Some stories exercise a peculiar influence on our imagination, so we don’t mind seeing them constantly retold. No matter the number of the iterations, in numerous versions and uncountable references made to them in different mediums, their effect is seemingly never diluted and they always hold some new intrigue and dark fascination. Such is Lovecraft’s tales of ancient deities, depraved cults, slimy monsters, scaly terrors from the deep, blasphemous books whose pages hide secrets better left forgotten and other ungodly things which comprise the so-called Cthulhu Mythos.
Seen in the context of that kind of literary/cinematic legacy, Call of Cthulhu, an RPG-investigation game developed by Cyanide Studio for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, is just one of the many titles in the flock. On the top of my head, I can remember several games with a similar storyline and private eye protagonist which unexpectedly has to deal with the violent intrusion of Lovecraftian cosmic horror into his previously rationally ordered world. However, although its basic premise is far from original, the latest Call of Cthulhu title is a masterfully crafted game full of unnerving twists and maddening revelations which certainly does justice to all its predecessors. In some instances, it even surpasses most of them, thanks to the successful implementation of Call of Cthulhu pen and paper role-playing system by Chaosium on which it’s based and which will allow you to precisely profile your character.
Call of Cthulhu starts like so many gothic horror games before it: with a strange case which will push our protagonist right over the edge of sanity. You’ll play as Edward Pierce, a Boston sleuth and a war veteran who had hit the proverbial rock bottom. Alcoholic and sleeping pills junky who unsuccessfully tries to keep his war traumas, nightmares, and bad memories at bay, Pierce desperately needs something that will rescue him from the self-destructive everyday routine which leads him straight into an early grave. A chance visit will give him more than he had bargained for, as he accepts to investigate the death of Sarah Hawkins, a famous artist and a daughter of Boston’s most influential and powerful industrialist. She was accused of murdering her whole family which perished in a terrible fire. Your initial task will be to clear her name, proving to the world that she wasn’t mad and that there’s something more to the whole incident than a mere insanity-induced familicide. The only clue that initially suggests that perhaps Sarah, although she claimed to be plagued by horrific visions, retained her clarity to the bitter end was a painting she did just before she died, an auto-portrait of sorts which depicted her confronted by some murky and frightening figure. Swayed by the promise of rich compensation (but also because his detective’s license which will soon be revoked due to his inactivity if he doesn’t accept this case), Pierce leaves for the island of Blackwater. This is an old whaling community off the coast of Boston, a sleepy and seemingly completely unremarkable place where enigmatic artist chose to live with her husband and son. However, upon his arrival, Pearce will discover that he’s involved in the case that’s much more than a mere criminal investigation and that behind the façade of serenity lurks ages-old cult dedicated to the worship of an ancient and malevolent deity called Cthulhu.
Although by the very nature of its story, Call of Cthulhu will afford you a variety of situations from stealth to action moments (which will include appropriate game mechanics, unfortunately not always as elegant and functional as we could wish), as can be expected the majority of the game will be focused good old fashion detective work and all that it includes. Pierce will have the opportunity to engage in conversation with plenty of interesting characters, and it’s a great thing that developers had taken the trouble to make each encounter meaningful, with dialogue options chosen carefully to give you enlightening insights into the nature of the NPC and your case. Pierce will also be able to analyze different items and locations, and also to read various notes, books, and journals, in the attempt to piece together all segments of this mystery. And if you’re stuck, don’t despair – all potential clues about your search, places, NPCs and other characters you’ll hear about or encounter during your investigation will be stored and neatly outlined in your diary.
As an invaluable aid in your investigation, you’ll utilize different skills which include Eloquence, Strength, Medicine, Occultism, Psychology, Investigation and the ability to spot hidden things and objects. Thanks to Chaosium’s famous RPG system you can develop your character in any direction you wish, which means that Pearce with the focus on different skills will afford you a completely different experience. Of course, all those skills can be upgraded several times using character points, so any nuance, even the most subtle, will make a difference in the course of the game. For instance, Pearce with developed Psychology, Eloquence and Investigation will have different dialogue options available than, let’s say, a more physically oriented character.
Another key element of the game is Pearce’s sanity or, to be more precise, its lability. Pretty soon you’ll be overwhelmed by the feeling of daunting insignificance in comparison with the ancient forces and cosmic terror that faces you. Catching by the few remaining feeble strands of your sanity like a drowning man, you’ll try to pursue your investigation, sliding ever deeper into the madness and that ultimately pessimistic feeling that all your valiant efforts amount to anything. This is one of the key aspects of Lovecraft’s works and it’s absolutely beautifully translated into the game. To top it off, Call of Cthulhu is not just a canonically faithful and highly atmospheric new interpretation of Cthulhu mythos – it also looks and sounds just as it should. Visuals, music and sound effect together orchestrate a deeply unsettling spectacle for your senses, as well as for your intellect and soul. And if you allow yourself to plunge completely into this story of cosmic horror and identify with Edward Pierce (which shouldn’t be too difficult for you, considering the immersiveness of the whole experience) you’ll, on occasion, start doubting one and fear for the other.