Mystery and horror await in ‘Call of Cthulu’

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A tavern is a central hub in the mystery-based game, “Call of Cthulu.”

Krista Olson-Lehman, Staff Writer

Before you is a putrid pile of blood and corpses of sea creatures. You’re slipping in it, trying to gain control of your faculties as the horror shocks your sanity. Ahead, a darkened corridor. It takes everything you have to control your own movements as you walk past a sight of bloodied sea creatures and butcher’s tools. What is this place? You find a bolt cutter and make quick work of the lock on a gated door. As you enter, a disembodied voice calls to you. Ahead in the distance, you can see some sort of macabre ceremony, something straight out of a nightmare. As events unfurl around you, you are discovered. The disembodied voice tells you this is your fate, it has already been written. A strange creature attacks… you wake up screaming in your office.

You are Edward Pierce, private investigator in the year 1924. Detective by trade, alcoholic by habit, and war veteran with a history of whiskey fueled nightmares, you spend more time than you should passing out on your office couch. So begins ‘Call Of Cthulu,’ the video game based on the pen and paper role playing game by Chaosium, and the original written work of H.P. Lovecraft.

From the looks of things, you haven’t had an assignment in a while. The phone rings and the woman on the other end of the line asks for your information. This is your first introduction to the skill tree and the leveling in game. Two skills, Occultism and Medicine, can only be leveled in game by finding books, not with character points earned from experience, so it’s a good idea to put some points into those two categories. Rounding out the skills are eloquence, strength, investigation, psychology, and spot hidden. Each of these skills greatly affect the choices you have, and how much information you glean from clues. There are not enough character points to fill up everything, and even on a complete play through you cannot max out all the categories, so you really have to decide on your investigation style. One of the great things about this system is the desire it gives you to run through the game again after completion, to see what you could have done differently. Every decision you make affects the outcomes of your game, how easy puzzles are to solve, and how effectively you can maneuver things in the game. The choice to keep drinking everyday can affect outcomes and trophies earned for playing the game.

The skill tree takes some of the attributes from the pen and paper game and organizes them into a workable leveling system. As you examine things, you gain more character points (CP). This CP can be distributed into your skill tree except Occultism and Medicine. This game is fully customizable though, as there is a way to ham fist your way to answers with strength just as easily as you can deduce things with psychology or read into ancient cryptic writings with occultism. Every skill comes in handy somewhere, so the easiest way to play is to try to keep them evenly distributed. On subsequent playthroughs, you can try other combinations of skills, and see what new options you would be confronted with.

Another addition is the sanity attribute, an important piece of the pen and paper game. Sanity controls your ability to maneuver in the environment, handle shocking scenes and revelations, and properly deduce what is going on. Each mental trauma incurred takes away more of the players sanity points, making controlling the character harder in times of distress.

A wealthy socialite has asked you to investigate the tragic death of his daughter Sarah Hawkins and her family. He doesn’t believe she went mad and killed her family in an arson, as the official reports have stated. He brings you an unsettling piece of artwork that was sent to him before Sarah’s death, arriving after the family had died. You are sent to the dreary, dank town of Darkwater, somewhere outside Boston, not a highly visited place. Since whaling died down, the town hasn’t had much to do. The town seems to hold a secret. Strange things are happening. The people in charge seem to either be working on keeping things in check with crime and an iron fist, or hiding decades old secrets of generations before them. You have to ask a lot of questions and peek behind a lot of doors in this game, so keeping a keen eye on things is key. The ‘spot hidden’ skill helps by showing you glowing circles where potential pieces to investigate are.

This is a great game for Lovecraft fans and horror fans alike. It’s not so horrifying that it becomes hard to play, but definitely gives the player some good startling along the way. Sometimes just walking into darkened rooms with nothing but a lantern or lighter creates enough anxiety to put you on edge. Wandering into darkened waters doesn’t seem advisable with the horrors you’ve seen dealt to sea creatures in this game. Anyone who prefers an open world environment might be stifled slightly by this game, as it is definitely a bread crumb trail, but it gives plenty of surprises to those who choose to walk every corridor and check every nook and cranny. Good observational skills are rewarded in this game, with all sorts of puzzles to figure out, secret passageways, ancient caverns, and generally bizarre behavior from the townspeople. Many of the overheard conversations are about awful sounds from the abandoned warehouse you’ve come to examine on your case, horrors of a nearby asylum, and tales of a miraculous catch, the only good thing to happen in Darkwater in the last 80 years.

This game was released just before Halloween in 2018, and has now come down in price, making it an affordable way to spend some of this quarantine time. It is available on PC, Playstation 4, X Box One, and Nintendo Switch. I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for an immersive mystery with horrors only H.P. Lovecraft could envision.