All Reasons to Play Call of Cthulhu (and a Few to Skip it)
If you’re looking for reasons to play Call of Cthulhu, we have five of them – along with three reasons to give it a pass.
With each new game released, it becomes more and more apparent that traditional game reviews with scores are inherently flawed. Sadly, it’s easy to boil down a complex work of entertainment and art into a number or a simple thumbs up/down, and it’s easier still to put a huge amount of emphasis on that score to determine whether or not you should give it a try. How do you assign a numerical figure to personal enjoyment? Or score creativity? And when it comes to games like Call of Cthulhu, all those problems come to the forefront.
Call of Cthulhu is a difficult game to easily quantify. It doesn’t fit into a neat box – it’s not a shooter or an RPG, it’s not an action game or puzzler. It will appeal to some and not others, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to its quality.
So rather than breaking it down in a traditional fashion, we highlight some of the things we really liked about it, and a few we didn’t. From there you can make your own decision if it’s the type of game you want to play or not.
Budget Price, but Not a Budget Game
One of the single best reasons to pick up Call of Cthulhu is that it is priced according to what it is. Cyanide’s survival-horror title isn’t as robust as most games. The graphics aren’t on par with many current AAA offerings, the gameplay is limited, and if you compare it directly to one of the other games that just recently came out – Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, COD: Black Ops 4, Red Dead something or other – Call of Cthulhu isn’t quite on the same level. But it isn’t trying to be, and it is priced accordingly.
Pricing may vary a bit, but the average seems to be around $40 or so. It’s rare that a studio (or publisher) has the self-awareness to recognize that its game may not offer the same value as a game that 1,000+ people worked on and will engage users for dozens of hours. That in no way reflects on the quality or the enjoyment players will get out of it, but it is a different scale.
Call of Cthulhu is well worth the money, and a budget price doesn’t mean budget enjoyment. It’s a shame more publishers and developers don’t follow a similar path.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The gameplay in Call of Cthulhu is fairly straightforward, but how you approach it and the way the story unfolds is based on your choices. That’s a familiar tactic in a lot of games, but even more so in Call of Cthulhu.
As you progress you’ll earn points that allow you to upgrade certain abilities. These abilities then allow you to determine how you confront problems and proceed with the investigation. It also unlocks different dialogue and tells you more about certain aspects of the story.
The end point is the same, but how you get there is based on your choices and upgrades. For example, if you focus on occult senses, you will hear more about the supernatural side, while medical will give you a more practical look at the science of it. You can choose to focus on strength and become a fighter, or increase your eloquence and talk your way out of (and into) different situations. In that sense, Cyanide’s game honors the original tabletop RPG and allows you to build your own character.
It all helps to make the experience feel like you’re pushing it rather than it dragging you along.
Call of Cthulhu is built around the story from the ground up. All your choices and actions are designed to help you unravel the mystery and madness of the Lovecraftian story. So it’s a good thing that Call of Cthulhu’s story is engaging.
Each new chapter takes you deeper into it. The main character, private investigator Edward Prince, is a little wooden, which means the story has to do all the heavy lifting to keep you interested. It also helps you overlook some of the game’s other flaws, as you push through to find out what happens next. Going into more detail would inevitably lead to spoilers, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. As soon as you think you know what is going to happen the story goes in a different direction.
If you’re looking for a good story with a horror twist, this might be game for you.
While the concept of a choose-your-own style adventure isn’t entirely new, in a month dominated by multi-million dollar sequels and new takes on familiar genres, Call of Cthulhu stands out for its originality. It’s even refreshing if you’re looking for something new.
Cyanide took a big chance with this game. It would have been easy enough to take the property and turn it into a traditional third-person survival-horror game with action-style controls. The developer deserves credit for trying something different.
Tone and Setting
We already praised the story, but the plot is only one part of what keeps players engaged when the gameplay isn’t the major focus. Call of Cthulhu is set on a remote island off the coast of Boston, where there’s a palpable sense of dread around every corner. The character animations are a little lacking, but the world is dark and unsettling – and that’s the normal environments.
The deeper you go into the game, the weirder things look and feel. The sound design also ups the creepy factor, and the locations you explore are suitably foul. Setting the game in the days after WWI also helps to expand on that sense of darkness and horror simply by referencing the real events of the time. The characters in the game are all broken to a degree, and that helps build and immersive – and often oppressive world.
If you are looking for a fun, upbeat game, this isn’t the title for you – but then again you probably shouldn’t be playing a game with “Cthulhu” in the title.
While the general environments are suitably creepy they lack detail, the characters lack polish. You’ll also see several background models used again and again, and even though the environments are atmospheric, there are a lot of reused assets. Beyond just not looking great it gives a lot of locations a generic feel, which can be confusing when you’re trying to find your way around.
There’s also an over-reliance on a handful of color palettes. Some of that is a choice, but some of it is just a lack of definition.
For a game that is all about choice, it is also extremely linear at times. For the most part, you’ll always know exactly where you’re going because there is only one way to get there. There are some variables that alter things a bit, and how you perceive what you find will be different based on how you’ve upgraded your character, but ultimately you are on rails for big chunks of the game.
With choices taken away and your options limited to a handful of prompts at times, it makes you wonder why you’re bothering to invest in an interactive medium that is anything but. Walking from point A to point B isn’t really all that engaging when your only job at point B is to hit a button.
Once you begin to level up and you define your character, this changes a bit and the options you have are more varied. But in the early hours, it is a significant hurdle to really engage the player.
Non-Scary Scary Game
While there are some tense moments and the game has a compelling story wrapped around the concept of madness, it never really illicits much of a fear response. Granted, that’s never easy in a video game, and Call of Cthulhu isn’t built to create jump scares. But the tension never reaches a level where you feel like you’re in danger. A good part of that is due to the enemy AI and overall design. It’s not all that scary to hide from an enemy behind a tiny box when the enemy can look right at you and then turn and walk away without actually seeing you.
You can excuse some of this – good AI is a rare commodity in even the biggest blockbuster games – but when you can walk up beside enemies and not have them register, it kind of makes the stealth sections that are meant to be intense moot.
This is perhaps understandable given the way the story plays out, but Call of Cthulhu starts out fairly slowly. You are tasked with investigating a death, which begins you on a series of investigations. There are a few big moments and daring escapes in the early chapters, but the story is the game’s big selling point and that takes a few hours to really show you where it is going and why you might want to get there.
If the gameplay were a focus and there was a combat component to keep you playing, that wouldn’t be a major issue. But without it – and given the game’s other limitations – it might lose some people that would otherwise enjoy it. And while you can blame some of the slow start on the fact that you’re working through a mystery, there are things that go deeper and could have been fixed.
Part of the slow start is down to the lack of compelling characters. The protagonist is wooden and stiff, and it takes hours until you really get to learn anything about him – and even then it’s difficult to really care about him. That’s fine given where the story goes, but a more compelling protagonist flanked by intriguing NPCs you meet right away could have helped bridge the gap between the start and the heart of the game.