I finished Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu game a few weeks ago, and given my love of all things Lovecraft, I thought it was probably a good idea to add it to the series of reviews I’m doing. If I bothered to review Alan Wake, shouldn’t I review this one?
The answer, of course, is yes. I’d like to start, however, with my usual disclaimer that I’m not a professional critic. This is a casual review from a dedicated horror fan where I’ll ultimately render my verdict on whether or not it’s worth playing at least once.
So, with that in mind, let me get on with my Call of Cthulhu review…
Intro to Call of Cthulhu
I’m going to start by giving you the briefest introduction to Call of Cthulhu that I can. At this point, I’m going to try my best to remain neutral, as well, because I honestly have some strong feelings about this game.
Okay, anyway, you play the game as Edward Pierce, a grizzled veteran turned private eye who’s grappling with alcoholism and an addiction to pills that help him sleep. He’s been having these crazy nightmares and can’t seem to sleep otherwise.
At the beginning of the game, Edward is approached by a member of the wealthy Hawkins family, who wants him to dig into the circumstances surrounding the death of one of its other members, Sarah Hawkins. You see, she was a talented artist but painted alien and dark things, so she had this reputation for being possibly insane that your client hopes you’ll remedy.
Edward travels to the mysterious, dreary, and green-tinged island of Darkwater to start his investigation. He discovers an isolated community full of strange whalers who seem to distrust outsiders and are all nostalgic over the last big whale they caught, the “Miraculous Catch.” Something is clearly amiss here, and the deeper he digs, the more he finds that Sarah’s murky story is in some way tied to the history of the whaling community and their Miraculous Catch.
Call of Cthulhu Review
I break my video game reviews down into a few manageable sections:
There’s probably more I could discuss. More likely than not, I’m lumping too much together into broad categories that could likely be broken down. But until I come up with a better organization, that’s what I’m doing for now, I guess.
Before I go on, let me also issue a spoiler alert, just in case you haven’t played it yet and it’s on your to-do list.
I’ll start by stating what might be obvious by now: I don’t think the story in Call of Cthulhu was particularly good. At best, I feel it’s mediocre.
I guess I’m tired of seeing all these Lovecraftian games about the same cookie cutter grizzled private eye with an alcohol problem. I’m also tired of every Lovecraftian horror game for the most part being about Cthulhu.
If the villain of the story had ended up being the Leviathan (aka the Miraculous Catch), I would have almost liked it more. It’s something new, after all, and it’s no secret that Lovecraft actively encouraged other people to add to their own spins to his mythos.
But no, the game just had to have that money shot with Cthulhu and the cult at the end, which felt like a very ham-fisted way of tying in one of the mythos’s most popular baddies. At the end of the day, I think I’m probably going to forget most aspects of the story months from now – if even that long.
I have the feeling that I’m going to be the odd one out in this regard, because I don’t think the gameplay itself was really bad.
Sure, there were a couple odd parts in the game that really didn’t fit in the with the rest. One of the most well-known examples of this is the hide and chase sequence in the art exhibit you have in the middle of the game in which you’re fleeing from the madness-inducing dimensional shambler. It simply seems out of place.
(Actually, let’s circle back to story for a quick second here. It’s weird that they included the dimensional shambler at all. It seemed pointless and inconsequential, since it’s only there a couple times, doesn’t have a great impact on the plot, and isn’t even the real villain.)
Then there’s the scene towards the end of the game where you have to creep through a Darkwater in which the majority of the citizens have turned into zombies that are essentially being mind-controlled by the Leviathan. Off the top of my head, this is the first and only time in the game where your private eye has a gun that you can use to shoot some of the stumbling townspeople if they get in your way.
It’s also worth noting that the gun mechanics themselves are bizarre. In shooters, you have to aim the gun and usually hit a certain point to get a one-shot kill (typically the head). Call of Cthulhu’s brief armed scene requires you to vaguely point your pistol in the direction of a person and pull the trigger for a one-hit kill every time. No real aiming required. (Frankly, I didn’t mind that aspect as much because I have terrible aim, anyway. Call of Cthulhu basically made it aiming with training wheels.)
But other than these weird moments, it’s not as if the mechanics are nonsensical. I especially liked the RPG elements of the game that allowed me to improve Edward’s stats, such as his Speech skill. It almost allowed me to feel like I was making my own Lovecraftian protagonist. Almost.
Read Next: Why is Call of Cthulhu Rated M?
Normally, I have something to say about the music in a game. While I’m definitely not a composer or musician or even someone that’s really into music, video game OSTs are important to me. I don’t really have much to say about the music in Call of Cthulhu, though, because it simply didn’t stand out to me.
I think I have the soundtrack in my personal YouTube playlist for ambient background music. But I can’t say I remember what it sounds like right now, which I guess says something about it? Maybe that it’s kind of forgettable?
What can be said about the soundtrack can also be applied to the characters. Unfortunately, Call of Cthulhu falls on tired old Lovecraftian game stereotypes that simply aren’t memorable – like the private eye protagonist.
The weird part about this cliché is that it didn’t even really exist in Lovecraftian stories themselves. Most of Lovecraft’s protagonists tended to be academic types, like scholars, writers, professors, and researchers. I’m not entirely sure where this cookie cutter investigator character came from.
Edward Pierce aside, I’d say the secondary characters aren’t particularly noteworthy, either. They serve their roles fine, and that’s it. I didn’t feel attached to any of them, and I had to actually look up their names again to write this post despite having beaten the game recently.
Is Call of Cthulhu Worth Playing?
Now for the real important question: is Call of Cthulhu worth playing, even if only once?
The problem is, I have a hard time answering that question. It was a mediocre game that felt totally unrefined. There are even quite a few typos in the subtitles of the game.
I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat, and I only kept playing because the game had been a gift to me and I was hoping to discuss it. That being said, there are fun aspects, and if you’re a Lovecraft-hungry bookworm like I am, you’ll devour as much Lovecraftian media as you can.
So I guess I’d put it this way: Call of Cthulhu is worth playing at least once if you’re absolutely smitten with cosmic horror. It’s not going to be the best experience you’ll ever have, but maybe it will at least help sate your appetite until you find the next thing.
For casual players, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. If you’re just getting into Lovecraftian horror on your virtual escapades, I think there are better alternatives, like Conarium, that are truer to Lovecraftian lore and atmosphere.
There you have it – my thoughts on Call of Cthulhu, for what they’re worth. I wouldn’t say I regret playing the game, but I do think there were…better ways I could have spent my time.
Have you played Call of Cthulhu yet? What about any other Lovecraftian games that you think I should try? If so, drop a comment below and let me know.