Call of the Sea VR Review
Norah's husband and his expedition have gone missing, and it is up to her to embark on a journey to find him and discover the mysteries behind their disappearance. The truth, however, might be distinct from what Norah would come to expect.
In this puzzle VR game set in the 1930s, you will take on the role of Norah and head out to explore a gorgeous island and solve puzzles in order to find out what happened to Harry — your husband. Originally released for flat-screen in 2020, Call of the Sea received a positive reception from both critics and fans alike, and it now sees Norah's journey venture into the VR space.
To keep this spoiler-free, I will keep this review relatively brief and vague throughout various elements. While Call of the Sea VR is a puzzle title, it has a narrative to unravel, told via Norah’s narration of the world, but the few elements there are I would much rather not spoil. You’ll explore each individual chapter and hear Norah’s thoughts throughout the world, some of which work as hints for the puzzle and others as the narrative unfolds, and I was quite fond of it. Aside from the way Norah speaks about her husband — because really, who calls a significant other “old pal”? They’re not a dog — I quite liked the way she gave her opinion of the world and managed to unravel the narrative single-handedly, without the help of any deuteragonist or NPCs.
You’ll be encouraged to explore the world both in terms of gameplay elements to solve the puzzle and to unfold the overarching narrative. From funny lines regarding hair conditioner to darker and inquisitive themes, you’ll spend your time looking around to enjoy the world and be able to properly finish each of the six chapters you’ll unfold.
While six chapters might sound a bit too underwhelming, it’s worth mentioning that Call of the Sea VR took no time in stumping me and making me look like a fool — the ingenious puzzles will require you to use Norah’s notebook to see what she’s pieced of each puzzle as hints to be able to solve them. They managed to make me feel both really dimwitted whilst I was trying to solve them and very clever when I finally did.
While I wouldn't argue the game is too difficult, I would say that I oftentimes felt a bit too dumb to play them throughout my experience — that's a good thing. I seldom feel truly challenged by a title, but Call of the Sea VR really tested my intellect in ways that even Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes failed to. Take the difficulty of the puzzles as you will; for me, they were positive and something that offered me an exciting challenge to overcome, but I know it might be a bit much for some others.
Of course, if the game is too difficult, you can use the in-game hint system, which I quickly found was a glorified “solve it for me!” button that I never touched again out of fear of being spoiled the answer to the puzzle again, but it does work as a great way to make it past when you simply cannot think of other ways to solve your conundrum.
In terms of gameplay design — both narrative and challenges — I have nothing but praise, but unfortunately, the good things I have to say about Call of the Sea VR end there. While being able to walk across the world was a great addition to the title, with beautiful vistas and settings, it felt like a much too steep a price to pay in exchange for the, unfortunately, awkward and inaccessible controls in VR.
There were two main issues with the VR experience that stopped my run before I could experience it to completion. First, the lack of capability to grab items from the floor: not being able to pull items in from a distance, most notably items that dropped to the floor, not only made it difficult to play by forcing me to lean down to get everything (something my back did not appreciate), but when I played on seated mode, it was a death sentence to drop pretty much anything. I thought the option to enable “sitting” mode would fix this issue, but it didn’t really do much more than exacerbate the issue, as I could no longer reach the floor at all.
Another big problem is that Call of the Sea VR often puts information on the back of items; this would normally be fine, but the game doesn't let you swap items from one hand to the other and hold them from behind. To actually see anything — the drawings, the writing, whatever you might need from the back — you need to twist and contort your arm in a way that feels uncomfortable and, frankly, rather painful. By the time I was done reading through the tears of my body's protests, I wasn't ready to pick up more items and turn them to see if maybe those had information, too.
Call of the Sea VR is a great puzzle title, but the VR port made it pretty unplayable for me to actually enjoy. From not allowing me to play in seated mode, not letting me pick up the various objects I throw to the ground by accident, and making it difficult to see items behind, I would much rather not experience this great puzzle title in a world that managed to make it far less immersive than a flat-screen experience would. Quite frankly, I’d suggest playing Call of the Sea in its flat-screen mode rather than VR if you’re interested in the experience.
Call of the Sea VR (Reviewed on Meta Quest)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
A fantastic title with a crappy VR port, Call of the Sea VR might just be best experienced on a flat screen to enjoy its maximum potential.