Despite being dead for over eighty years now, HP Lovecraft is still a huge influence in the world of horror. His hugely successful Cthulhu Mythos introduced the world to cosmicism, and became so iconic, that “Lovecraftian horror” has become a genre unto itself. The 1981 pen-and-paper RPG Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular systems, and this upcoming title from Cyanide Studio is inspired heavily by that tabletop system.
Although the game is based in the world created by Lovecraft, it doesn’t follow the plot of that 1928 short, instead it’s a brand new story set in the world created by the great pensman. You play as Edward Pierce, PI and war veteran, who is struggling not just with this mystery, but with the demon of drink as well. Because what fictional PI doesn’t have an alcohol problem? You’ve been called to the Hawkins mansion to help investigate the death of the family in their home after it burnt down. It’s an old 17th century stately home which shuns fashion trends of the time and sports the deeply gothic architecture popular a decade earlier. This sets the scene for what is to unfold perfectly, with the dark tones and eerie visuals giving you a sense of unnerve right from the outset.
Early on in the game you meet the groundskeeper Silas Winchester, and he’s a pretty angry chap. I suppose you would be if the grounds you were keeping were largely made up of ash and the charred remains of your former employers. This is the point where you will learn about the conversation system, which is very Bioware-esque in its nature. You can lie your way out of trouble, use honesty and charm, or just be downright aggressive. Your choices make a difference to the information that you will get from the NPCs in the world and how they will perceive you.
As well as the conversations, good old-fashioned detective work comes into play as you try to work out what happened to the family in their untimely death. As you uncover clues, you’ll be treated to what the game dubs “reconstruction scenes”, wherein the story of what happened here is played out in our protagonist’s head. As you use your different skills, you earn character points, which can be used to boost particular skills depending on how you like to play, aiding you in your task.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Call of Cthulhu game without a healthy helping of insanity, and that’s just what this game brings to the table. Every secret you uncover gets you closer to the ultimate truth, but the closer you get to that truth, the deeper your descent into madness becomes. Leading to potential hallucinations or even death if you’re not careful. For this reason it’s important to keep a close eye on your sanity, lest you get a bit closer to Cthulu than expected.
There’s some excellent use of the Unreal 4 engine, which is only to be expected as Cyanide used it for their last two games as well. They’ve excelled themselves here with subtle lighting effects, realistic looking facial features, and a hugely evocative atmosphere portrayed throughout. Whilst it’s true that Call of Cthulhu is very much a story-based game, that doesn’t mean that it can’t look good too.
So far, this is looking like a very polished title with a lot of depth. The graphics are crisp and pretty, and the design is exactly what you’d expect from a title so deeply mired in the fantasy world that Lovecraft penned. If you like your adventures dark and just a bit spine-chilling, then this is definitely one to keep an eye on. It’s out on the 30th of October.