Call of Cthulhu Preview - E3 2018
We get a second look at the upcoming Lovecraftian adventure game
At last year’s E3 I sat down with Cyanide Studio's investigation/RPG Call of Cthulhu and crept into the world of Lovecraftian psychological horror. This year, I answered the call once again, but all those tentacles on Cthulhu's face make him somewhat difficult to understand. Regardless, I soldiered on and dove back into madness with a gameplay preview.
Call of Cthulhu is based on Chaosium’s classic pen and paper RPG. The year is 1924, Private Investigator Edward Pierce is sent to tackle the case of a death in the Hawkins family. The family have seemingly been involved in a house fire, on the isolated Darkwater Island, just off the shores of Boston. To uncover the mystery, Edward must navigate unfriendly locals and dubious police reports. As you can image with Lovecraft, there’s going to be conspiracies, cultists, cosmic horrors, all wrapped up with a bow of insanity.
We begin in the Hawkins manor, a cold, creepy place that’s laden with dust and secrets ready to be uncovered. We are accompanied by a scarred policeman, who is skeptical of our ability to reveal more than meets the eye in a seemingly open-and-shut case. There was a fire and the family died. However, after Edward discovered a charred painting from the Hawkins wife somewhere else in the town, he wants to figure out why.
Edward checks out a room that has been ravaged by fire. He is able to trigger a mode, similar to detective mode in other games, where he can recollect what has happened. This can show people and places before an incident happened. It can help you discover what object used to be where, and if a person has passed through a location, to uncover clues. However, these mental pictures can degrade over time if you lose your sanity, as is common in Lovecraft-themed games. In turn, this may throw up false flags and impede your investigation. It will also affect your conversation options with other characters.
Graphically, Call of Cthulhu does conjure that sense of foreboding through its visual design. Dusty bookshelves, antique furniture, and other elements like costume design all seem to fit the setting very well. As you can imagine, it is a very “dark” game and while the lighting effects were acceptable, it is a not a game that will push current-gen systems to the max. Saying that, the exterior environments, such as the docks, do have a very American Horror Story sort of vibe to them.
Back in the mansion, Edward pieces together that the couple had a fight. He also has some questions about how the child had died in the fire. To remind you that there are clues to be discovered, there is a “?” symbol. Whether you choose to find them all is up to you, however.
Moving onwards, we plead our case to the officer. Dialogue choices come in the form of a wheel. The way in which we speak to characters not only affect their relationships with us, but the path the story takes, too. Because we had found evidence in the room, we were able to persuade the officer that murder is not what it seems. We have also determined that the fire was no accident and someone else was involved.
Through interacting with the world and progressing in the investigation, you gain XP and level up. You can learn new skills, which come in a variety of flavours. They can help you get past persuasion checks and see things in a locale, which can open up alternate pathways. You have speech-related skills, as well as more physical skills, like lockpicking. There are also books in the world that can level up your skills, too. The abilities you choose to invest in will affect your playthrough and let you define the type of detective you want to be.
You eventually explore the boy’s room to learn about him. Using your recollection, we see that he was obviously scared about something because of his child’s fort, as well as reading books to escape this reality, and taking sleeping pills. With this in mind, you visit the mother’s room. Here we find a locked room. To get inside, Edward must pick the lock. We stumble up an occult circle - not good. Seems mother liked painting on more than just canvases. Was she trying invoke or revoke something?
Along with the occult circle, we discover a ledger that details who she sold paintings to. But the last one was given away for free. With a name in hand, Edward explores a room full of her artwork. Just as we are having a nosey around, a cultist member dashes past us. We try to give chase, but lose him. When we speak to the detective, he claims to have not seen anyone.
Close to the end, we enter a study where there appears to be a moveable bookcase. You can tackle it in various ways. If you picked up the crowbar earlier, you can open a side panel and bust open the mechanism. Failing that, you can solve a puzzle to do with a globe. We chose the former, forcing the cogs and revealing a deep, dark staircase into the bowels of the mansion. Edwards descends into the dark unknown.
With any kind of game that puts both its narrative and investigative elements into focus, the story has to be one of its strongest points. The inclusion of the sanity mechanics are quite common in Lovecraftian games, as is the dialogue wheel and branching decisions. What I would say Call of Cthulhu is banking on is its mystery and plot twists, which we were assured there were a bevy of. And it does do a good job of creating an atmosphere that will please Lovecraft and detective game fans alike.
Call of Cthulhu promises 12-18 hours per playthrough, with four endings available. It is currently scheduled to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2018.