"Cosmic horror, the unknown and intrigue aplenty await you in Call of Cthulhu."
Cosmic horror, the unknown and intrigue aplenty await you in Call of Cthulhu. We had the opportunity to see a hands-off demonstration of the third chapter of the tabletop-turned-video game adaption, titled simply "Hawkins Mansion," and witnessed clues being found, puzzles being solved, and the unknown slowly creeping in.
Developed by Cyanide Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive, Call of Cthulhu has you follow the exploits of William Pierce, an investigator seeking to uncover the downfall of the Hawkins family and the circumstances that led them to ruin. In the preview shown to us, Pierce is accompanied by a man known as Officer Bradley, one of several characters that players can interact with, influencing both their views and their surroundings via various dialogue choices.
As the demo opens upon the interior of the Hawkins mansion, a pervasive sense of gloom permeates the environment. Rotted chairs straddle the floor, broken bookcases house dusty tomes, and the lighting emphasizes an absence. Officer Bradley inquires after the reality of the situation, displaying a sense of unease, and Pierce gets to work, wending through various hallways and rooms.
It's in these journeys that the player finds the bread and butter of what Call of Cthulhu has to offer in terms of gameplay. As Pierce makes his way through the environments in the game, an icon in the shape of a question mark occasionally appears, alerting us that objects of importance can be found within the nearby area. These objects serve as pieces of a puzzle that slowly connect various narrative threads, with Pierce commenting in-game on everything that he finds.
Bandages found with blood stained on them are linked to a clue in a previous chapter, unseen in our demo. A ledger denoting a mysterious painting given freely to the Hawkins family is hidden away from prying eyes inside a drawer. Toys scattered about a room, moulded and broken, speak of a child once living there. These objects, and many more, serve to push the player and Pierce to successfully recreate the circumstances in Call of Cthulhu's playtime, unveiling the answers to the mysteries within the game.
After winding his way through the rooms of the mansion, and finding a number of clues, the developer showcases one of Pierce's innate abilities as an investigator, that of recollection. Similar to the memory rewinding in Remember Me, players are able to use clues to create the past in their head, visually denoted by spectral forms superimposed on environments. When successfully completed, dynamic cutscenes show the uncovered truths of the circumstance. In this instance, Pierce replays a supper within the mansion, revealing a scene of brutality and bloodshed between a wife and husband, leading towards the room of a child — their son.
Personally, I believe the recollections add a sense of investigative intrigue, allowing players to put together the fragmented and corrupted pieces of a place gone beyond the pale. Cyanide Studios confirmed that as the story progresses, the mental corruption that Pierce faces as a result of his investigations will seep into these recollections, skewing events in unusual ways, such as audio playing from times past in the game or ominous images superimposed on otherwise normal paintings.
Pierce, now on the hunt for the son and motive, continues his way through the mansion, finding himself blocked from passing down another hallway. Cyanide Studios has promised that the experience players get for solving cases and wending their way through the environments within Call of Cthulhu will allow various dispositions to be upgraded, such as Forensics (to identify biological oddities), Investigation (to piece together clues into logic), Lockpicking (to find clues and pathways hidden behind locks), and Occultism (to deduce knowledge steeped in mystery). With the upgrades that Pierce possesses in our demo, he is able to unlock a side door with the Lockpicking skill and enter the child's room from another entrance, rather than being forced to find another way around and risk exposure to otherworldly roughness.
Finding himself in the son's room, Pierce notices a bunch of papers on the floor, depicting thin, unnatural limbs and features placed together in random patterns. Using his recollection ability again, the papers shift from scattershot into a cutscene of the boy leaning over the now organized papers, revealing a figure with thin limbs, a body unnatural in bone structure, and a wide jaw depicted in rough pencil lines.
The demo continues forward, and Pierce enters another room featuring a painting depicting the husband in grand majesty. With a clattering of noise and a subsequent dramatic camera spin, we're face to face with an intruder, sporting a mask depicting chalk-white tentacles and holding a sizable tome. The developer controlling Pierce gives chase, and comments on the nature of Call of Cthulhu's gameplay loops, saying that players will not be able to fight conventionally through the environmental dangers and enemies they'll encounter throughout the game's playtime, creating a certain duality of paced investigation and frantic set-piece action.
As Pierce barreled through the mansion, hot on the heels of the intruder and the answers they might possess, I thought this duality was executed well, giving a frenetic sense of speed and pace to what had been an interesting, but fairly slow, experience.
The intruder outpaces Pierce, fleeing into a spacious room laden with various paraphernalia, and it's in this moment that the last pillar of Call of Cthulhu's design is revealed: that of puzzle solving. As Pierce makes his way through the room, ascertained to be a study by an investigation check, he notices various inconsistencies with the environment, namely centralized floor markings leading towards a bookcase in a jagged angle. Utilizing his skills, he determines that an innocuous globe found in the left-hand corner of the room possesses a broken mechanism linked to the bookcase. With a few more passes, he discovers a panel and pops it out, allowing the investigator to restart the mechanism and open whatever lay beyond it.
Cyanide Studios promised that there would be multiple solutions to the problems that Pierce and the player face, dependent on the skills upgraded and general investigative ability, and I felt that the puzzle shown was an adequate example of this design choice being put into practice. I'm keen to see what other puzzles might be in store, and what consequences they might provide as the game goes on.
After the panel is pried open, darkness and a ringed webbing outline a passage continuing forward, with Pierce cutting a fine figure before it. Confirming that the passage leads to another dimension, Cyanide Studios closes the demo with that promise and hook, leaving me wanting more.
All in all, I believe that Call of Cthulhu has the potential to be a successful adapted property in gaming and a fascinating RPG in its own right. Confirming four potential endings, twelve areas to explore, and more cosmic horror than you can shake some sanity at, Cyanide Studios promises that the game will be landing sometime in 2018 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. I, for one, am excited to take that journey.
"This title seems to be hitting every aspect of the tabletop game and could prove quite rewarding for fans of horror and mystery games. "
Adapting the pen-and-paper RPG Call of Cthulhu into a video game has already proven rather difficult. Bethesda gave it the old college try years back, but many agreed it was severely lacking and forced you into too many combat encounters that ran counter to the evocative world of H.P. Lovecraft. Thankfully, developer Cyanide seems to be on the right track if the preview for Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game during E3 2017 is anything to go by.
You play as Edward Pierce, a private investigator seeking answers related to an entire family's demise in Boston, Massachusetts. Your investigation leads to Darkwater Island, probably the creepiest and most gothic environment this side of Bloodborne's Yharnam. Our preview laid the dark colors on thick, with lots of eldritch greens to keep you guessing at what might be lurking in the shadows. Cyanide clearly nailed the aesthetic associated with H.P. Lovecraft's best tales, and that goes a long way toward selling this specific brand of horror.
Pierce's profession was on full display during our hands-off demo. You'll want to take your time and observe your surroundings, both because it will add to your understanding of the story, and because it will provide you valuable information that can be used in various situations. Pierce was able to avoid a potentially dangerous groundskeeper thanks to some useful knowledge about the deceased family and a few brash dialogue options. Players are rewarded experience points based on their findings and can use them to upgrade Pierce's deductive abilities just like the tabletop game. Maybe you should enhance your occult knowledge to keep you abreast on the devilish Old Ones, or maybe another point in "smooth talker" will let you bypass citizens standing in your way. Every NPC will have an opinion on Pierce based on your actions, and several can help in your investigation should you befriend them.
Our previewers shifted us forward a bit to a more "action heavy" section that, thankfully, didn't betray the classic roleplaying game in any way that should concern fans. We found Pierce in an art gallery surrounded by ominous paintings (of course), and eventually a not-very-nice creature came crawling out of the twisted nether with a hunger for private investigators. Call of Cthulhu doesn't feature any kind of combat, so you'll have to rely on your knowledge and investigative skills to overcome such obstacles. Our demo drivers assured us that you'll have multiple ways of getting through a situation, though I'm slightly nervous that things might prove a bit frustrating if you end up dying over and over again at the same point. Pierce also has to watch out for his sanity and any phobias that might end up killing him before some creature has the chance. In our demo, Pierce took refuge from the creature in a closet, but his claustrophobia could result in a fatal heart attack should he spend too much time cowering in such a small place. You won't be able to regenerate lost sanity, either, so it's a precious resource that must be managed carefully.
I was extremely impressed with our demo of Call of Cthulhu. This title seems to be hitting every aspect of the tabletop game and could prove quite rewarding for fans of horror and mystery games. It remains to be seen if the story holds up or just how dynamic the investigations can get, but color me intrigued about Cyanide's little experiment.