E3 2017: A Maddening First Look into Call of Cthulhu
For how much Lovecraft has inspired eons worth of horror, with endless tendrils of influence creeping into every medium, video games have been surprisingly lacking. Titles like Amnesia can certainly track their sanity warping monsters to a Lovecraftian origin, but the last time I remember a major title pitting me against legit eldritch monsters was 2005’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. While well received by critics and fans, the game was not a great commercial success. If this were a thesis on the overly reactionary nature of publishers stifling innovation before the audience has a chance to adapt, Dark Corners of the Earth would be front and center in my talking points. Digital distribution has changed things, with low-budget fan projects bringing the world all manner of otherworldly creations. Just scroll through the Steam store and try to get through three horror games without seeing, “Lovecraft inspired” in the headline. “Lovecraftian” is its own classification tag.
It’s been 12 years since Dark Corners of the Earth‘s financial flop, and Cyanide Studio is ready to take the chance again on a brand new Call of Cthulhu game. If you didn’t see our trailer reveal article, check it out again here:
The people at Focus Home Interactive set up a behind-closed-doors presentation at E3, where I got to see about 20 minutes of the game in action. I was expecting something akin to the fishmen blasting Dark Corners of the Earth, but what I saw was much closer to a mix of Phoenix Wright, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
Based on the 1981 pen-and-paper RPG by Chaosium, the people at Cyanide are styling Call of Cthulhu as an RPG-Investigation game. Now what that means is a bit complicated, but fans of the original will be familiar with the focus on story over combat. Monsters are few and far between, but pieces of their influence can be found if you look hard enough and know what to look for. Just be careful, as the secrets you uncover might cost you your sanity.
To translate this into gameplay terms, you play as Private Detective Edward Pierce. As with every Lovecraft story, Edward’s seemingly mundane assignment reveals itself clue by clue to be a terrifying tale of otherworldly horror. At your disposal are nine different investigative skills, broken down into three different brackets based on schools of knowledge. You have your conversational skills, your detective skills, and your higher learning like medicine and the arcane arts.
You’ll improve these skills by leveling, gaining experience by finding clues and overcoming the game’s challenges. Correctly navigate your way through a conversation with a groundskeeper, and you’ll be granted access to the mansion and an experience boost. Fail, and you’ll have to find another way in. The dev team stated that there are several ways to solve each puzzle, so you will never be blocked off from finishing because you didn’t put enough points into forensics. But forbidden knowledge comes at a price, meaning you might have to spend your sanity to progress.
Now when you aren’t sleuthing out clues and delving deeper into the hidden profane foundation of our universe, you’ll be sneaking around and avoiding abominable horrors. What we saw in the demo was a brief chase through a gallery of the occult, the centerpiece a painting with sinister depths. As a macabre creature crawls from the canvas, Edward is forced to take refuge in a nearby cabinet. Unfortunately, his newly developed claustrophobia causes him to panic. Stay in the closet too long, and you run the risk of having a heart attack. The phobia mechanic will alter how you play the game, and develop based on pivotal events in the story. It’s reflective of the phobia mechanic in the pen-and-paper game, where strong breaks in sanity would result in a permanent debuff.
In an attempt to thwart the beast, Edward grabs the dagger and runs to the painting. Driving the dagger deep into the canvas, the monster similarly thrusts his mandible through his chest. Tough break, Edward. I guess you have to solve the puzzle a different way. The team told me however that the way to solve it certainly isn’t through combat. This isn’t the same as Dark Corners of the Earth, you won’t be blasting your way through your problems. This is a puzzle game.
So there you have it, your first look into the forbidden world of Call of Cthulhu. With the recently released Conarium, I’m stoked on the future of Lovecraftian horror games. I personally would like to go back to shooting cultists and splinting my broken leg, but I’ll take what I can get. What about you folks? Excited for this new take on Call of Cthulhu? It’s not slated until late 2018 for PC and consoles, so there’s plenty of time to see how this shapes up. Until then, enjoy yet another art gallery!