In terms of video games, the influence of H.P. Lovecraft is very palpable. Many games, whether horror or not, lift elements and concepts from his fiction rather liberally. Despite this, there’s not ever been many amazing games based on the Call of Cthulhu, one of his most well-known works amongst fans. The last good game, Dark Corners of the Earth, released almost thirteen years ago, and since then publishers have been reluctant to touch the property. I won’t mince words here – this year’s game, simply titled Call of Cthulhu, is easily one of the best Lovecraftian horror games in years, though it’s almost certainly not for everyone.
In Call of Cthulhu, you play Edward Pierce, a private investigator who is suffering from an existential crisis. The year is 1924 and Pierce can’t find the cases that excite him anymore. He’s a grizzled war veteran, after all, and finds himself succumbing to his vices (namely alcohol and drugs) to cope with the lack of satisfaction in life. One night, a man brings a strange painting to his office and asks him to inspect it. The catch? The woman who painted it died, along with her family, in mysterious fire on Darkwater Island. Unsure, but oddly compelled, Pierce is drawn to investigate the strange goings-on and determine whether the fire was really an accident. As you’d expect, this small island town has some secrets to hide.From the moment you step into the world of Call of Cthulhu it’s immediately apparent that the developer’s number one focus was mood, tone and atmosphere. Despite the game’s technical shortcomings, the game still does a great job at pulling you into the story. The story itself is much better than it has any right to be, and while not the scariest horror game I’ve ever played, stays compelling from beginning to end. I finished Cthulhu in two very long sessions through no fault of the game, but more so through the gripping nature of the mystery and intrigue of the story. The (best) ending is bound to be divisive, as it’s, for lack of a better word, blunt; but Call of Cthulhu’s tale is satisfying from beginning to end.
What’s a little bit less certain is the way the game plays. An admittedly brave choice, especially today, Call of Cthulhu plays like a modernised point and click adventure game with little to no combat. You’ll play as a variety of characters as they discover the secrets of Darkwater Island, viewed from the first-person perspective. You’ll investigate crime scenes, explore run down locales and evade enemies both cosmic and corporeal. While I usually detest games like this, Call of Cthulhu seems to get the pacing just right and I never got tired of the trial-and-error stealth sections or the investigations.You’d probably be wondering if a game like this has combat then and barring some minor moments towards the conclusion of the story, it is a largely passive affair. As mentioned previously, Call of Cthulhu is a game that places an emphasis on world building, investigation and stealth over anything else. Those expected a mind-bending romp like The Evil Within should look elsewhere. It’s what Call of Cthulhu does with its level design that makes it feel a little bit more than your typical, cliché hide-and-seek horror game.