Investigative adventures have always been a stumbling block in the gaming industry: difficult to achieve in terms of involvement, with the moral and narrative obligation to maintain a high pace and at the same time create puzzles that are not too guided and consistent with the story told. In fact, very often these games have been accompanied by great stories and already existing personalities, trying to elevate the experience to something familiar. It is no coincidence that, as happened with the Sherlock Holmes series, we have often referred to mystery books and stories, or at least intricate ones. This time it was the turn of Call of Cthulhu, title taken from the homonymous and crazy series of novels by the Providence writer HP Lovecraft. Clearly it needs no introduction, with the cult of Cthulhu that has attracted proselytes everywhere in all the transpositions that have ensued, from paper, to role-playing games, to videogames clearly. Developed by Cyanide Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, this Call of Cthulhu turns out to be an ambitious adventure, but which, also due to the weight given by the literary work in question, finds itself having to deal with its limits, for the most part technical, but not only. But let's proceed step by step.
The song of the sailors
In this adventure we take on the role of Edward Pierce, a WWI veteran, who once returned to Boston opened a detective agency. Unfortunately, due to his past - which is the least of the problems - and his strange nightmares, he has begun to make heavy use of sleeping pills and alcohol. Plunged into a decidedly sterile numbness, he struggles to find a case that awakens him mentally, until a man knocked on his door holding a canvas painted by his daughter, the famous artist Sara Hawkins. Without going into details for spoiler reasons, know that the investigator will travel to the inhospitable island of Darkwater, once famous for whaling, to find out more about the mysterious death of the "cursed" artist. This location, in the various environments that will be proposed to us, will be the background to the whole adventure, evoking unhealthy atmospheres in every corner, and sensations that are anything but comfortable. By dealing not only with the situations faced, but also with his own sanity, Edward Pierce will find himself embroiled in something that seems much bigger than a simple case of death in a fire ...
The chosen role
The events that will follow one another during Edward Pierce's investigations will not be totally guided, and even if the format of the story is cataloged in strongly story-driven chapters, in some cases we will have the possibility to make choices. This feature features Call Of Cthulhu's first double-edged blade. The most palpable feeling is that these choices, once made, have no decisive effects, even if a message will appear at every particular action we perform, warning us that “this will affect our destiny”. These events are often linked to the aforementioned sanity of our investigator, who slowly he could get dragged into madness. Whether the implications will be positive or negative will depend a lot on your interpretation and your points of view, but letting yourself be fascinated by the proposed situations ... and which will very often be the ones that sanity will make you lose - in game, of course - will give life to very… particular scenes.
On a playful level, role-playing mechanics have also been added to the classic first-person investigative mechanics, which will give us every important event or discovery. the ability to increase Pierce's capabilities at our discretion. These skills will be very useful in the story, and all for different reasons: the Force it will guarantee us not only physicality, but also determination, the Nose will allow us to more easily discover hidden objects or clues, while for example the Psychology it will help us to better understand the characters we will interact with and to use their personalities to our advantage. To these three described, are also added the skills of Investigation and Eloquence, but also the knowledge of Medicine e Occultism (the latter which can only be learned by reading dedicated books scattered around the game).
As intriguing as these mechanics can be, the feeling is that they have been only partially deepened, and that their exploitation could be even more marked. What is certain is that the risk of leading to a less guided and more chaotic story would have been at the door. One of the most interesting features included in the dialogue phases is that in some of these cases we will NOT have all the time in the world to choose an appropriate answer, and the ticking of the clock will be our playmate for a few seconds. Instinct and haste will be our judges.
(in) Healthy Walks
The fact is that, however, many dialogue options will test us with these skills, also based on the level of our skills, and this could lead us to particular situations or to obtain very important information. Even our wandering and thoroughly investigating the places will be indispensable, and continuing the story with more clues in our hands will make sure to provide us with a complete overview.
Some of the sections of the game will be their own dedicated to the investigative analysis of some places, and we'll meet at reconstruct the events in this place through Pierce's logical deduction. While it might sound very complicated in words, in reality these sections are extremely guided, and will only act as a mental catalyst.
Both these sections, and those of the game in general, unfortunately they do not present extremely complicated puzzles, so much so that we often limit ourselves to the sequence of actions "find object - use object", with a puzzle that we can hardly define by that name. So if you are looking for a title that will keep your brain busy solving any extreme puzzle, Call Of Cthulhu will probably not be on your list.
In some parts of the game we will also find ourselves experiencing phases that we will define "Stealth", even these guiding the protagonist in first person, but as much as he may try to vary the game, he does it in the wrong way, showing his side especially with a technical sector that breathes heavily. In any case, to help us in these cases is the automatic saving: this choice of the team is absolutely acceptable, especially if we want to retract a choice made by instinct. Everything that our mind dictates at the first attempt will be the architect of the consequences.
The clear intent of Cyanide Studio is to entertain the player with a story, merging into the contemporary role of narrator and protagonist. Even if from a playful point of view the experience limps conspicuously, the latter goal was fully hit by the development team: the atmosphere that is lived in Call Of Cthulhu is splendidly suffocating, an innate parallelism between pleasure and mental masochism, just as the tradition of the Cult dictates.
All this, however, finds a sort of bivalent split on the purely technical level of the adventure: if on the one hand the experience manages to convey the best of the best on an emotional level, on the other on the visual level. there are less than half the views that we can define as truly fascinating. Even setting the details to the maximum, we found ourselves faced with scenes not exactly made to brush, and many graphic defects followed one another on the screen, undermining the general enjoyment on a visual level. Even some small bugs, albeit minor ones, did nothing but distract us from some pivotal situations we were experiencing.
The audio sector instead defends itself well, which without infamy and without praise manages to support the entire work with little effort. Players will also be happy to know that, apart from the dubbing, the entire work of Cyanide is fully translated into Spanish, which is fundamental to better understand the events and the twisted mental disturbances that will stand out on the screen.