Dreams. Dreams show more than you could imagine. Things can get into your dreams and show you your future, your past, talk to you, manipulate you, terrify you, and so much more. Your name is Edward Price. You’re a private investigator. You have been contracted by the Hawkins family to investigate the mysterious death of Sarah Hawkins, a renown painter, her husband, and their son. Mysterious circumstances surround the deaths and Sarah’s Father believes you have the capabilities to figure out what really happened. This is our Call of Cthulhu review.
Call of Cthulhu is an investigative thriller at its core. It is not a horror game. This is a very important distinction to make. When it comes to a horror game, the entire point is to make a game that scares you. When you talk about a thriller, it’s meant to put the story at the forefront and there are things that can creep you out and be creepy, but it’s not designed to have you on the edge of your seat from the moment you start up the game. The Cthulhu Mythos is all about investigators getting clues and solving mysteries. Through these investigations, they find out things of the Occult that are unexplainable. While on these investigations, they start to go Mad. Madness tears at your sanity as you start to see things, hear things, and… well… go Mad!
Over the course of the next 14 chapters, around 10/12 straight or 18/20 in-depth investigation hours, you will search bars, offices, mansions, Darkwater Island, and more to find clues that will help you figure out what really happened to the Hawkins family. You, Edward Pierce, have an uncanny ability to spot what normal people can’t. You can go deeper into certain places to see small details and start to map out situations. As you would expect, you lose your sanity over time (which has an icon to show your status of that moment) and the madness has you hearing a voice. A very low and dark voice that tells you things.
As this is a story first game, the decisions you make will change how the story progresses to a point. There are actually four (4) different endings, depending on the choices that you make. Much like other games that have this mechanic, a pop up saying that what you did will change the future will appear, so you know that what you just did will have consequences. As you “level up” Edward, you will get character points to change how you would be as an investigator. The more points you put into a particular skill: Psychology, Spot Hidden, Eloquence, Strength, and Investigation respectively, the more dialogue and action options you will get. The more options you have, the more the story changes as you’ll get clues you didn’t get in a previous run, or you can get some more information on a particular person or place through a conversation.
As much as I want to talk about the story, this is a game about finding clues and unlocking more and more pieces of that story, so I am not going to go into any specific detail. The more clues you pick up and lore you read, you start to come to conclusions about what happened in the deaths of the Hawkins family. There is a great satisfaction when you immediately jump to an idea from picking up a letter and a few minutes later it’s confirmed. There’s also a great moment when you were wrong, what you thought isn’t correct, so you go back into the lore to see where you got it wrong and try to put it together. The story never stops in this game. There is never a moment where you’re not doing something that involves progressing the case.
This is not to say that you are on a railroad track and you can’t do other things. While what you can do outside of the case is limited, you’re always rewarded with learning something about the people, the place, and the Occult that you didn’t know before. Along those same lines, when it comes to “causing a distraction” or having to figure out a way to get out of a sticky situation, there has almost always been two (2) different ways to go about it. Just like the Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG, you can find a different way to do something. The game will tell you to do one thing, but as you turn a corner and find something that you didn’t before, it will update your journal to show you were on the right path and how there’s another way to accomplish the task.
While I could sit here and praise this game for being the exact storytelling thriller that I’ve always wanted out of a video game based on one of my favorite books and RPG’s of all time, there are things that could have been done better. On your investigation, you will find many pieces of information that get recorded in your journal so you can read up on the lore. Having come from the tabletop RPG, I always opened up the journal immediately to get more information and see if it could help point me in a direction that would be more advantageous. Numerous times, I actually learned some information that didn’t make sense. It felt like it was giving me too much information and it was very specific and didn’t make sense as to how it fit into the story. A few dialogues later, I was given the information that pieced the lore together. I found this to be slightly aggravating. I don’t want to get information from lore before it organically comes up in the story. A simple addition of text to the options and a pop-up that says “Additional Information” with the picture of the item would have made much more sense.
If you have played any Cyanide Studios game in the past, you know they all suffer from the same issue, and that might annoy people in this day in age. Their animation of characters and faces OUTSIDE of cutscenes have never been the best. That has not been remedied in Call of Cthulhu. The mouth sync will fall out and re-sync backup a few words later, but it is noticeable. In a game that’s supposed to be all about making you find specific information and to make you feel as if you’re going mad, hands shouldn’t fall through tables and the character themselves. It drew me out a little from the immersion in very important conversations. ALAS, this game has some of the best eye movements. Simple things like the eyes actually looking around when talking about specific items in the environments or back and forth based on which character is talking at the time, made it feel like the NPC’s actually understood what was going on around them.
Being an audio engineer and having worked on some small video game and post-production projects, I pay a lot of attention to the sound in games. Let’s take a moment to talk about music. Music is used pretty sparingly, and it’s great! When you’re trying to sneak around, there’s just low music to set the mood but it’s mostly ambient sounds so you understand what’s going on around you. Then when you’re spotted, they raise the volume and maybe add another instrument or two. There isn’t creepy music just to be creepy and give you false fear; looking at you Amnesia.
Sound Effect speaking, everything sounds real. Nothing sounds too forced unless the volume balance is off. There were a few times where one particular sound effect was way too loud and it wasn’t mixed in the engine properly. But the sound of paper when you pick it up, drawers opening and closing, starting your lighter and carrying around the lantern, all sounded as it would in real life. The – let’s call them Occult Occurrences – sound like they’re from another world. Gives you the fear that you are going mad. As you go mad you hear your heartbeat in your head, everything sounds underwater, the screen changes because your eyes don’t know what they’re seeing. Madness is maddening after a while.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth