[Review] Call of Cthulhu – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Cyanide
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive SA
  • Release date: 08/10/2019
  • Price: $39.99 / £35.99
  • Review code provided by Focus Home Interactive

Setting the mood

It’s October and you know what that means!

It’s time to play a whole lot of spooky games to try and scare ourselves as much as possible. It’s certainly something that I am going to spend all of October doing. I’ve been in a spooky mood since September 3rd, after all. So, when I got the chance to play Call of Cthulhu for the first time, I went into my basement, turned off all the lights, wrapped up in a blanket, and lit a few candles for atmosphere because that’s the whole point of a scary game, after all.

Why I didn’t need my candles

I ended up not needing my atmospheric candles as much as I thought I would as Call of Cthulhu is just dripping in atmosphere. The player takes on the role of Edward Pierce, a late 1940’s private detective that has been suffering from strange dreams that has been been contracted to investigate the mysterious circumstances of the death of the Hawkins family. This requires traveling to Darkwater, a small island off the coast of Boston that has fallen on hard times once whaling stopped. Even though you won’t be spending a ton of time in the town where most of the residents live, it’s still brimming with that old-timey waterlogged atmosphere that you would expect and feels almost frozen in time to when the “miraculous catch” occurred, over seventy years prior.

Call of Cthulhu knows a thing or two about building and releasing tension as well. Even in segments of the game where you are just investigating places and feel relatively sure that you won’t be accosted at any moment, there can be a palpable tension that had me leaning forward in my seat. There are one or two jumpscares in the game that are undeniably cheap and just there to make you jump, but I’ve always been willing to give a game one or two of those for every several hours of gameplay. It’s part of the genre, after all. Besides, there was enough of other forms of shock and horror that I was more than happy to take part in.

Why I did need my candles

Despite all this, though, I’m sorry to say that I just couldn’t bring myself to become entirely immersed in the game. The pacing is all over the place, sometimes going faster than if feels it should with characters seeming to just magically know what needs to be done, but at other times languishing in letting you explore every nook and cranny of an abandoned mansion. Some of the character animation can look messy and cartoonish here and there. And that’s not even getting into the technical problems!

This game has the longest loading times that I have seen on the switch. It was enough that I had my phone beside me at all times and could get through one or two levels from a match-3 game of my choice, lookup, and still have some time to go on the loading the chapter. This was unfortunate, since the ending of chapters was usually tense or exciting, only to have to wait for it to load and have all my excitement flow slowly away. It’s a tension killer rather than a tension release and that is pretty damning for a horror game that is relying on suspense. Tension inside a chapter will be excellent, only for it to die when I move to the next chapter, which is fairly often since the chapters are not particularly lengthy.

That’s not the only problem either. The visuals have quite a few issues. It really takes away from any sense of realism when you can see the characters hands clipping through their clothing if they put them on their lap or a nurse’s shirt starts to push though the front of her apron. It’s not persistent through the whole game, but once in a while something that was bloody or wet would look more like plastic, because it was just a bit too shiny. By far the worst moment of this that I saw though, was when I accidentally returned to the home screen in the middle of a fairly climatic cutscene and when I returned to the game, the scene was clearly dropping frames like crazy and looked to be stuttering. I’m not sure if this was from me leaving the game and coming back or because the cutscene itself struggles to run, but it was noticeable enough to me and I’m normally not super fussed about very small framerate drops.

Sanity slips

This game is, unfortunately, somewhat confused. I often found myself wondering if the game even knew what it wanted to be. There’s a good chunk of stealth gameplay, which makes sense as you spend most of the game unarmed, but sometimes it feels like the game doesn’t want you to use stealth. Hiding behind objects is no trouble, but hiding in closets causes Edward to begin getting more and more panicked (which leads to a narrower field of vision when you exit). While this makes sense for the character in some aspects, it can be frustrating to the player as there is no more than a second or two before panic starts building, which just had me avoid using closets at all. It only takes a bit of running to escape enemies anyway.

The game has these stylistic investigative segments where you see a half formed reconstruction of events built using clues that you find. The first time or two I found these to be really fun, but it quickly ends up boiling down to look at the thing with the white dot, then look at the other thing with the white dot. You would think you would need to manage resources with your lantern consuming the oil in it, but the lighter is unlimited even if the light is somewhat smaller.

The thing that epitomizes this most is the camera, though. It’s a first person game but there are quite a few cutscenes where the camera is placed outside of Edward and the scenes play out in the third person. The first few times this happens it is very jarring. It’s also jarring when it doesn’t happen for some time and then happens again. I could understand if this was because they wanted the camera to look at something specific in a scene while it was happening, but the first person camera often became locked to look in one direction as well, getting just about the same effect.

Sinking in

Call of Cthulhu is a somewhat confused game that both has great tension, but often loses it. It’s atmospheric, but the pacing can be very poor in places. Nonetheless, I am interested in seeing the multiple endings. It’s short length shouldn’t make that much of a problem. If you’re looking for something creepy to play this spooky season, this might suit your needs, but it might frustrate you just as much. I can see that a lot of love for the myths went into this game, but it cannot bring me to love it in the same way.

Pros

  • Strong atmosphere
  • Classic setting and mythos

Cons

  • Various technical problems
  • Confused mechanics and presentation

Verdict
While full of spooky atmosphere, Call of Cthulhu contains several lackluster or confused elements that hold it back.
3/5

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