I did something I’ve never done before with this review and probably won’t do again. I had my Call of Cthulhu review all written up and ready to go, and it was not a good review. Not a good review at all. However, before I posted it, a friend told me that Cyanide was dropping a big day one patch. So I shelved my review and decided to wait until the day of release, to give it a fair chance.
You see, I really love Call of Cthulhu. Not this video game. The pen and paper RPG from Chaosium, based on the original stories by HP Lovecraft. So I was pretty excited when I heard this game was coming out, and even more excited to get a review copy in my lap. My digital lap that is.
The problem is, that when I played it, it was absolute pants. Just utter toss. I slogged my way through it, convincing myself it would get better. I told myself it was just a slow starter, and it would open up after a while, but it never did. It just kept being complete, unmitigated bum.
So I gave it another chance. I waited until release, and played it again, with the massive patch that came on day one installed. Now, with the benefit of a lot more experience with the game, and playing it through to completion, I can reveal that my initial thoughts were… dun dun dun… completely correct. It’s still guff, and the previous sentence contains more suspense than I felt in the entire game. This saddens me greatly.
If I talked about everything that annoyed me about this game, the combined text of that angry diatribe would probably take you longer to read than it would take you to just play the game. I feel like I’d be doing you a favour though.
From the very start, Call of Cthulhu looks and plays like something from at least ten years ago. The graphics, sound design, and interaction all feel incredibly outdated. In the first town you go to, there are about five buildings, and you can only go into two of them. The other areas are blocked off, using the time-honoured game design tradition of ‘just put a couple of people standing in the way because everyone knows you can’t walk around people’.
When you do get into interacting with the three people you are allowed to talk to, there isn’t much to do beyond just exhausting a dialogue tree and then leaving. One of the awesome things about playing the Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG is that I can apply my imagination to a situation to overcome it. If the bartender won’t serve me, I can try and intimidate or convince him. I can punch him in the mouth. I can steal the whiskey when his back is turned and have a shot anyway. In this game, the bartender says no, and I say, “Oh alright then” and leave. That’s it.
Almost every moment of the game feels like Cyanide just went ‘that’ll do fine’. From the drab, boring, outdated looking areas, to the odd, disjointed conversations and details that never seem to mesh together into anything coherent. Tiny little areas, often as small as a few rooms, are linked together by long loading screens explaining how you got there, and often what happened to you during a period of time when you weren’t playing. Almost as if they thought, “We can’t be arsed doing this bit. Just tell them it happened”.
Most of the game feels like that. Like they just couldn’t be arsed. The animations are terrible. The lip movements of the characters bear no relation to what the voice actors are doing. At one point I tell a nurse to give a patient an injection so I can examine them. I stand there for a minute waiting for her to do it. Then I realise it’s done. They just didn’t bother adding in an animation. I find a key for a locked room, but I can’t pick it up. Later on, someone mentions the key. I go back and now I can take it. Later, after a cutscene, I just appear inside the office of someone I’m supposed to be investigating, in a building I’m not supposed to be in. How did I get there? It’s never explained. I blackmail some thugs to let me into a building, and they step aside to let me in. Then I go do something else, and when I come back the thugs are back in my way, and won’t talk to me. Did anyone think any of this through?
Did I mention that it only took me eight hours to finish? Well, now I have. It only took me eight hours to finish. Probably less time than it took me to edit this review down into less than 1000 words. It’s not easy deciding what vitriol to keep and what to abandon. I’d say that it has pretty good replay value, seeing as there’s a lot of choices that affect the final ending, but you’d have to care to want to replay it, and I didn’t.
There were so many opportunities to make something incredible here, based on an IP that has had very little attention from the gaming industry but has so much potential. A dingy, open world island, with interesting locations to explore, and gain more information on an unfolding mystery. Character customisation, instead of the same gruff alcoholic guy with a hipster beard that’s in every game now. An extended skill system that takes advantage of some of the unique skills that the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying system has. Instead, we got a messy, bland, fragmented, and generally not very scary short story that Cyanide wants you to pay £40 for. If I were you I’d save your money and just buy the Lovecraft stories instead.
Call of Cthulhu (PC)
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
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