Our final verdict on the Call of Cthulhu. Is it a maddening disappointment?
Call of Cthulhu is such an exciting game it dares to release alongside Red Dead Redemption 2, and while they’re very different games we admire the optimism. It’s essentially an adventure game with stealth moments, based on the famous HP Lovecraft stories that are such a big influence on the world of videogames - and yet haven’t really had a perfect videogame adaptation.
Can Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu be the one to break the cycle and deliver the best Lovecraft game ever made, or at the very least better than the interesting-but-flawed Dark Corners of the Earth? Let’s have a look.
Set in 1924, a private investigator called Pierce is hired to investigate a suspicious fire at the Hawkins mansion on the offshore island of Darkwater - a fire which killed the entire family. Upon arriving Pierce falls into a plot featuring gangsters, unethical doctors, a mysterious cult, and a strange creature lurking beneath the depths of the island.
The story starts promisingly, with an interesting mystery, tense situations, and hints of the horrors lurking around the edges. For the first half of Call of Cthulhu it’s all downright engrossing, with the mystery taking its time to unfold and some fantastic twists hinting at cool moments to come. It’s fun interacting with the locals, exploring decent-sized areas, having multiple ways to solve puzzles, and investigating crime scenes.
Then a few hours in it all comes crashing down and the game speeds to an abrupt and unsatisfying resolution. Honestly, that’s exactly how it goes down. It feels like either Cyanide ran out of money and had to rush a conclusion or there wasn’t any plan to make the game more than a few hours long. After the halfway point, which is around 4 hours in (we finished the game in 8), the story is no longer concerned with taking things slowly - and instead suddenly Pierce is mad, investigations fall away, and the cult is stopped. We jokingly said at one point “if the credits run now I’ll be so annoyed” - and then the credits ran. That’s how abrupt it is. Cthulhu doesn’t even show up!
This rush to get to the end infects the entire game. The starting locations of Darkwater Docks and the Hawkins Mansion contain multiple things to do, plenty of characters to talk to, different investigations to take, several options for every puzzle, and some excellent tension-building over decent-sized areas. At the halfway point all the locations become linear, with single objectives and claustrophobic design. You’re literally being funnelled to the ending.
Which is deeply unfair, as up until this point Call of Cthulhu was a really fun game. Actions seemed to have consequences, skills seemed to have a direct impact on the game, and we love moments when someone threatens you and you can talk them down (note: there is only two of these moments in the entire game). There are some consequences, but they feel minor, and other times it’s like Cyanide forgot to put any in at all - there’s one moment where a character succumbs to the Call and you can choose to kill them or let them live, and either way the character never appears again.
The game is half adventure game, half stealth game really, and the best stealth moments are when you’re avoiding a literal horror from beyond. We loved the stealth moments, so it was disappointing when they disappeared too, to be replaced by one of the worst shooting sections in any game. Oh, and there’s only one actual monster in the entire game, which you meet all of twice. The Sanity system is just wasted - remember the great madness effects in Eternal Darkness and even Dark Corners of the Earth? There’s none of that here. There’s a lot of this in Call of Cthulhu - so much promise, such great beginnings, but the team didn’t know how to (or couldn’t) build on that promise.
Our system is an AMD FX-8300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit, and we had absolutely no problems running Call of Cthulhu. It looks pretty good too, with the massive caveat that character animations, particularly mouth movements, are utterly awful. It’s all quite stiff, and the acting is much the same. Some of the voice acting is passable, but certain characters - like Officer Bradley - are just bad.
CALL OF CTHULHU VERDICT
Call of Cthulhu is an undeniably fun adventure game with some great ideas, cool stealth moments, and it never devolves into a shooter like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth did. However, it also wastes its sanity mechanic, and the second half of the game consists of smaller and smaller locations that seem in a rush to get to an abrupt ending. The first few hours of the game are fantastic, but the rest feels like the team were forced to cram around 20 hours of exciting adventure-RPG gameplay and story into just 4 hours. The story skips to the end, the characters change instantly, and then the credits roll without the name “Cthulhu” even being mentioned. A huge disappointment.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Investigating the Hawkins manor at the beginning of the game. So much promise…
First 4 hours are a lot of fun, with large locations to explore and non-linear puzzle solving.
A lot of choice and consequence to your actions, or skill choices.
Far too rushed. The final 4 hours feel like a desperate desire to end the game.
The storytelling suddenly starts making huge plot leaps with no subtlety or pace.
Character animation is awful, particularly mouth movement.
The beginning shows so much promise that never really pays off.