Call of Cthulhu Preview: An Extremely Slow Burn

by David Sanchez July 1, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

One of the staples of Lovecraftian horror is the deliberate pace in which a story is told. People sometimes forget that, much like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft took his time when developing a narrative. In keeping with the style of Lovecraft, developer Cyanide is currently working on the deliberately paced, narrative-driven Call of Cthulhu. Based on a recent behind-closed-doors look at the game at this year’s E3, it’s hard to tell whether that slower pace will help or hinder the game for anyone outside its specific niche.

You play as Edward Pierce, a private investigator who’s slowly losing his grip on his own sanity. You’ll guide Edward through 14 chapters and several mystery-laden cases. As the story progresses, Edward will begin to hallucinate and question whether or not the things happening around him are real. Interestingly, you’ll have no control over this — as the story moves forward, Edward will begin to lose touch with reality regardless of what kinds of decisions you make while playing, which should make for a more organic fall from grace.

The slow descent into madness doesn’t begin right away, though. At its core, Call of Cthulhu is a mystery tale. The scene featured during the E3 demo had Edward investigating a fire. When checking out a crime scene, you’ll see several glowing prompts on the screen. Selecting these will give you clues as to what could have possible happened. Sometimes Edward will visualize a possible scenario that led to the crime in a quick, Sherlock-esque vignette. For example, was the fire started accidentally, or was it the result of a confrontation gone awry?

After you’ve dissected a clue, you’ll then be given the opportunity to make a decision on what could’ve possible occurred in the crime scene. You’re given multiple options in these clue-based scenarios, but also when engaging in dialogue with NPCs. The options you select will shape both the outcome of the story — there are a total of four endings — and Edward’s relationship with the main characters.

As the story unravels, you’ll discover more sinister forces at play. While a supernatural vibe is constant throughout, you’ll also come across cultist and ritualistic themes. Call of Cthulhu is definitely more dark than gory, but there’s plenty of body horror throughout, especially when Edward’s hallucinations take a grotesque turn.

Unfortunately, while Call of Cthulhu presents an interesting collection of bizarre and unsettling themes, the flow of the game doesn’t seem particularly interesting. The demo presentation was very slow-paced, and while that’s often the nature of plot-centric titles like this, some of the dialogue and investigative options seemed a bit dull and rudimentary.

In addition, the game’s presentation is somewhat rough. Graphically, Call of Cthulhu looks very last-gen. And in terms of voice acting, there was nothing too convincing about the characters’ performances from what I heard. Sometimes the line delivery was sub-par, and other times it was just kind of bad.

I’m torn as to my first impressions of Call of Cthulhu. On the one hand, I admire the game’s willingness to stick so closely to actual Lovecraftian themes and storytelling procedures. But on the other hand, it seems like there may be too many moments when nothing really happens, which could be a big issue for the game’s pacing.

Adventure games that focus entirely on story are undoubtedly created with a specific audience in mind. Call of Cthulhu is that type of game, and it probably won’t entice folks who are more action-oriented. Even then, however, the build of the game that was shown at E3 was a bit too slow a lot of the time, which could be an issue even for adventure game fans if the final game’s story doesn’t flow steadily or, more importantly, if it doesn’t offer much that’s interesting to the player.

Call of Cthulhu is scheduled to launch later this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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