“Far too soon it starts throwing betentacle­d monsters at you”

Can CALL OF CTHULHU satisfy my unnatural hunger for the mythos?



After enjoying Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened so much this month (see my review on p72), my appetite was whetted for Lovecrafti­an horror. Hazily I remembered a game from a few years back with a pretty similar premise: Call of Cthulhu. Just as I had the thought, it popped up at a deep discount on Steam.

Call of Cthulhu, based on both Lovecraft’s work and the board game, is a pretty classic mythos tale. A private detective is hired to investigat­e a death, travels to an isolated community to investigat­e, and finds himself drawn into bizarre events that sap his sanity.

So far, so good, and indeed the game makes a great first impression. My introducti­on to the crumbling fishing village of Darkwater is wonderfull­y grotesque and creepy – surly fishermen and threatenin­g bootlegger­s making me feel anything but welcome, everything tinged a sickly green by overcast skies, a dead whale washed up on the beach, covered in unexplaina­ble wounds.

But what so many Lovecrafti­an videogames are bad at is knowing when and how far to ramp up the weirdness, and Call of Cthulhu is no exception. Far too soon it starts throwing betentacle­d monsters at you, showing them in intense close-ups that destroy any sense of mystique – and you just can’t come back from that.


I won’t claim the original stories are all subtlety and nuance – let’s not forget that in Cthulhu’s first literary appearance, he’s defeated by the protagonis­t ramming a boat into his head – but the mythos is always most effective in games when it’s used with some restraint.

The weird thing is that, at the same time that Call of Cthulhu seems so over-eager to indulge in Lovecrafti­an tropes with its monsters, cultists and forbidden tomes, it also struggles to trust in them for its horror. There are key themes that make the Mythos uniquely scary – existentia­l dread, fear of the unknown, the terror of losing your mind – but as if trying to hedge its bets, the game throws in a load of other horror ideas too.

As I crept around a hospital run by a mad scientist, discoverin­g piles of body parts and gore in every other room, I couldn’t help but feel the game had lost the thread of what could have made it unsettling. A disembodie­d torso doesn’t make me think about my insignific­ance in an uncaring universe – it just makes me think, “Ew, gross.” But, it has to be said, subtlety and focus are not generally the strong suits of bigbudget videogame storytelli­ng. My search for another great Lovecrafti­an detective game continues.

 ?? ?? The face of a man who has seen too much.
The face of a man who has seen too much.
 ?? ??
 ?? ?? LEFT: One of the game’s more effective motifs is a series of surreal paintings.
LEFT: One of the game’s more effective motifs is a series of surreal paintings.

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