Call of Cthulhu: The fOficial Video Game
Rolling invisible dice in the creaking port town of Darkwater
Last year’s footage of Call of Cthulhu felt more tailored for the ‘quiet-quiet-BOO’ let’s play audience than it did to the implacable horrors of Lovecraftian literature. But now I’ve beheld another side to the game, which has eschewed jump scares for a tasteful atmosphere of sickly unease. It’s okay, Howard, you can stop turning in your grave now. I meet with the developers for a guided, hands-off demo. We follow private eye Edward Pierce as he travels to Darkwater Island—a dank fishing village—to find a mysterious painting belonging to a wealthy deceased couple. Darkwater is a place of surly mariners and sludgy jetties. Looming over it all is a scabrous spike of a mountain. Reality here seems to be being encroached upon by the energies of a cold, other dimension.
Upon arrival, you are free to snoop about. A natural place to start is that mutilated carcass of a whale lying on the jetty. The locals murmur about the violent nature of the creature’s demise, while others whisper about a ‘miraculous catch’. We head to the tavern to find out more.
A sharply dressed woman at the back of the room catches our eye. Clearly, she knows something. CallofCthulhu has a four-pronged skill tree, divvied up into Speech, Investigation, Physical and Knowledge. Your execution of these abilities—whether it’s intimidation, lockpicking, or spotting objects in the
environment is effectively down to dice rolls based on the character skill level. As per the tabletop game, this is as much about building a roleplaying character as it is about your own skills as a player.
Evidently, Mr Pierce hasn’t invested many points into Charm, as we blurt an opening line to the effect of ‘What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?’ Just like that, we’ve blown it, and must track down the painting another way.
We read a news story about the Miraculous Catch of 1847, before going upstairs to talk to one Captain Fitzroy, de facto don of Darkwater. This is more like it. No uncomfortable one-liners; just two stone-faced men getting down to it. We impress him with our grasp on local history, and he tells us that Hawkins used to own Warehouse 36 across the way.
The freedom of approach becomes palpable here. We can try to sneak past the guards into the warehouse, smoothtalk them, or bribe the nearby drunks to cause a distraction. As we’re probing, however, we hear of a network of tunnels connecting the warehouses. How could we refuse?
First, we need to fix the pulley system to open a hatch. We use our ‘Spot Hidden Object’ skill, which gives useful objects in the environment a chance of glimmering faintly as we pass over them. This time, the invisible dice roll in our favor, and we spot the cog that grants us passage into the subterrane.
Once again, Lovecraftian stylization trumps realism, as the green water of the underpass seems to pulsate with radioactive radiance. Then, a splash, a mass of tentacles, and we’re pulled under, glimpsing a kaleidoscopic underwater world, or maybe a being, of glorious and terrifying abstraction. We resurface to see that we just got tangled in seaweed.
The interesting thing is that we wouldn’t have had this encounter (a manifestation of the game’s Insanity system) had we chosen a different path. Maybe we need to talk to people better, or we should just succumb to curiosity and embrace the horror. Either way, Cyanide has evidently grasped the tone of this slippery source material.
A natural place to start is that mutilated carcass of a whale
Beautiful or terrifying? It’s like Rorschach test for cultists.
There’s more of a reliance on traditional scares.