It’s Halloween week, and you know what that means! All things spooky, spoopy, scary, and macabre come out to see their time in the moonlight. And what says horror more than pseudo-paganistic occult worship of the elder gods of madness and the deepest depths of the strain on human sanity? Of course I speak of Lovecraft, the paranoid, racist, and probably-himself-insane master of horror. “Call of Cthulhu” by Cyanide Studio and Focus Home Interactive seeks to bring the Halloween spirit in their homage to the tabletop game of the same name, as well as PC classic “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth,” one of my personal favorite horror games of all time.
Set in 1924, you play as generic grizzled private investigator Edward Pierce. He is no-nonsense, deep voiced, heavy drinking, Bostonian, nightmare-having, existential crisis facing, short black-haired, and fully-goateed. So he’s about as by-the-books as you can get for the protagonist of this kind of story, but given that Lovecraft kind of invented that whole trope, it gets a pass. He is hired by a man named Stephen Webster to investigate the mysterious death of his daughter, Sarah Hawkins, and her family at their family mansion on the island of Darkwater off the coast of Boston.
Through his investigation he slowly uncovers a darker secret amongst the mystery, one of occult worship, local superstition, and cosmic horrors. It's Lovecraft in every way imaginable, in a spine-chillingly eerie way that makes me squirm with fanboy delight. I will fully admit I have an affinity for everything Arkham, Dunsanian, Azathelean, Cthulian, Shoggoth, and Dunwich. And Darkwater is about as much of all of those as you can get. A dark, foggy fishing and boating town based on an island off the coast of Boston stooped in mystery and the occult; it pays heavy tribute to the themes of Lovecraft and the Great Old Ones, as well as to the town of Innsmouth from “Dark Corners.”
Luckily the characters on the island are a lot more interesting than Pierce himself, with a great amount of connecting themes to them. For instance, though they each have their own distinct personalities, they all share in much of their superstition and odes to the island’s past. There are also very clearly defined “factions” within the island, and while some characters belonging to a faction may be able to give you information in one such area, they may be out of the loop about something else. For example, at the beginning of the game you find a bunch of the local sailors trying to stop the police of the island from removing a dead whale carcass because they think it will bring about a bad omen. There is also a group of bootleggers trying to push their prohibition-era wares upon the sailors, and their captain has to save face in dealing with the thugs. It all lends well to help you solve the mystery of the island by actually having to interact with the people of the island.
Gameplay-wise there is a roleplaying game-style (RPG) skill-leveling system to help you solve the various mysteries the game provides. You can spend points to boost your knowledge of psychology to spot certain clues, or you can instead work on your knowledge in medicine or occultism, or boost your eloquence to help you get more information out of the inhabitants of the island through the “Mass Effect” style dialogue tree.
The only real bad part of the game is the animation. Though the rendering, graphics, and art style are actually rather good, the animation does not do any of them justice. Characters will spasm back and forth while talking, and there will be a near perfect consistency of frame lag throughout the entire game. It can become really distracting, although it does also sort of give it a bit of charm much in the same way that the animation of “Dark Corners” did, although its animation could be excused by the fact that it was a PlayStation 2 (PS2) era game.
The only other real complaint about the game that I have is that whenever you interact with an object, Pierce will make some comment about it in an increasingly annoying manner. On top of that, doing so will interrupt any ongoing dialogue, so its possible to miss important pieces of conversation because you accidentally clicked on something. The game is easily strong enough to overcome each of these, and for only $45 you get a very solid five to six hour story campaign that looks and feels much better than the vast majority of other triple-A games out right now. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but I think this is the perfect kind of game to invoke the spirit of All Hallows Eve.
Final Score: 8/10, a wonderful homage to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and the classic “Dark Corners of the Earth,” definitely worth taking a look at.
Image courtesy of Cyanide Studio