Call of Cthulhu

Review

posted 11/22/2005 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: Xbox

Call of Cthulhu is played from the first-person perspective, but don't take that to mean it's a first-person shooter.  In fact, for quite some time you won't have access to a weapon, so the game ends up being about you and your investigation skills.  Just because you don't have your weapon drawn doesn't mean the adventure is boring, some of the most tense moments of the game come from you having to figure out how to escape what appears to be certain doom.  But while there is excitement, a lot of what you'll be doing is piecing clues together and solving puzzles.  In a lot of ways Call of Cthulhu reminds me of the classic 8-Bit adventures like Shadowgate and Déjà vu, games that put you in dangerous situations that only your brain can get you out of.

But soon enough you'll get some weapons, including your basic handguns, shotguns, and even a tommy gun.  Don't expect a lot of futuristic technology, this is 1922 we're dealing with.  After such a long time without weapons, it's pretty exhilarating to finally take back some control over your surroundings.  Cthulhu does an excellent job of making you feel helpless, then empowered, and then helpless all over again; it's a rollercoaster ride full of unique puzzles and heart-pounding action.  By the end of the game you will feel warn out, much like the character you've been playing this whole time.

Outside of a couple of cinemas at the beginning and end, all of the action is shown from Jack's perspective; so you always see what he's seeing, experiencing the things that he is experiencing.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  From time to time you'll flash into somebody else's point of view, often showing you what is coming up or what the enemies are doing.  At first this seems confusing, but as you progress through the game you start to understand how these out of body experiences can help you survive (and even solve puzzles).  You will also find yourself returning to the asylum in some of the most effective flashbacks in the game, all done in black and white revealing more about yourself than you cared to realize.  But outside of these sequences, everything in the game is happening to Jack, which means they are happening to you.

From the very first moment you meet Jack you will likely wonder if this guy is up for it; after all, he's batting some major mental problems and is easily spooked.  But despite all this, Jack the unlikely hero seems up for the adventure, just as long as he doesn't see too many scary things.  Unlike most adventure games that reward you for looking at everything, Call of Cthulhu has sprinkled all kinds of disturbing images for you to stumble across.  Look at the wrong thing – a rotting corpse hanging from a cross, an eerie picture, and just about anything else that could freak you out – and you'll lose some of your sanity, making the game a little harder to play.  How much harder?  Depending on what you looked at it could be as bad as your eyes playing tricks on you (making the world sway and move unnaturally), or simply just hearing voices in your head.  Put these together and you have a truly terrifying experience.

Call of Cthulhu is not the first game to show you losing your marbles, Eternal Darnkeess: Sanity's Requiem for the GameCube did the same kind of thing several years earlier.  Since both games did this effect in completely different ways it's hard to make a decision to which is better, but don't expect to walk on the ceiling and other unique scares like in Eternal Darkness.  Instead you get blurred eyesight, you hear your heart pounding, and you see things that should not be there … it's a very effective way of showing you lose your sanity, especially when it happens in the middle of the intense moments of the game.  Thankfully you can minimize your loss of sanity by just ignoring all of the disturbing things around you, but that's easier said than done.

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