HP Lovecraft is well known to horror fans. For those unfamiliar with his work, he’s the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, a series of short stories in which cults, monsters and occult ne’er-do-wells were trying to bring about the return of the Old Gods and the end of mankind.
Many of his stories focussed on some poor sod who’d come across a series of clues that would send them down the rabbit hole towards their inevitable decent into madness and, sometimes, death. Given its deep lore, macabre atmosphere and 1920s setting, the Cthulhu Mythos is a natural fit for the gaming medium.
The latest video game adaptation is Call Of Cthulhu (itself adapted from a role-playing game of the same name) by French developer Cyanide. While it’s undeniably rough round the edges, it’s probably the best Lovecraftian game to emerge for a long time – which is made all the more impressive when one notes that Cyanide is mostly known for making pro-cycling games.
The story centres on Edward Pierce, an alcoholic private investigator who, as the game opens, is both down on his luck and is experiencing horrific nightmares. He’s tapped up to solve the murder of a family and his investigations take him to a place called Darkwater Island. It’s here that he starts to learn that something incredibly nefarious is taking place.
Call Of Cthulhu plays like a detective thriller with RPG elements. As players delve into Darkwater they encounter the town’s population (who may or may not be hiding something) and have a choice in verbal exchanges they have, which in turn can cause the narrative to branch.
They also have to decide which elements of Pierce’s character they want to enhance, and this too can affect the gameplay – a more eloquent Pierce, for example, can glean more in the way of clues from characters and his environment than if the player has been focussing solely on his strength.
As the player comes across more clues, the begin to piece together the events of the story, and it is here they learn that not every revelation is to Pierce’s benefit as the more he learns the more it starts to affect his sanity. In a welcome Lovecraftian twist, Pierce, and by extension the player, starts to question what is real and what isn’t and this is helped in no small way by the game’s crushing atmosphere and its decidedly creepy visuals.
That having been said, the game fumbles at times. There are a couple of lengthy stealth sections, which aren’t exactly engaging (really, the Amnesia and OutLast games did this sort of thing better), and some parts that involve combat, which feels utterly out of place in a Lovecraftian story. On top of that some of the character animations look stiff and stilted and some dialogue falls very flat. Oh, and one part of the game, in which a player has to find a particular item, which can be easily missed, while trying to avoid death at the hands of a shambling nightmare deserves to be consigned to the seventh circle of hell.
However, between its rich storytelling and dread-filled ambience, Call Of Cthulhu is a worthy of investigation. It’s just a pity that it lands in a release window filled to the brim with blockbuster games jockeying for position. It looks like the Old Gods may have to wait their turn for a while.
- Call Of Cthulhu was reviewed on a PS4. Review code was provided by the publisher.