Call of Cthulhu (PS4) Review

H.P. Lovecraft is a name we all know due to his stories and creations being the basis of most modern horror films and games. His most popular creation was his stories around the Cthulhu Mythos and how these unforeseen events and creatures could turn a man insane as they became closer to the mythical beast. Call of Cthulhu is based around these events as it was highly inspired by the classic tabletop RPG game of the same name from 1981 but with a different story and plotline.

Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive have delivered a truly horrific and disturbing first-person RPG adventure game set within this dark and twisted universe for us to explore and investigate. The question is, we will survive the night or succumb to madness?

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Finally, a case!

Call of Cthulhu opens with a rather insightful look at our main protagonist, Edward Pierce. We’re alone in our Private Investigations office with only an open bottle of whisky for company. As we look around the office we see that we used to enjoy reading and doing various activities but these days, we’re more complacent with sitting around drinking than actually working for our keep. However, a call comes in and we’re forced to take on a case if we don’t want to lose our licence. Just then, as if by coincidence, a case knocks upon our door.

We’ve been tasked with a strange case of murder-suicide involving a respected businessman, a young child, and a celebrated artist on the isolated land of Darkwater Island. The artist’s father is the one who employs us to look into the death of his daughter as he believes the disturbing painting she sent him, just before her demise, was more of a calling card than a gift due to its demonic imagery and subtle details. With little left to lose, Pierce heads off to investigate what should be an open and shut case on this small island, but is he well prepared?

Call of Cthulhu will see you explore various locations, talk to many people, discover clues and talking points with the locals, as well as discovery strange events which are happening behind closed doors. Conspiracies, the occult, cosmic horrors, and insanity all play a part in this mystery, a mystery which will push you to the limit and beyond as you search for the truth behind the Hawkins family suicide…

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We seem to know a lot about death…

I know there are a lot of people out there who have been looking forward to this game, I’m one of them, and I can happily say that I feel this game was worth the wait. I feel it captures the atmosphere and mythology perfectly for what it’s trying to deliver within this adaptation, however, there are a few things I wasn’t too impressed by, which I’ll come to later on. Although, if you do pick up the physical version, be sure to update it before you play the game! There was a patch the other day which resolved a lot of issues and makes the overall experience much better to how we played it a few weeks back.

Call of Cthulhu is a first-person adventure game with horror elements and some comical FPS action later on. The majority of your time will be spent investigating and reconstructing crime scenes and discovering new clues via the multitude of books, notes, and diaries you find, and then talking to the locals about what you just found out. As this is also touted as an RPG, you have a skill sheet, as you would see in the old tabletop adventure. This part reminds me of Focus Home Interactive‘s other published game, The Council, as you start with an initial set of points that can be put anywhere and then you unlock more points as the game progresses for you to distribute accordingly. 

However, just like The Council, if you haven’t invested in the right pathway with enough points then certain events or items will be out of your reach. For example, if you haven’t reached a certain level of lock picking by the time you reach a certain chest or locked shed then you wont be able to open it, if you haven’t got a high enough eloquence then don’t expect to sweet talk your way into places, and if your occult isn’t high then don’t expect to find all references to the occult. It’s a game which is begging to be played multiple times by experimenting with the skill tree in order to experience everything that adapts to your abilities.

Call of Cthulhu 3

Damn, did he see me?

Stealth drives me insane!
As with most Lovecraftian games, Call of Cthulhu has a heavy focus on insanity and watching as your character slowly becomes overcome with madness throughout his stay in the vicinity of the cultists. this has been woven into the gameplay in a way which is good yet also kind of pointless. As you progress throughout the game, you’ll come face to face with not only monsters of the fantastical variety but also a bunch of human threats as well. How do you expect you overcome these pesky distractions? That’s right – stealth… 

You’ll be hiding in cupboards, crawling through tunnels, and just ducking out of sight as you try and avoid eye contact with the evil entities. The way insanity works in Call of Cthulhu is you become insane the more the stand around things which creates fear, such as dead bodies and horrific beasts, yet you also seem to be claustrophobic as you also begin to break out into a sweat if you get into a tunnel or cupboard. As such, if you spend too long hidden away, you begin to make noises which could actually alert the enemies and once you emerge from your hidey-hole, you’ll take a few moments to regain your composure and restore your normal vision.

However, I say the insanity is a bit pointless because it makes it seem like you’re going to die if you become mad, but I sat in a cupboard for 15 minutes and nothing happened to me. I would have thought you would die based on how the game reacts and the amount of noise it makes and the visual cues that appear on screen! Unfortunately – this doesn’t cause you to go insane and kill yourself.

Thankfully there are only a handful of stealth segments within the game – I think it was three or four throughout the game. The segments which involve hiding as well as dealing with a creature, now they’re the ones I had a little trouble with until I worked out the pattern and managed to pass them with ease. The game has a very forgiving autosave, so failure usually doesn’t result in that much of a loss.

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I may or may not have pissed her off earlier!

Talk to me:
I would say about half your time in Call of Cthulhu, especially in the first half of the game, will be spent talking to the various characters and gaining intel, as well as solving puzzles and riddles. I really loved this part of the game. The puzzles are clever and well thought out with the use of riddles, images, and having to use the information you gather in documents and maps to solve them. I much prefer these over your generic puzzles which a lot of games use, not that there is anything wrong with those. Seeing some unique problems to overcome without any hints or guides online was actually rather fun and allowed me to think about things and gain a bit of satisfaction when I got them right.

Every character has their own personality as well, you never know who is going to be a friend or foe in this game as everyone has two faces, the one they show and the one they wish to hide. We have Bradley, the rather dumb police officer who seems rather helpful, Cat, the leader of the local crime gang yet also very knowledgeable on island affairs, and Doctor Fuller, the island’s psychiatrist. You’ll meet others throughout your adventure, but each and every one seems to have an alternative motive hidden deep inside of them. Also, based on your skills you invest in, things you’ve seen or heard, and notes you’ve read, the conversations you have with these people will alter as you unlock new conversations and key talking points.

Call of Cthulhu 5

I am, aren’t I?!

Different branches?
Call of Cthulhu is full of trophy specific choices which don’t really change the gameplay that much, but they alter it a little based on what you choose to do. This is a mild spoiler but it’s for the first 15 minutes of the game so you can skip this section if you don’t want to see it…

Warehouse choices

For example, near the beginning of the game, you have to get into the Hawkin’s warehouse which requires you to make your way past two thugs who are guarding the entrance to the yard. After talking to these and the local drunks nearby, you have a few options – either try and get into the grounds directly or give the drunks some whisky to create a distraction. So, you can:
• Go tell Cat you’ll pay her back later on if you get her to let you in
• Buy a bottle of whisky from the barkeeper if you didn’t piss him off a few minutes before asking for one
• Break into a shed and steal some whisky if you have a high enough lockpicking skill (includes a trophy)
• Use a mechanism in an adjoining building to lift a grate and crawl under to the other building if you have enough strength points

If you go down the whisky or underground route, when you reach the warehouse it has a lock on it. If your lockpicking skill isn’t high then you can’t open it and Cat will intervene. This will either let you knock her out and become respected and given the key or get yourself knocked out and have to agree to her terms for her to open the door for you.

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If you didn’t peek, there are quite a few instances throughout the game where you can make subtle choices which allows you to do a different action to achieve the same goal. There are a lot of missable trophies and most of them relate to picking a certain option or bypassing a problem a certain way. One such example of that is a puzzle, later on, involving a globe. You can solve the puzzle and get a trophy or find a way to disable the mechanism, if you have enough strength, and proceed. However, that means you won’t get the trophy and will have to play the game again in order to obtain it. 

You’ll also play the game as various characters through memories and the power of the occult.

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Reconstruction of memories and events – quite a popular mechanic recently.

Various unexpected mechanics:
There were two mechanics I wasn’t expecting within Call of Cthulhu. The first being the ability to reconstruct certain scenes and the second a rather comical FPS mode, as mentioned above. 

The reconstruction reminded me of >observer_ as you don’t reconstruct a timeline like in Batman and Detroit, but you do uncover images based on items you find. For example, holding the two shoulder buttons will put you into a super-sleuth mode where certain objects will become visible such as blood, photos, bottles and books. If you interact with these then you’ll be shown an image of the person in question and treated to a verbal re-enactment of what went on here. This also reminds me of Blind as you did the same thing in that with static images rather than moving ones. The information you gather from these segments can be used to further question people on or just used to expand your personal knowledge on what’s going on. 

The FPS mode, or first-person shooter segments, are rather funny but mechanically sound I guess. As this is an adventure game at its core, I wasn’t expecting anything special when it came to the gunplay if I’m being honest. However, what we were given was rather ‘funny’. When it comes time to use your gun, you can’t shoot freely, you basically walk close to your victim and as soon as you lift up your gun and aim, you press to pull the trigger. You can’t really miss and you’re guaranteed a kill as long as you’re locked on – it’s gun mechanics in its simplest form. However, it kind of works with the feeling of the game as it doesn’t want to be an FPS so the developers have tried to hit a sweet spot for adventure and action games to be combined, without alienating the fans of the adventure genre. 

It’s a bit comical at first, but I’ve played that segment three times now and I’ve grown to appreciate it over implementing a real FPS mode with limited rounds and the ability to die based on missing the enemy.

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The game looks great in most places!

Technical:
I had a number of issues with Call of Cthulhu initially as the game wasn’t in a good state when we received it two weeks ago. There was a lot of miss-translated text, the lipsync was out, animations during conversations seemed robotic and stiff, the characters clothing was clipping through their bodies etc… However, the patch we received the other day as improved on all of these, they aren’t perfect but they are better than they were before **Update 30/10/18 – there has been another patch tonight that has dramatically improved the animations and lipsync**. You’ll still see dresses and clothes sometimes reset as you walk close to them, like a breeze suddenly whooshed up them for a second, and some of the voices will be a little bit out with the lip movements, but it’s not a deal breaker. It does affect immersion, but for a flat game (non-VR), there is only so much immersion it could create anyways. 

My biggest complaint with the technical side is the sound levels. this is something the developers need to fix as it wasn’t resolved in the recent update. With all the audio sliders on default or the same level, there is a massive inconsistency with the two ways you talk to the people around you. As you approach people and talk whilst you can still walk around, the levels are fine – not too over-powering and match the levels you have set the voices too. Once you enter ‘frozen’ mode, where you can’t move as you talk to people and pick things to say, it sounds like the characters are shouting to each other! The volume for their voices gets stupidly high compared to the other speech elements in the game. Even if you adjust the sliders, they still shout to each other.

Other than that though, the visual quality is great, the atmosphere is really dark and sadistic, and the overall game leaves you feeling uneasy and disturbed at times, especially as you progress in the story. The music is great, it really suits the atmosphere, and the voice acting was generally quite good. I never thought anyone had phoned it in, although a few of the extras with really strong accents did sound like they were trying to imitate the Boston accent a bit too much in my opinion. We just need the characters to stop shouting to one another when they are talking. 

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WTF is that!

Personal Opinion:
Despite my issues with the big-mouthed conversations, the comical ‘FPS’ sections, and the rather annoying stealth parts (personal opinion), I thoroughly enjoyed Call of Cthulhu. It was everything I was hoping it would be and more. We had the different branching pathways, even if they didn’t change a whole lot, various skills to invest into, many documents about the occult and Cthulhu to find and read, interesting environments, and a constant sense of dread. I do wish the choices you make made a bigger impact in the grand scheme of things though as most of the pathways you go down via various dialogue options will lead you to the same point in the end.

I was really pleased with the puzzles which were represented in Call of Cthulhu though. I like it when a developer comes up with their own unique puzzles or riddles for you to solve rather than relying on your standard off-the-shelf puzzles. The only downside was that there wasn’t a lot of them. It was like the reconstruction mechanic, a nice feature which we’ve seen in other games, such as >observer_ which I reviewed the other day, but this was only used a few times throughout the whole game. However, I felt I was gaining more intel during these reconstructions than I did with the ones in >observer_, so there’s that!

As a spooky game, I would say Call of Cthulhu is about a 3 or 4 out of 10. It’s not scary other than the one jumpscare which it throws at you. It’s more creepy, disturbing and unsettling than scary. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still a great game to play this Halloween if you’re into horrific and satanic themes, just don’t expect to be too scared to sleep or hiding behind your sofa.

I would strongly advise you to play Call of Cthulhu on your own with no guide though. It’s not a hard game and it took me just under nine hours to complete the first time as a blind playthrough. Sure, you may miss out on some collectables and trophies on your first play, but you’re most likely going to need two playthroughs anyway due to the autosave and lack of manual saves. So you may as well enjoy it instead of resorting to buying the game and just following someone’s guide for your first playthrough. 

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Call of Cthulhu is a brilliant game inspired by the classic H.P. Lovecraft stories and 1981 tabletop game. Watch as our protagonist becomes overwhelmed with madness in this tale of conspiracies, lies, trust, and the occult. The investigation mechanics which range from verbal questioning to reconstructing the crime scenes are all done really well and even the oddly placed FPS segment has its own charm. The game does let itself down with some of the lip syncing and animations, but it redeems itself with its story and dialogue which may be fairly predictable but it’s still a lot of fun.

If you’re looking for a game to play this Halloween, Call of Cthulhu has you covered. It won’t scare the pants off you but it will leave you feeling slightly disturbed and uneasy. 

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Call of Cthulhu

£47.99
8.8

Final Score

8.8/10

The Good:

  • Interesting story with a few predictable yet enjoyable moments
  • Visually the game looks great with it's dark atmosphere and twisted imagery
  • The dialogue and voice acting are really good, bar one or two forced accents
  • The overall game leaves you feeling uneasy and slightly disturbed if you read all the documents you find
  • Interesting take on the whole sanity aspect

The Bad:

  • THE CHARACTERS LIKE TO SHOUT WHEN TALKING TO EACH OTHER
  • Some graphical issues with cloth clipping through models and resetting as you get close
  • I wish the choices you made had a bigger impact on the world and the events

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