In 1981, a company called Chaosium released Call of Cthulhu, a tabletop RPG based on the horrific dark world created by author H.P. Lovecraft in his works. That pen and paper game would keep players awake at nights, afraid to close their eyes, lest madness and tentacled creatures claim them. That experience has now returned, thanks to Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game, which is equally as terrifying as its predecessor.
In the Call of Cthulhu video game, players step into 1924 and take on the role of Edward Pierce, a detective who receives a strange case that takes him to the island of Darkwater. At first, Darkwater seems like a backward down on its luck fishing town, but as the detective begins to investigate, he discovers that dark things lurk just underneath its surface, mysterious creatures that have possessed the town and brought its inhabitants to madness. Pierce's quest becomes more about facing these dark things and trying to survive with his sanity intact. But he cannot ignore the "call" forever: there is something in the depths of the ocean that beckons to him.
If that sounds like the beginning of a good horror plot, it is. It paints a layer of dark dread over the entire town of Darkwater, its residents haunted in a way that becomes evident as the story plays out. And as madness was always a vital element of those games, here it finds itself depicted in scenes that are straight out of nightmares. There are also many moments where the player won't know what's real and what isn't.
Through dialogue choices, Pierce can choose which path he takes, until a final decision at the end of the game forces him to define how the story ends. Call of Cthulhu is horror storytelling at its best. Players are taken by the hand through the horrors of Darkwater until they must face a lot of terrifying creatures. There are a lot of thrills and chills here, but perhaps the most horrific thing is what happens to Pierce's mind as he uncovers the town's dark secrets.
Gameplay is mostly point-and-click: Pierce explores his environment and finds items that aid him in his investigation. He begins with a certain level of skills, all talents taken directly from the character sheet of the original tabletop Cthulhu game. He can use skill points to upgrade these skills, save for a few that require reading books or looking at special items. There are also puzzles that allow Pierce to progress through an area and the story, with some that need a little brain work on the part of the player. Dialogue choices guide the story, especially in the way that Pierce reacts to other characters. Skills and previous investigations will unlock certain dialogue choices, too. This is a game where it is critical to explore every part of the environment.
Cyanide Studio put a lot of time and effort into making Darkwater as creepy as possible. They paid a lot of attention to the dim lighting and the way the murky fog seems to always linger over the town. The creatures seem to have crawled straight out of Lovecraft's stories and onto the screen. This is the kind of game players will want to indulge in with the lights out, although some scenes might keep them from sleeping well that night. The characters are also well-voiced and believable, with sound effects that add to the eeriness of the story.
Call of Cthulhu is easily one of the best horror games of recent years. The creepy atmosphere and the excellent storytelling will keep players longing to enter the madness, even after it has already claimed them.
Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game is available now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided a copy for the PS4 for the purposes of this review.