H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy of otherworldly cosmic horror and profound loathing has cast a long shadow. How long? Well, the bloke’s been dead for 81 years and he’s still influencing popular culture to a shocking degree. The reclusive, super-talented-but-extremely-racist weirdo from Providence, Rhode Island, has left the world a unique vision of Elder Gods, slimy tentacle-faced beasties and strange cults that have had a profound effect on creative types like Alan Moore, Guillermo Del Toro, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Stuart Gordon, Thomas Ligotti and, look, bloody everyone to be honest! The dude had an impact, is what we’re saying here.
It’s natural, then, that creators of video games would be drawn to his frequently grim vision although the results have been patchy. See, Lovecraft’s stories tend to depend on unreliable narrators, often writing in journals, about things that drive you mad just by glimpsing them. This is a fantastic literary conceit but doesn’t work as well in the context of a game where you, the player, need to actually play. The latest attempt to capture the master’s mood is Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu, based on the old tabletop RPG which itself was based on one of Lovecraft’s better-loved tales of the same name.
You play the part of grizzled war vet Edward Pierce, a private dick who drinks too much, self-medicates with pills and delivers frequent grouchy soliloquies. In 1924 Boston, Edward looks like he’s going to drink and mope himself to death until a new case takes him to Darkwater Island where shit really kicks off.
Being a Lovecraft tale lots of scary things greet old Eddie: strange family secrets, rough criminal types and terrifying Boston accents; not to mention a cult that worships a certain calamari-faced deity with a name that’s hard to spell and say…
Call of Cthulhu is, ultimately, a bit of a mood piece. The gameplay entails a lot of exploring, light puzzle solving, talking to people, putting together crime scenes with some stealth sections and very brief combat thrown in late in the tale. It is, for want of a better term, a bit of a walking simulator. The good news is it’s a pretty decent walking simulator with a solid, albeit predictable, central storyline that manages to engage for its 7-10 hour playthrough. The characters are interesting enough, the setting suitably atmospheric and while the reveals towards the end are never particularly terrifying – can Cthulhu really be all that scary in 2018 with his current market oversaturation? – they should satisfy anyone craving a light Lovecraftian perambulation.
Call of Cthulhu won’t drive you gibberingly insane with its vision of ancient Gods rising from the depths, but it provides an engaging yarn that is somewhat let down by shonky voice acting and stiff character animation. Worth a look for fans of twitchy old Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and hell – maybe if it does well there’s a chance Guillermo Del Toro’s oft shitcanned At The Mountains of Madness will live to scare the pants off us all.