, at least for the time being.

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Gelugon_baat

@jimabadon: The people who made Dark Corners of the Earth was wise enough to use the most iconic setting in the Cthulu fiction - Innsmouth.

But that game - man. It's like Amnesia: The Dark Descent with guns and ass for aiming. And that health system is so unreliable and seems to be RNG-laden. ("Oh shit, the protagonist took a hard hit to one leg and blacked out - straight game-over.")

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JimAbadon

@Gelugon_baat: honestly, you confuse me. You always seem to have such clear opinions about the games in the reviews. Do you play them to form these opinions or do you have some other way of drawing your conclusions? Of course, I don't mean it in any disrespectful way, I just think it's odd and I do appreciate the feedback you provided.

To add to what you said about Dark Corners of the Earth, I don't know if it was Innsmouth that made that game good, rather I felt that the whole game accurately provided with us the sense of dread, despair and hopelessness that HP Lovecraft's works usually sport. Whole game just made you feel that despite your victories, every step took you closer to the abyss and farther away from survival.

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SebB

@jimabadon: There are only two games that have made me feel despair: Dark Souls and Alien Isolation. The former which I very deeply hate because of its repetitiveness in dying and unfairness. The latter, which I enjoyed and finished about 7 times, made me feel despair because of the all powerful Alien.

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Gelugon_baat

@jimabadon: I know, I know - it's part of my habit of always pairing praise together with complaints. It's something that has become ingrained in me whenever I communicate with any other game consumer on the Internet. I just don't want to give the impression that I am for or against a game - I am neither, by default.

That said, I don't get that feely vibe from the game, past the otherwise great first impression that was the towns-proper of Innsmouth.

Anything after that is just so stupid and frustrating to me, and even when I manage to get past a section, my solution is so laughable. ("Always fall back to chokepoints. The Innsmouth blokes or Deep Ones or whatever can't flank if they come in only one direction. Rinse and repeat - just don't look at their corpses for too long.")

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JimAbadon

@Gelugon_baat: Yeah, I get it, it's best to be open-minded about a game. We take whatever info we can find from reviewers and we can form an understanding of what a game is like.

Yeah, well, it's an old game and it has tons of problems. When I had bought Dark Corners of the Earth, I was facing constant crashing in certain parts of the game, it wasn't until I changed compatibility modes that the crashing stopped. The game also required a good amount of changing nvidia settings to run a little bit better. It's a pain in the arse, but I still liked it. Dark Corners of the Earth is kilometres (I'm European, shush) away from being perfect but despite its troubles it still captivated me. Too bad this game won't be giving me any new experiences on this. Was looking forward to it too.

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gamingdevil800

@Gelugon_baat: Haven't played Dark Corners of the Earth but have read the Shadow Over Innsmouth the beginning of this game gives off similar beats to the story in terms of a remote fishing village influenced by the old ones. Unfortunately not as creepy though the short story has a better overall build up of paranoia to the creepy lurking fear as a reader when you start to realise the protagonist is in trouble. Actually I would of been happy if the developers of this game straight up copied the hotel segment from the book where the protagonist slowly realises the townsfolk are out to get him.

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Gelugon_baat

@gamingdevil800: Yeah, the developers didn't implement the build-up. The protagonist gets jumped rather early.

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Vojtass

@gamingdevil800: The Shadow over Comet - I love that game. It's kinda amazing that game with such obsolete graphics can make your heart beat faster.

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NSA_Protocol44

@gamingdevil800: That hotel scene is soo iconic for me, i love it. Too bad this game doesn't have that. The sense of mystery in Dark corners of the earth is much better and it has the hotel scene.

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JimAbadon

@nsa_protocol44: one of my favourite parts from that game was the part near the end where you have to face that star spawn of Cthulhu. That soldier gets straight up eaten alive and you are left alone to kill that monstrosity which is unaffected by bullets all the while the remains of the poor soldier remind you of the horrors you are fighting. Few horror games could give such a tremendous feel of despair despite your victory against an inhuman beast.

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SebB

@jimabadon: I can't imagine what it could have been like for Lovecraft to have these horrific things in his mind. Or maybe I can, a bit. There was a two year period a few years ago when every time I would sleep, even nap for 15 minutes, I would have nightmares. My record was nine nightmares in the same night. I would have nightmares every single time I fell asleep. Most I don't remember but some I still do. I prefer not to write about it in the comments here, they may ban me. Seriously, they were very horrific. I tried different things, like watching comedies before sleeping, moving my workout closer to my bedtime, eating less at night, drinking more water, etc. Nothing worked. One night, as I was about to go to sleep, knowing I would have nightmares again, I thought f' it I'm giong to take advantage of that. So I took a pen and paper and put them right next to my bed so that when I woke up at night or in the morning, I would write down the nightmares before I forgot them. That same night the nightmares stopped and since then I have never had constant nightmares again. I remember being a bit disappointed because I was thinking that I could have become more famous than Stephen King if I could write all the crazy sh** those nightmares were about.

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jaykobwerdnahs

@gamingdevil800: Dark Corners of the Earth does copy that segment almost exactly.

Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game More Info

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  • First Released Oct 29, 2018
    released
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Call of Cthulhu is the official video game adaptation of Chaosium's pen & paper RPG of the same name.
    6.2
    Average Rating31 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game
    Developed by:
    Cyanide
    Published by:
    Focus Home Interactive, Maximum Games, Oizumi Amuzio
    Genre(s):
    Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol