Darkwater Island needs better PR.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever espoused my enthusiasm for the cosmic horror genre or the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft on this website, but I suppose I just did. Lovecraft’s body of weird tales is full of antediluvian terrors threatening humanity from afar, often causing the protagonists to go mad once they’ve seen beyond the veil. While Lovecraft’s most iconic work is undoubtedly The Call of Cthulhu, there are plenty of other famous stories like The Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Dunwich Horror, and I highly recommend them all.
The “Cthulhu Mythos,” as they’ve been termed by Lovecraft’s literary successor, August Derleth, are no stranger to video game adaptations: the earliest seems to be Infocom’s The Lurking Horror in 1987, but there are many others. I remember briefly enjoying 2005’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth back on the original Xbox, which was really more of an adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but the Cthulhu name is more familiar.
And now we have Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game, a first-person adventure game with RPG and stealth elements, inspired by an old tabletop RPG from 1981 of the same name and published by Chaosium. You play the role of world-weary private investigator Edward Pierce, who is hired to investigate the deaths of a family in a fire at their mansion on…Darkwater Island. First of all, nothing good can ever happen on an isolated landmass called Darkwater Island. And once Pierce arrives, you can bet that crazy stuff starts happening.
Pierce has attributes for investigative skills, psychology skills, eloquence, strength, and how good he is at finding clues. Every now and then, you will earn Character Points that can be sunk into these categories. Two other attributes, Occultism and Medical Knowledge, are increased by finding occult objects/symbols and medical tomes in the game. You’ll spend the majority of your time wandering around fairly large areas, talking to people and finding things germane to the case. In dark areas, he can bring out a lighter or, later on, an oil lamp. Your attributes manifest in interesting ways: often, you’ll simply be offered more options when questioning people, but there are real-world consequences, too, such as whether you can pick locks or notice subtle things about the environment. Every now and then you’ll be able to “reconstruct a scene,” which means finding clues in a restricted area so that Pierce can visualize what happened, a bit like Batman’s Detective Vision in the Arkham games. Some dialogue choices you make will affect how the story moves along, which is cool.
I’m all about the exploration and questioning. The environments are generally gorgeous, though I can’t say the same for most of the human characters, who all look just a tad off, especially in their movements. I love that every line of dialogue is voiced. The game stumbles a bit, however, when you’re asked to do anything that’s not directly related to investigating. There’s a fairly long section a few chapters in where you are tasked with escaping from an asylum, and here comes the stealth gameplay. While not unbearable, the pace of the game came to an absolute crawl as I navigated Pierce through a map-less facility to try and find components necessary to overload a machine, causing a distraction, and then escaping in the confusion.
Getting caught by a guard sends you back to the last checkpoint, of course, so I had to repeat the same area quite often. Pierce really needed a map or at least some form of the Metal Gear Solid radar. I’m just past that area now, thankfully, and have come face to face with my first otherworldly monster.
The game really is quite fun when I’m not forced to sneak around and find things while avoiding detection. Hopefully there’s not TOO much of that in the game, but so far I’m enjoying The Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game. Be on the lookout for my review before too long, assuming I don’t wind up like so many of Lovecraft’s doomed protagonists.