Beginning with the simple sounds of water drops, your eyes open to a scene of abject horror: your hands covered in sanguine liquid, the origins of which you cannot possibly know. All around you the waterlogged landscape is dotted with the fresh corpses of various ocean creatures: a shark’s cold dead eyes stare into you, and you gasp, for you do not understand. Your senses go dark, and you awake once more, blood still coating your hands. You’re now in a dark cave strewn with what looks like the entrails of the creatures you saw before. Iron gates bound by chains block your path — and this sets the scene for what your experience is about to become, but then you wake up.
Your name is Edward Pierce, and you’re a detective. Struggling with life after the military, you’ve turned to the comfort of alcohol and sleeping pills to cope, finding yourself unmotivated to take simple cases and falling into a bit of a problem: you need to take more cases to keep your license, a fact that your agency is all-too happy to remind you of as you shuffle around your office post-nightmare. A fated knock on the door brings you an intriguing job, a case that you can tell has more to it than meets the eye.
After the opening scene, you get the opportunity to allocate character points. This allows you to build your skills to your liking, encompassing such categories as Medicine, Occultism, Psychology, and Investigation. There are some skills that you already have a few points in from the outset, and each category gives you a good understanding of what it has to offer based on the tooltips provided on the right-hand side of the screen. This mirrors the tabletop version of the game and makes for a decently customized setup, allowing you to steer the direction of conversation based on skill choices. Throughout your adventure you’ll get to interact with books and other various objects that can increase your knowledge on particular subjects and help with ranking up your skills. This starts fairly early on in the game, so it pays to explore every nook and cranny of the world around you.
Exploration is key here, and almost every object you can observe can be interacted with in some way, providing detail and world building for our protagonist that helps put clues together and figure out objectives. Dialogue between characters is incredibly important, with options opening up depending on which skills you’ve put your character points into, allowing you to get different information you otherwise wouldn’t be privy to. All of this lends very well to the investigative air, making an all-too believable world for our plucky detective to explore for answers.
The game does have heavy survival/horror influence, and some frustrating stealth sequences — while many could find reason to complain, I honestly felt that the stealth parts added to the ambience of the game and made things seem more real rather from detracting from the adventure as a whole. One of the biggest shine factors, though, is the array of complex puzzles scattered throughout the game. The island you investigate is littered with different challenges
Narrative and Aesthetics
Call of Cthulhu follows the investigation of the Sarah Hawkins case, one that our detective Edward Pierce feels obligated to pick up due to his license being at stake. Pierce himself is not particularly likable with his alcoholism and sleeping pill problems, but is incredibly relatable in that he has a hard time putting himself into work that doesn’t challenge him. Out of either intrigue, or necessity, it’s why he’s agreed to take on the case and we get to see how he analyzes clue after clue to figure out what really happened. There are many moments where the surroundings dim, mist fills the air, and you can hear Pierce’s breath intake sharply as your own fear levels rise with his. What was that in the water? You won’t know until it grabs you and you are lost to a vision of the dark depths below — coming back to your senses in just a matter of seconds to see that mere seaweed caused you to dissociate from reality, but he won’t talk about it. We ignore it and push ever forward.
The case you are working on starts with a family being lost to a raging fire, but as you uncover secret after horrifying secret, you find that there’s much more than what first meets the eye. Back in your office at the start of the game, your client shows you a painting that only shows the surface level of the pain and terror that plagued the Hawkins family, but there is so much to uncover and it seems that the secrets run as deep as the caves on Darkwater Island. Why was Sarah having these “visions” she was known for? Why were YOU having similar ones? Was it fated chance that led you to this case, or some sinister plot?
Aesthetically, the mood of this game is polished by its wonderful use of lighting. Graphically, it does very well on Switch, with rich detail in every area that does its best to set the tone for the scenes to come. Whether the misty water is casting the illusion of movement, or you could swear that you saw something shift off to the side, the environment does not fall short. The only graphical complaints I have are about the character models: the people look waxy and their features are sharp, a bad contrast between environment and personal interactions. While the dark tones of the world around you set the stage well, the people look out of place and disjointed from the world they are in.
Sound effects definitely add to the creep factor. The drops of water, rush of something lurking in the deep, the squelch beneath your feet… Are these real sounds or are they in your head? It becomes increasingly difficult to separate vision from reality, but the path you must walk to the truth has been set, and as a detective you labor to press onward. Each creak of the floorboards and jingle of hanging chains keeps you wary, and while your wits are needed to solve the puzzles the game throws at you, you begin to wonder if you can really trust all the things you’re experiencing.
Call of Cthulhu does a good job at making the leap from tabletop RPG to the digital frontier of gaming, making sure not to give up on its roots, but also to adapt to modern trends. The story itself is incredibly immersive and can keep you coming back for more. I found myself personally invested in the events unfolding around Edward Pierce, and despite a bit of annoyance with the various puzzles, could not stop myself from pressing on. While I was dedicated to finishing the title, the loading times were incredibly off-putting, at one point causing me to worry that my Switch had somehow bricked. Along with a bit of graphical stuttering here and there, it was clear that performance could have used a bit more polish. If you are a player that loves a richly detailed world to explore that is very true to the mythos, then this title is worth the investment.