7 Reasons Call of Cthulhu Is Mad But Muddled Mystery | PC Review

7 Reasons Call of Cthulhu Is Mad But Muddled Mystery | PC Review

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As our Call of Cthulhu PC review explains – or Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game to give its full name (as if Cthulhu itself had licensed it) – is a mad but muddled mystery. If you watched Noa’s preview thoughts, here’s her final verdict. It’s all lovely PC gameplay, too.

Our full Call of Cthulhu PC review is on Rock Paper Shotgun: The Site – there’s a link down below – but this list breaks down what did and didn’t work for the Video Department. Cyanide’s descent into madness starts well, with a nice bit of detective RPG that lets you shape your sleuth and enjoy a variety of approaches to crime solving. It’s brought to life with some gorgeous sound design – all the better for hearing the Call of Cthulhu as you beging to lose your mind. As this Call of Cthulhu gameplay shows – it’s a pretty unhinged world to begin with.

In this video review, Noa looks at how the game’s approach to character building lays the foundations of a smart mystery game, but one that begins to wobble as more action scenes kick in. Some of the horror elements work fine – escaping a snuffling nasty in a dark hospital is very atmospheric – but there’s also some rough combat and action set pieces that don’t quite work. We also wonder if the game is too accommodating to detectives, allowing any combination of skills to blunder through to a solution. Don’t worry, nothing too spoiler-y is revealed.

If you watched Noa’s previous Call of Cthulhu impressions you’ll know that the game borrows some nice ideas from the tabletop RPG, and its interesting to see how they do and don’t make a big impact on the wider game. If you watch this Call of Cthulhu review and have any more questions about the game, do pop them in the comments below, so we can do our best to answer them. If you really enjoyed this review, why not check out the other reviews we’ve done on the channel – some links below – or even better, subscribe to Rock Paper Shotgun to get all our videos delivered straight to your eyes/ears.

Here’s a link to Rock Paper Shotgun;s full review:

Here’s a link to Noa’s Dragon Quest 11 PC review:

Here’s a link to Noa’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey PC review:

#callofcthulhu #sherlockwithtentacles #rps

Hello and welcome to Rock Paper Shotgun! A few weeks ago I offered thoughts on the
first couple of hours of Call of Cthulhu – Cyanide’s take on the classic tabletop RPG in which
you play as detective Edward Pierce as he tries to solve the death of painter Sally
Hawkins in Darkwater. The name of which pretty much tells you what
to expect from the off: it’s an eerie exercise in the Lovecraftian crossed with detective-based
role play. Demo aside, I’ve now played through the
entire game, and with my sanity intact can say if it’s a cosmic horror or as predictably
scary as a jack-in-box. Now, the one thing I can say before I get
to deducing and note-referring all detective-like, is that Call of Cthulhu is kind of a videogame
B-Movie. Not a backhanded compliment! B-Movies are good and I like them. I say this because it is a relatively short
but very fast-moving tale of action and compelling intrigue that may not be the most original
horror creation alluding to the works of HP Lovecraft. Whether that ends up selling some smart ideas
short, we’ll find out in about 20 seconds. While I’m on the subject of short, sharp
blasts of gaming fun, you should really check out Rock Paper Shotgun’s other videos while
you’re here. If you enjoy this one, subscribe and you’ll
get fresh delights posted throughout the week. But let’s stop the shilling and solve this
killing. What does Call of Cthulhu get right and what
should slip down the gullet of a cosmically monstrous entity. That I assume has a gullet at all? Call of Cthulhu is pitched as an RPG-investigation:
instead of a barbarian or mage you’re building a detective, deciding the flavour of his brain
instead of the henchness of his brawn although you can ‘bulk’ if you choose. And this sees the game at its best. The skills you pick feed nicely into sleuthing
work, giving you freedom in your approach to mystery-solving. It all starts with this lovely skill tree
– that’s not sarcasm, by the way, the design is one of the few bits of UI that really work
for me. The range is small but enough to impact your
work. Pick psychology, which reveals where an NPC’s
mind is at, and you’ll get more scintillating dialogue options in conversation. Pour character points into investigative skills
or the ability to spot hidden secrets and more items o points of interest will pop up
when nosing about the scenery. Presumably it also helps Pierce find his car
keys. Not that you’ll be driving much in this
town that’s east of nowhere. It all adds up to more plot specifics to ponder
as you stroke your manly beard. Or, if you gain more knowledge in baffling
rituals in the occult instead, your weird supernaturally tentacle-y beard. It wouldn’t be out of place in Call of Cthulhu. Check out these cuddlies… You have to be relatively selective – character
points don’t grow on trees. Even so, this modest cluster of abilities
lets you tailor your approach; my Edward Pierce has the expert investigation skills to reveal
a code to a puzzle, but he also has the strength to pry open the door instead. I would say find a detective who can do both,
I guess. What you read or pick up during the case can
further alter skills in medicine and the occult as well. It feeds nicely into character development
as the more you poke and pry, the better you get at poking and prying. A more informed detective makes for a better
detective. And a better detective puts more cosmic horrors
in handcuffs. Ah, if only it were so simple… The downside to a system that accommodates
any kind of Pierce in conversation is that no kind of Pierce feels like a weird sort
of bonus. There’s a whole skill dedicated to eloquence,
of teasing out info with a silver tongue. But once you realise that expert talents in
investigation give you much broader options to wrangle info out of people you begin to
see abilities as parallel routes to exactly the same outcome. On the plus side, being able to shunt eloquence
does let you play into the ‘emotionally defective detective trope’. I’m also not sure about the way the game
optimistically prompts you to just ‘give it a go’ in conversation. These ‘test you insert skill here’ branches
of dialogue, appear to crop up if you’ve leveled a skill such as eloquence just enough
so as not to be a complete failure but not quite enough for you to be touted as an ‘expert’
or even ‘professional.’ Call me a glass half empty kinda gal but testing
my more lacklustre skills in conversation hasn’t worked for me once, and after finishing
the game I still don’t really understand its presence. Maybe I am just incredibly unlucky. It’s a shame that the world hands over its
secrets so willingly to detectives of every kind as the conversations are fun to navigate. Characters are suitably shifty and the dialogue
is layered enough that there’s room to turnaround a botched line of questioning with the right
approach. Where so many games dunk you in a sea of paragon
vs renegade choices, with a few shades of grey bobbing in-between, Call of Cthulhu’s
interactions feel murkier. Especially when you’re speaking in an alien
language. Having built this intriguing, if slightly
basic sleuth sim, it is slightly squandered on a story with few original things to say. I mean: test subjects, mutations, cults, squid
men – you name it, Call of Cthulhu has it all just shy of Nazi zombie doctors. Hello my B-Movie analogy, good to see you
again! I feel as though we have seen these devices
so often in everything – not just videogames – that as soon as a test subject so much as
thinks about raising his unfortunate head you want to yawn. I guess the problem with having a dialogue
system that promotes some subtlety is that the less subtle elements seem much less subtle
in comparison. Walking in on a cult meeting in network of
underground caves, for example, culminated in a daft encounter ending in gunfire and
possibly death. That I was lead there at all meant following
a robed person in a mask who had been hiding in a locked workshop for who knows how long.I
like the idea that he became trapped in there and just patiently waited for me and the nice
policeman to let him out. Well, after I’d spent a half hour overturning
every stone in the mansion looking for clues. This isn’t to say some moments that burn
much more slowly don’t make up for these sorts of flying bricks. In another section, for example, you play
as a different character – no spoilers as to who – as they try to manipulate their way
into an office. It offers an intriguing perspective into the
runnings of a hospital you experience earlier as a different character. It also builds a certain level of mystery
and reveals relationship dynamics that went straight over my head in earlier scenes. It added a little something to the plot, the
game’s characters, heck, even the environment: all good stuff. A few levels later though and you’ll watch
as Pierce fights a tentacled man in a boiler room with a piddly little fire poker… I don’t object to seeing these plot devices
wheeled out, it just seems a shame that Cyanide didn’t choose to investigate more of them
in the measured style established in the early hours of the game and its meatier detective
sequences. I’m all for more intimate interrogations
in creepy locations. Trying to pull out sudden thrills doesn’t
feel anything other than melodramatic. The game’s later inability to take it slow
is reflected in its general length – the case can comfortably be wrapped up in nine to ten
hours. Length shouldn’t and often doesn’t determine
the effectiveness of an experience – but before you banish me to the netherworld for mentioning
longevity, I do think that the mood, atmosphere and pacing of Call of Cthulhu is begging for
more breathing room. Most of the story revelations and events in
the latter half of the game feel like a big barnacled rock rolling downhill at breakneck
speed. Especially after the casually creepy first
half. A story like this is all about the slow-burn
to build the eerie tension – something the game does very well as you sniff about Darkwater’s
various nooks and corners in the opening stretch. By the end, the story is whipping by and all
of its solid foundations – the well-structured dialogue, the investigations and reveals – buckle
under the pace. Plot twists on occasion feel shoehorned in
and new characters are swap-shopped rather abruptly. It feels like two different games got accidentally
mixed together – maybe someone somewhere is playing a rollercoaster action game that suddenly
becomes a slow mystery story in its second half… True, it does mean that things don’t outstay
their welcome and there is seldom a dull or drawn out moment. But I wish this exercise in supernatural detective
work could have spent a little more time placing its ducks in a row. Of course, ducks are too cute, not to mention,
normal for a review of Call of Cthulhu. Wait no one else knows the occult better than
me. You might need my help. Okay, I might need you after all. As uneven as this all might sound, I very
much enjoyed the moments the game that stumble into other genres. In this level, for example, you have to rescue
a character from a hospital; when you enter you’re given two lamps, one red and the
other green. Each casts a new light on the environment… Okay, that metaphor was bad even for me. Just count yourselves lucky I’m not Lovecrafting
all over this script like I did the last – there are only so many Old Gods jokes one can stand
before going mad. The hospital is dark, if you don’t hug the
wall or memorise the layout you can get lost in the middle of a room, and something else
is moving about there with you. Something that isn’t a doctor… unless
he or she suffers from some chronic respiratory illness, which would be ironic. The wheezing sound design and the confusing
route finding makes plotting your escape genuinely thrilling. Unlike the narrative moments touched on before,
this tension fits the tone and world of Call of Cthulhu. I actually wish there was more of this – it
adds threat without resorting to the theatrical nonsense of some of the cutscenes. And that’s without mentioning the mind-bendy
situations that crop up later on in game, a very tense gallery encounter, or the race
to close some spooky glyphs down in some deep, dark bootlegger tunnels… But back to the hospital sequence: it’s
genuinely unnerving. As the creature gets closer and Pierce starts
to freak the fudge out because: who wouldn’t? The room grows darker, further preventing
escape. It is not unlike how hiding away in a dark
closet or room causes the view to warp proportionately with the protagonist’s fear in other levels. His sanity changes the surrounding area here,
and of course, how you handle it. Or don’t. Sanity plays a big part in the tabletop RPG,
and does here too with a meter that builds based on what you do and witness, warping
the environment and Pierce’s psyche in a few ways. When I entered the widow’s house for example,
I almost missed the strange goings-on around me. I went to find the gallery to see an allegedly
cursed painting for myself. On the way I could have sworn one of the portraits
on the wall had eyes that were bleeding but by the time I focussed it looked, well, as
normal as an abstract painting can… In my earlier demo I was unsure of how this
meter would affect Pierce and my resulting experience. When I noticed that some of the symbols in
the sanity menu were still locked, I realised that your actions or choices have a direct
effect. It seems as though the more you embrace the
occult the closer you get to insanity. Well, the more you know… When I found a mysterious book, for instance,
one the game weirdly asked me if I wanted to read or not I could only hear NO YOU MUST
NOT READ FROM THE BOOK in my mind and so I decided not to. Why tempt fate? In a later scene I found another similar-looking
book locked away in a crate and to quote The Mummy – because it doesn’t get quoted enough
– No harm ever came from reading a book. Then Boom-would-ya-look-at-that an insanity
marker filled up. In true Lovecraftian style – there are some
things, that man was never meant to understand. It makes you feel as though you are getting
closer to something you had better steer clear of. A warning with direct consequences as in Eternal
Darkness Sanity’s Requiem. The smarter choices you make, the tighter
Pierce’s grip on his sanity will be, and the higher his sanity the more capable he
is of making rational choices by the end of the game. No spoilers here but endings will be affected
in either the number or choices available. I like it. It surprises me to say – and I can’t be
the only person who didn’t peg Cthulhu for a ‘sound-smart’ kind of experience – but
this is in fact a game worth playing with headphones to get the full effect. With booming voices and other scary creatures
from the supernatural world taking full advantage of directional sound – directional as in right
behind your ear or even *shudder* inside your own mind – it manages to add a kind of tension
that would otherwise not have been there at all. The aforementioned voice might be a little
dialled in (think: ‘what’s your favourite scary movie’ minus a few octaves and the
volume cranked up to full) but when it abruptly rumbles through your headphones as you wade
through fish guts or stumble blindly in the dark, you better believe it gives you one
heck of a jolt. I was routinely pulled into a moment or location
on the strength of its sound alone. A song being sung in a long dark hallway,
the scraping of a metal door, not to mention the cacophony of strange noises bleeding into
one another at the asylum – there is a lot going on underneath it all. I also want to praise the voice work for the
main character, especially in the scenes where he loses his mind. He was somehow able to shift from a guy who
somewhat has it together , despite being a heavy drinker suffering from insomnia, to
a man who has lost his proverbial sugar-honey-iced-tea and may not ever recover: poor guy. His ruffled hair tends to give it away too,
mind you. Though I enjoyed my time with it, Call of
Cthulhu isn’t quite the game I expected from the early preview I played – and I can
understand why they showed off those early hours. They are arguably the game at its very best. That’s not to say it doesn’t work at all. The game has a pretty strong investigative
foundation to work from, even if it feels as though you’re being funnelled towards
a fixed goal. Puzzles, dialogue trees, sniffing about, levelling
up are handled well, and you really feel them in those quiet sequences with the people of
Darkwater. It’s these segments in play that are well
complemented by some well-executed not to mention unexpected horror moments. If it wasn’t for the pacing issues in the
latter half and the lack of subtlety in how it approaches some of its themes, it might
be easier to recommend. Considering how short this game is overall,
a weaker latter half is much more noticeable. Oh hey, a rhyme! Now that I’ve made it through this review
like a person who has their stuff together, it is time for my hair to ruffle along with
my sanity, so please feel free to talk below and let me know what you think of Call of
Cthulhu and suggest other Lovecraftian games. It’ll make for a nice surprise when the
sanity effects cool off a bit and I can see straight again. I hope you enjoyed this video and if you did,
please feel free to subscribe for more like it – we cover all things PC gaming-related:
from Warframe run-downs, to team let’s plays and previews! Thank you for watching and we will see you
again soon. Goodbye for now.

19 Replies to “7 Reasons Call of Cthulhu Is Mad But Muddled Mystery | PC Review”

  1. Jackie B

    Freedom in your approach? That's a joke. it shouldn't take you 9 to 10 hours. It should have been Call of Leviathan or Shambler, since it actually has pretty much nothing to do with Cthulu and it's possible to go the full game without seeing him. There's too many stealth scenes, too many places where it takes forever to find what you need, or mess up and can't go back. Overall I found the game incredibly frustrating.

  2. VortechBand

    I recently discovered Conarium, which is based on At the Mountains of Madness. Very nice game indeed and far more Lovecraftian than Call of Cthulhu.

  3. Kieran Chakravorty

    Second RPS vid I've watched after OutsideXbox/Xtra suggested checking out the channel and I've subscribed. Interesting vid.

  4. Tim

    Great review, definitely still interested in playing this game. Also, Noa's comments about the pacing and ensuring enough breathing room really resonated with her delivery style in this video, which I really liked because it felt measured and well paced, and she isn't afraid of silence. Sometimes review videos feel so bombastic and unnecessarily rushed, but this was perfect.

    Any plans to review other detective stories like Lamplight City?

  5. Sven

    I really waited with a lot of expectations for this game, and i want to love it after all the books and fan stories. But i still can't decide if i'm buying it or not -_-.
    I love your reviews and also the articles buy some of your co-workers this just lets me turn in circles without any clear decisions. Well if i go mad about this then the game has at least managed this part quit well. Thanks for your work as always.

  6. Chloe Caelynn

    Lovely review, Noa! Assuming y'all aren't doing a Let's Play yourselves, anyone recommend someone who is? None of my usual follows are.

  7. Orosian5

    I find that Noa really shines when she's on her own, or part of a duo. When all three are present, Matthew and Alice seem to have the dominant personalities.

  8. Elann Suvat

    I liked Vampyr and this game gives me similar vibes. Love games with a great atmosphere. And H.P. Lovecraft? Can't go wrong. My new, favorite reviewer, Alice Bell.

  9. carpetfluff

    I will play it when it's cheaper, but it clearly missed the mark and loses steam in the later stages by all accounts. Plus if you're going to do puzzles; make them puzzling.

  10. pakkitman

    hey noa, have you tried obduction? it's one that RPS never reviewed (apparently they're not too keen on mystlikes in general), and I get the sense that you'd like it given your tastes for first person exploration and puzzling.

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