Call of the Sea (PS5) Review

When Call of the Sea was announced last year, during Xbox’s digital event, it instantly piqued my interest; a Lovecraftian mystery game with puzzles, exploration and adventure, but no horror aspect! However, seeing as it was only coming to PC and Xbox platforms, I had no way to actually play it due to not owning an Xbox or a PC (at the time) which was stable enough to play modern games on. So, I decided to ignore and avoid any gameplay, reviews, and articles on the game just in case it made its way to the PlayStation… which it did, today.

Call of the Sea is the first retail game from developers Out of the Blue, a studio based in Madrid, Spain. However, don’t let that set any expectations for what you get, the team is made up of veteran developers who have created one of the most beautiful and well-designed puzzle-adventure games I’ve played this year. The publisher is Raw Fury, a publisher that seems to know exactly what types of games I like as everything they’ve released in the last few years have been brilliant – Call of the Sea is no exception.

So, having completed the game this morning within around 7-8 hours, followed by a few hours backtracking to obtain the platinum, I think it’s time to tell you why you should pick up this game today if you have any interest in puzzles, Cthulhu, Lovecraft, and/or adventure games. On a side note, if you purchase the PlayStation edition of the game, you get both the PS4 and PS5 versions – each with its own platinum trophy.

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Who lives here?

You are Norah Everhart, a young lady who has inherited a disease from her mother when she sadly passed away, a disease that has plagued her family for as long as anyone can remember. This terrible condition visibly manifests itself as strange spots upon both of her hands, yet internally it’s slowly killing her by making her constantly ill and affecting her mobility. Despite the pain and fragility, no doctor can diagnose what is wrong, as such, her husband sets out on an expedition to try and discover a cure himself.

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As with any other Lovecraftian-based game, Norah begins to have dreams about an island, a beautiful and tropical paradise with clear blue waters and bright green flora. Whilst waiting for her husband to return, hopefully with good news, she receives a package that contains a ceremonial dagger, a key, and a photo of her husband with a location and “find him” written upon it. So, regardless of her condition, she sets out to look for him and his missing colleagues.

Upon landing on the island the photo directed you towards, you notice something; this is the island you’ve been dreaming about. You have three days until the ship that brought you here returns to pick you up, three days which you’ll spend exploring the island, solving puzzles, discovering what’s happened to the expedition, and why you’ve been dreaming of this place for years.

There are no horror elements to the game, no combat, and no jump scares, you’re about to embark on a visually gorgeous adventure with hints of Lovecraftian lore and mythology… peacefully.

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Reading this, I found out someone didn’t like my husband…

Gameplay
Call of the Sea is a first-person adventure game, set in the 1930s, that has a big focus on exploration and puzzle-solving, even though the route is quite linear throughout the game. I’ve seen some people refer to the game as a ‘walking simulator’, but I disagree. For me, a game gets that label if you’re literally doing nothing but walking around and following the story – such as Draugen, Dear Esther, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (although I prefer the term ‘Narrative-Adventure’). However, Call of the Sea has many puzzles which are required to be solved should you wish to progress, so it’s much more interactive and thought-provoking than simply walking from point A to B.

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The story is told through the inner monologue of the protagonist, seeing as you’re on your own with nobody to directly discuss things with, and documents you find which have been left behind by the expedition. If you’re going for the platinum, or wish to fully understand the events which have happened, you need to read everything you find, listen to all the recordings, and hear the thoughts and opinions of Norah as you look at photos. Thankfully, each chapter (which you can return to via the chapter select) lets you know the percentage of important documents you’ve found and how many secrets and/or murals you’ve missed – making it nice and easy to know if you’ve missed anything.

But, despite being a PS5 game, it doesn’t utilise the new tally-based trophy activities – where the trophy literally tells you how many of something you’ve collected (for example, 10/30 notes).

The game, as mentioned above, is quite linear in its design. There are some open areas that you can explore, as you search for the aforementioned documents, but you’ll rarely find yourself lost or confused – your next location will be locked behind a puzzle you have to solve, which will be quite obvious. This isn’t a bad thing, as it means you’ll be able to make it through without having to resort to any guides or online help, but it does feel a little restrictive if you were expecting more emphasis on exploration – as I was, initially.

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Just one of the many puzzles.

Puzzles
Aside from the brilliant narrative you uncover as you search every nook and cranny of this mysterious island, you’ll find yourself never more than a few meters away from a puzzle (just like Starbucks in London). Whether you’re looking for the solution to a rotational puzzle that will open up a bridge, or placing constellations in a mystical device to open doors with unique patterns, every puzzle requires you to use the environment to find the answers and think about what the solution could be. 

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This isn’t a game full of generic puzzles that you see in other games, such as the Bioshock pipe puzzle or sliding puzzles, every puzzle (bar one jigsaw) is unique and interesting to solve. You even have a handy notebook that you write down every clue and hint you discover, an essential tool for the more difficult situations. For example, one of the first puzzles you come across is a rotatable tiki statue with multiple sections. First, you have to look around the island and interact with all of the statues you can find (drawing them in your book – thank God you’re an artist). Then, you have to find a nearby symbol that gives you a way to identify which statue it is. Finally, you need to find the solution that shows which parts of a particular statue belong to certain segments of the rotating tiki statue. 

Almost every puzzle is like this – requiring you to not only find the solution to the puzzle but also look at, and document, each aspect of the puzzle and then work out the solution. If you try and speed through the game and operate a ‘trial and error’ approach, you’ll eventually proceed but you’ll miss out on collecting all the notes required for the platinum.

As the game progresses, the puzzles become more cryptic and tricky, yet never impossible to solve. I was able to fully complete the game without having to look up any solutions or guides online, but I did guess at one of the solutions as I couldn’t get my head around what I was meant to do. But, I think that’s simply an issue with me as I was playing it at 4 am this morning!

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I think my husband captured my beauty perfectly!

Visuals
I played Call of the Sea on the PlayStation 5 all the way through and I loved it. Despite not having HDR, the game was very bright and colourful with a gorgeous art design and a ‘cartoony’ feel to the visuals. I’ve had a quick go on the PS4 version (via BC on my PS5) and it looks very similar, I believe that the PS5 version is running at 4K whereas the PS4 Pro (which it’s emulating) is lower. However, both versions look phenomenal due to the art design which was used.

Plus, I believe both are 60fps (PS5 and PS4 Pro – unsure about the base PS4)

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There are six chapters and a prologue, each with its own visual style as you progress through the island. One minute it’s day time and you’re working your way through the hot forest, with the sun shining through the leaves and reflecting off the bright yellow sand, and the next it’s pissing it down with rain as you try to restore power to a shipwrecked liner that’s lay on the shore at night. The passage of time is different on this mysterious island, three days will pass by within mere hours, yet it knows exactly what time of day and weather to set for you to fully experience the true beauty it has to hold – either that or the developers just wanted to show off their skills at making a gorgeous-looking game!

Aside from the in-game visuals, there are also some really pretty ‘loading screens’ which are hand-drawn and depict the area you’re about to enter. I say ‘loading screens’ but I think they may just have an arbitrary timer on them, we all know just how fast the PS5 SSD can load games that are fully utilising the speed of the storage. In the case of Call of the Sea, it seems to be around four seconds to load a game or move to a new chapter. I don’t know why, but other than Resident Evil: Village, every PS5 game I’ve reviewed has had a four-second load time.

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This game is so pretty! Even without HDR!

Any PS5-specific features?
In short, no. As mentioned above, there are faster loading times, but even on the PS4 version via BC, it only took a few seconds longer to load. There isn’t any use of the adaptive triggers, pretty much everything is operated with the Cross button and the triggers are only used to run (I say run, it’s more like a mild jog). The game does try and use the activity cards, giving you a single card that tells you what percentage of the main story you’ve completed, but that vanishes once you’ve completed the game – removing the option to quickly load the game up (even though it’s already quite fast).

There is one feature that ‘may’ be used, but I presume it’s going to be the same as the PS4 version – the vibration or haptics. The reason I haven’t had the chance to try this out and see if it uses a standard rumble or the haptic feedback is simply that the feature literally doesn’t work. The developers are aware of this, saying it’ll be fixed in the next update, but as of today in version 1.0 – the vibration option doesn’t work on the PS5 version.

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What would I have liked to see? Dynamic trophies that count how many of a certain thing you’ve found, allowing you to easily monitor what you still need to do – now this feature is available, developers should use it whenever there are things to collect within the game. I would have also liked activity cards for each of the six chapters upon completion, allowing you to quickly jump back into any chapter and bypass the title cards from a cold boot. Spacebase: Startopia did this, making replaying previous missions much faster. 

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Each chapter takes you to new enchanted parts of the island.

Technical
I’ve already talked about how stunning the game looks, so let’s focus on something different – accessibility. Call of the Sea has many options and toggles that I wasn’t expecting – things that some bigger games don’t even offer. First of all, even though you don’t use a lot of the buttons, you can fully remap everything and even swap the left and right Thumb Sticks, should you need to. You can also highlight everything you can interact with, toggle head bobbing and smooth camera rotation, enable motion blur, turn on subtitles, and even swap the cursive journal pages for a standard font. 

There’s even an option to disable all flashing lights within the game – something I feel every game with any flashing lights should provide. Recently there was an issue with the unpatched version of Balan Wonderworld, resulting in the final boss causing the game to strobe and potentially harm those with epilepsy. So, having a toggle to ensure the game is safe for everyone is something I feel should be enforced on all platforms.

In terms of the audio, I can’t praise it enough. I played with headphones for about half of the game, immersing myself by blocking out all IRL sounds and distractions. The voice acting is brilliant, starring Cissy Jones, probably best known for her roles in Firewatch, Darksiders III, and Life is Strange. The music is subtle but helps create an atmosphere, as do the ambient noises and random cries from the lost souls on the island.

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Everything about this game is very immersive, pulling you into its world and then holding you with its spectacular visuals, mesmerising audio and exciting narrative.

50 minutes of the game in 4K/60 (may be still encoding, as it’s a BIG file):

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Call of the Sea is one of the best puzzle-adventure games I’ve ever played. Each puzzle requires you to think logically and gather all the clues to figure out the solution, you’re rewarded with a trophy and more context to the story for exploring and finding documents, and your eyes are given a treat by looking at this visually stunning game. This is the first time I’ve played a Lovecraft-inspired game that isn’t focused on horror, jump scares, or disturbing themes, instead it’s a peaceful adventure that uses the influences perfectly to create a very interesting and memorable experience.

If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, adventure games, puzzle games, or you’re simply looking for something to casually play over the course of 6-8 hours, check out Call of the Sea – now out on PC, Xbox One|Series, PS4|5, and even Amazon Luna in America. For the price, which is less than £16 before any sales, you’ll find it hard to discover another game with as much charm, beauty, and creativeness as this. 

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Call of the Sea

£15.99
9.5

Final Score

9.5/10

The Good:

  • - Gorgeous visuals
  • - Brilliant voice acting and overall audio
  • - Very interesting puzzles that make you think
  • - A story which'll have you hooked until the end
  • - A non-horror Lovecraftian-themed game!

The Bad:

  • - I wish it was a bit longer as I didn't want it to end! (didn't affect score)
  • - There is an issue with the vibration but it'll be fixed in the next patch
  • - It's a shame HDR, trophy trackers, and post-game activity cards weren't used
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