Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Call of Cthulhu ★★☆☆☆

\“In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

That one sentence has always scared me in a way that I’ve never been able to fully understand. The ancient gods of Lovecraft’s work - the ‘Great Old Ones’ - demonstrate the insignificance of man in this vast universe, and will drive a person insane from the mere sight of them. Conceptually that is a distressing and overwhelming thing indeed. What has always repelled me from the idea of Cthulhu specifically (as a character; as a being) is that it’s dead. Yet, whilst being dead is simultaneously dreaming… and waiting.

And this is where I have to praise to the latest game adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu; for all its mechanical and conceptual faults, it does manage to capture the overwhelming feeling of the unimaginable entity being present, if not truly there. I’m not talking about the overt moments here. A dream in which a tentacle drags you into impossible space is visually exciting, but too on the nose. It’s the subtle world-building touches; piles of butchered sea life (whales, sharks, etc.) placed as offerings, quiet whispers about “The Great Dreamer” and an awakening. 

Yet, despite the ethereal mood these touches successfully create, the mechanical and conceptual problems I mentioned earlier are far too prominent for Call of Cthulhu to succeed on atmosphere alone. There are five categories which you can level into (two are levelled up over time through exploration and discoveries): Investigation, Strength, Psychology, Eloquence, and Spot Hidden. Each skill gives you different options with different levels of success depending on the percentage of that skill. As an idea: great. Conversations and relationships can be altered in different ways, items can be found, alternative paths can be created.

And yet, despite not levelling up - for example - spot hidden I came to a room with a secret passage underneath. The pieces of a winch to lift the hatch were scattered in the environment. I found each piece, quickly, and without much effort. Spot Hidden was starting to appear useless. However, I tried to turn the winch to discover that my strength wasn’t high enough, and it broke. Alright, I thought, now the diversity of the skill selection is revealing itself. I checked my diary to find an alternate route before noticing that because I’d interacted with the winch, the game responded as though I had actually succeeded in taking that route. The diary entry talked about a creature that had attacked me which I’d never encountered, and certain dialogue following this suggested that I had indeed taken that passage.

In short, I can only describe Call of Cthulhu as an elegant mess, though it pains me to say. During Chapter 2, I stood in the courtyard of a mansion atop a cliff, and looked over the edge; a lighthouse split through the thick fog; the ethereal green light of the town flickered below; the sea wind whistled and howled as the idea of an ancient cosmic god residing below this town sent shivers down my spine. And all I could think is, what the hell happened? Call of Cthulhu had a lot of ambition. It just needed a budget.

Lewis Hill

Call of Cthulhu at CeX

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