The mythos behind Call of Cthulhu is highly recognisable and has inspired multiple video games, countless comics and board games. But it’s the video games we’ll be looking at today and one in particular from Cyanide Studios and Focus Entertainment. Can it live up to the hype and bring us the ultimate Lovecraftian experience?

Call of Cthulhu has inspired a few video games over the last couple of decades, many of them failing to capture the tone, dread and mythos successfully. The closest we got from a great Call of Cthlhu video game adaption would be 2006’s Dark Corners of the Earth, which is an underrated classic.

But now 2018’s Call of Cthulhu hopes to right all the wrongs made in previous titles and stand as the ultimate video game adaption.
2018’s Call of Cthulhu takes us through a surreal and dark journey of madness and the occult. You take on the role of Edward Pierce, a WW1 veteran and washed out Private Eye who’s taking on the case of the life time. He’s been hired to investigate the death of an industrialist’s daughter, a renowned artist who painted bizarre and strange art works. As you travel to the infamous island of Darkwater,you start to notice strange things happening. People are disappearing; mass sickness is spreading and sea life is washing up on shore which have been viciously tore to pieces. Things aren’t looking good and as the mystery unravels, the darkest secrets of the island come out from the shadows.

The plot incorporates many of the classic Lovecraftian elements, creating a horrifying and enthralling mystery for any fan or new comer. With each passing chapter, I felt more inclined to dig deeper into the unknown and discover what was lurking in the shadows. Even for those who’ve read the books, this game does well to pace out the discovery and tension, unmasking key elements at the right time and all the while staying faithful to the source material.

Call of Cthulhu 2018 decides to combine different elements for gameplay, including stealth, investigation and even some combat. For the most part it’s takes inspiration from defining classics such as Amnesia and Outlast. Edward will mainly be defenceless throughout out the campaign, using stealth and cunning over brute force. But as mentioned there are a bunch of different elements thrown in, including stress induced chase segments, light combat and intense investigations of various crime scenes.

While I applaud the developers for bringing together a good variation of gameplay mechanics and set pieces, I will admit these elements are a little unrefined.

Call of Cthulhu uses the very basics of stealth mechanics, never introducing anything that makes it stand out. You can crouch, hide behind cover, see a detection meter above an enemy’s head and hide in closets. That’s it really for the stealth and this works against the game. With such bare bones stealth mechanics, you can easily predict enemy patrols, find evasion extremely easy and above all, stealth segments are just underwhelming and boring.

While the stealth segments are a little tedious, other set pieces are more entertaining.

Later in the game you’ll encounter set pieces that feature more monstrous and relentless enemies, these are the highlights of the game. The more stress induced moment is where the game shines in producing intense and nerve-wracking gameplay, rather than the stealth.
There are even a couple of moments you obtain a firearm and get to use it on a number of foes. Plus the investigation segments offer a break in-between the exploration, stealth and action.

Another aspect to gameplay is Edward’s skill tree, that allows you to unlock vital skills. Levelling up Strength and Investigation will allow players to bypass certain locked doors and obstacles while psychology and Occult will unlock new dialogue options, which can “alter” the end game.

My main issue is again, like the stealth gameplay, everything else is a little unrefined.

Investigation mechanics are nothing special, resorting to just find objects in the environment and some light puzzle solving. The conversations you have with NPCs is more meaningful, as there are various dialogue choices you can unlock by levelling up your skills and there are important decisions to make.

While investigations are lacking in depth, I do feel Call of Cthulhu makes exploration very engaging as certain aspects to the main character’s skill tree are reliant on finding key items within the world. Although the biggest disappointment was the sanity meter, which felt like a missed opportunity and was highly underused. I even forgot about it half way through as the meter itself didn’t appear to impact the gameplay in meaningful ways.

While the gameplay is a mix bag, the atmosphere and world building is spot on. While I’m not a massive Lovecraftian expert, I can see the developers are very Intune with the subgenre. The world these guys have create is eerily beautiful, filled with disturbing details, set pieces and environments that feels of thought they’ve been ripped out of the short story that inspired it. The many places you visit in Dark Water are gruesome, bleak and downright depressing which works well in the game’s favour. Everything has been designed to engulf you with a dread and hopelessness, being one of the most captivating game worlds in the horror genre for the last few years.
There are some minor graphical glitches and some clunky animations here and there, which can be rather distracting but nothing too damaging to the experience.

So is the ultimate Call of Cthulhu experience? While it’ll be high on the list of games based on the mythos, it does lack refinements in the multiple aspects of gameplay. While the story and world are very engaging, the gameplay elements are all a little underwhelming in execution.

Call of Cthulhu is a serviceable title that horror fans can enjoy but sadly, this could’ve been so much greater. The story, atmosphere and world are crafted with expertise, the gameplay including stealth mechanics are a little unrefined and thus the game does very little to make itself truly memorable. It has a couple of moments where gameplay excels with some interesting ideas, but plays it way too safe to make it worth a second play through. While a decent horror game, it’s not the best game based on the mythos.
That spot is for Dark Corners of the Earth.

++ Great atmosphere
+ Gripping story and variation of gameplay elements
- Short length and lacks replay value
- Gameplay mechanics are under developed

A PS4 review copy of Call of Cthulhu was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review