It’s finally here! Call of Cthulhu, the game based on the board game based on the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, arrives on the Nintendo Switch in all of its gothic splendour, allowing us to experience the full game wherever and whenever we like. Published by Focus Home Interactive and developed by Cyanide Studio, Call of Cthulhu sees you play as Edward Pierce in the same world as the board game, trying to solve a very mysterious case involving the death of a family in strange circumstances. From this small beginning, the game takes you on a dark and disturbing journey.
I haven’t played Call of Cthulhu before so the Switch version will be my first time. This will be my own view on the game but if you’re interested to see how it plays on PS4 or for a second opinion, go have a read of Rob’s review HERE.
Luckily, I made it through the other side and live to tell you about my experiences in this tale of cosmic horror…
As previously mentioned, you (mostly) play as Edward Pierce, who has been through some dark times. After returning from the war, the horrors in his mind are shrouding his working life so much that he relies on heavy drinking to feel alive and sleeping pills to stop his night terrors. Moments after receiving a phone call announcing that he may soon be out of the job because he isn’t taking on enough investigating work, he gets a knock on the door for a case he couldn’t possibly have imagined. The client’s daughter was killed in a house fire with her husband and son, however, he’s received a painting of hers that he assumes to be a message that his daughter, Sarah Hawkins, is not actually dead.
What follows is an 8-10 hour journey where you must use your detective and survival skills in order to discover just what is going on in the eerie town of Darkwater. The story is definitely engaging if a little predictable. There are some very interesting characters – the main ones are acted brilliantly. However, some of the voices felt a bit over the top but nothing truly stopped the immersion. Also, there’s some twists and turns and some disturbing scenes, but I doubt there will be anything that actually frightens you. That being said, that doesn’t make it boring, far from it. It’s one of the more enjoyable stories that I’ve played in a while. It’s gripping; one-more-chapter-before-I-sleep stuff and I didn’t want it to end. I had to know what was going on and I wasn’t let down by any story beats, even if they weren’t particularly shocking.
One criticism I have of the story is that the pacing feels a bit off later on. There are two or three chapters towards the end where you learn 3 or 4 revelations and it’s a bit overwhelming, I think they could have been spaced out a bit more to make them more impactful. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this journey of truth-seeking and the occult. As you get closer to the truth you descend further into madness; will you make it out alive and discover the cause of the mysterious events in Darkwater?
Call of Cthulhu has three main ways you’ll be playing. They are: investigating, puzzle-solving/reconstructions and stealth sections (aside from some Goldeneye-style shooting sequences very late on).
While investigating, you get chances to explore environments for clues and collectables and talk to various people for information. What might seem boring for most, I actually found the conversations to be the best part of the game. I really enjoyed exploring the various dialogue options that open up to you as you increase your eloquence and investigation skills when talking to the various characters. Each character has their own motivations and secrets and it was so fun being able to choose how I worked out what made them tick.
However, you can’t get all the information you need from people, so you must look around various environments to find secrets to help you piece together this strange and evil puzzle. You will discover hidden notes, pictures and books that you can read in detail that provides some very interesting world-building insight into the town and its people. There is a lot of history to uncover and it all feels important, nothing feels like filler or just another collectable, it all serves a purpose and that has to be commended.
Once you’ve finished searching, it’s time to put on your detective cap and go into reconstruction mode. Here, you will be scanning the environment for evidence on what events happened in the area and replay them through a series of still images based on what things you discover. There are scratch marks on the floor? Maybe there’s a hidden door or someone was dragged? It’s a very interesting mechanic that highlights the detective skills of our protagonist.
The aspect of the gameplay I personally dislike is the stealth sections. Thankfully there aren’t many; this isn’t Outlast or Alien Isolation but I still found them frustrating and long-winded. I fully understand their inclusion; they make sense in the context of the game. It’s not like you’re a super-soldier who can fight of groups of guys and demons so stealth is definitely the best option. Also, I reckon Cyanide Studios thought that a game that is only talking to people and searching environments seemed boring and honestly, to most people it probably does but I would have been more than happy with that. The reason I dislike them is that they’re just so unclear. If it was a case of “get to here by dodging enemies” then that would be okay. Instead, you’re forced to clamber slowly around the same environment over and over again to fetch items and return to interact with a previously useless item and it just made certain areas feel more frustrating than interesting. The mechanics are very simple where you basically have to stay behind them and stay crouched while still completing objectives.
Most of the autosaves in the game are actually very kind, but some of the stealth parts take you back to the beginning which makes it harder. It makes these particular chapters two or three times as long when I just want to go back to being a detective!
All of these gameplay elements are enhanced by a skill tree that affects not only your strengths but also how your game will progress. When the game begins, you are gifted some skill points to assign to your own Edward Pierce. Your choices have an impact on how your game will progress as they each give more importance to a particular skill set. For example, if you choose to increase your eloquence, you can use your communication skills to talk your way out of bad situations. Or, you can instead choose to increase your strength and just stubborn your way out of something using brute force. There are also skills that you improve without using skill points. One of these is the occult skill, where you must find and read books that give you knowledge of the occult and its dark secrets.
This RPG-style skill system makes for some really interesting gameplay moments as it affects your path through the game and the ending that you will get. It allows you to personalise the progression to your own version of Edward Pierce whilst still experiencing an effectively linear story. Pierce feels like a rough stereotype ‘bad cop’ kind of character with not much personality at the beginning but it’s in your choices of skills that make him feel like your own character, adding that sense of empathy. There’s also the replayability that this adds, as there are so many different things that can play out differently throughout the game, not just the endings.
For example, with the puzzles, there are sometimes multiple ways they can be solved. You can either be a smarty pants by figuring them out based on clues or sometimes your strength skill will dissolve any need to be smart as you can smash through that secret entrance instead. Personally, I recommend trying to figure the puzzles out though as they’re just easy enough to not get stuck and just hard enough for you to feel smug when you solve them.
One thing Call of Cthulhu absolutely nails is the atmosphere. The sense of impending horror is always there, whether it’s in the clues you read, the lies of the characters or the foreboding and overbearing settings. Every place you visit in the game, even the pub and the book store which are supposed to be happy, make you feel isolated and tense. If it’s not the people staring at you watching your every move, it’s the way things feel abandoned and unkempt, like something came and just took over. The sounds are creepy, with creaks, screams and demons all sounding increasingly threatening. The lighting is also fantastic, which you have to manage with a lighter or a lantern by filling the oil, and the greens and greys make everything feel mystical and eerie.
The game isn’t particularly scary, there’s not really any jumpscares of such, apart from a scripted one in a maze-like sequence, but its more about how uncomfortable it makes you. Then there is the madness that your character endures when he experiences a phobia. If you’re hiding in a tight space or looking at a monstrosity your vision becomes blurred and you feel panicked and isolated. It doesn’t really affect the game, it’s more there to throw you off and make you feel uncomfortable and it definitely works. I just wish had an impact on the gameplay too, other than simply blurring the screen.
I didn’t notice any performance issues at all in either handheld or docked mode. There also wasn’t a difference in visual quality, however, I preferred to play it in handheld mode as I felt closer to the story and it made it more personal but this is purely a personal preference. I didn’t see any frame rate issues, any glitches or anything that made me feel like the game had been scaled down for the Switch. The only thing I noticed was that some character models looked extremely similar – I put this down to a design choice which helped the game’s aesthetic of madness. Whether this was intentional, I’m not sure, but it certainly made it feel creepier, even if it may have just been lazy design, who knows.
I was quietly apprehensive about trying Call of Cthulhu for the first time. I had been interested in it since its announcement but I was worried it was going to be disappointing due to the lukewarm reception last year. However, it only took half an hour after installing the game before I found out how wrong I was. The game gripped me from beginning to end and it’s the most uncomfortable I’ve been playing a game on the Switch so far. It’s a superb detective game with elements of gothic and cosmic horror that you can’t help but keep playing. Personally, the stealth parts make some of the more interesting parts feel more frustrating than exciting and the shooting section feels incredibly forced and like a last-minute addition rather than an integral piece of game design.
The story is gripping, if not particularly shocking, with the notes and occult items you find being brilliant pieces of world-building. If you haven’t already, definitely give Call of Cthulhu a go and don’t be worried about performance compromises by playing the game on the Switch – it feels fantastic. The only things you’re really missing out on are the trophies/achievements and the higher resolution/visual quality, but if they don’t bother you, the Switch is equal in every other way.