For as long as there’s been a Cthulhu mythos, there have been authors, filmmakers and game developers attempting to harness that shadowy void for their own twisted tales. Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu tabletop role-play game allowed players to create their own Lovecraftian fantasies in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons and became the defacto “official” Cthulhu game adaptation. Of course, that didn’t stop video game developers from attempting the same, like Headfirst Productions’ Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, or Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. Now, though, fans of the tabletop incarnation may have their chance to transition their love to the television with Cyanide Studios’ Call of Cthulhu, an adaptation of Chaosium’s work.
Publisher Focus Home Interactive (makers of Vampyr, The Surge and the Styx series) and developer Cyanide Studios gave a hands-off demo of Call of Cthulhu to media at E3 this year. The first difference most players will notice between Chaosium’s game and Cyanide’s is that it’s not a pure RPG. Call of Cthulhu is a first-person narrative adventure game, similar to Amnesia: Dark Descent, SOMA or Layers of Fear, but with plenty of RPG elements to keep those kinds of players busy with growing their character.
Players walk in the shoes of Edward Pierce, a private investigator and former war veteran in 1920s Boston. Pierce is tasked with determining the truth behind the tragic death of Sarah Hawkins, a famous artist who had recently moved with her husband and family to the mysterious Darkwater Island.
The demo starts off with Pierce arriving on Darkwater Island and investigating along the way to the Hawkins’ mansion perched atop a large hill. The developers stressed that a keen eye for clues will dramatically impact how well you fare, both in conversations with other characters and while exploring. Pierce spies a series of gravestones for the Hawkins family, noting that all but one have flowers lying at their base. Once Pierce makes it up to the fire-damaged mansion, he’s confronted by the family groundskeeper, still tending to the property and scaring off visitors. It’s here that players are given the chance to use a dialogue wheel to advance the conversation and their investigation. You’ll have a traditional slew of options, including hostility, lies or cooperation, but as the developer puts it, “knowledge is a weapon,” and in more ways than one. Our previous research at the gravestones lets us convince the groundskeeper that we’re on his side and have the family’s best interests at heart, allowing us to continue exploring the grounds in peace.
Later on, we’re able to explore the mansion’s interior. Each room has been scarred by the blaze, leaving tattered furniture strewn about and soot hanging in the air. Pierce is able to find clues, like the outline of a victim’s body or a clock, and corroborate them against the evidence already compiled by the police. Again, knowledge proves vital, as Pierce is able to put together that the clock doesn’t match the time that the fire supposedly began.
After our investigation, the demo jumped ahead a few chapters to experience what the more visceral side of Lovecraftian horror felt like. Pierce found himself browsing through a room housing antiques and some storage containers, like drawers and closets. At the far end of the room sat a full-length mirror. When Pierce approaches, an otherworldly creature with unnaturally long limbs and a razor-filled mouth emerges from the glass, sniffing him out. Much like Alien: Isolation or Amnesia, Pierce is woefully outclassed by the sheer might of this predator.
True to Lovecraftian lore, if you stare too long at the creature, you’ll do irreparable damage to your psyche. However, Cyanide Studios has put an additional twist on traditional horror gameplay with the addition of phobias. Make use of the nearby closets to hide one too many times and Pierce will develop a fear of tight spaces, forcing players to think on their toes. It’s unclear how many of these phobias will be in the final game, but it makes sense to think of them as gameplay modifiers for commonly occurring elements, like closets, darkness or perhaps water. A sanity gauge (think Eternal Darkness) keeps track of your overall mental stability, and considering the horrors that lie in wait, it might be too tempting to stare into that dark void.
Call of Cthulhu certainly looks enticing, but it remains to be seen if the experience will translate to meaningful role-playing and survival horror loop. While the mystery solving seems comprehensive enough, running away from Lovecraft’s finest over and over again might get old, especially if the mechanics never push beyond your typical “run and hide” strategies. Here’s hoping we get to see some different creatures than rent-a-Slenderman, and that the writing holds up throughout.
Call of Cthulhu is scheduled for release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One later this year.