Main cast: Anthony Howell (Edward Pierce), Christina Cole (Sarah Hawkins), Emerald O’Hanrahan (Marie Colden), Antony Byrne (Officer Bradley), Kirsten Foster (Catherine Baker), Graham Vick (Algernon Drake), Wolf Kahler (Thomas Fuller), Bill Roberts (Silas Winchester), Allan Corduner (James Fitzroy), Bill Champion (Stephen Webster), Colm Gormley (Dominic Murphy), Martin McDougall (Henry West), Gerald Kyd (Francis Sanders), Glenn Wrage (Roy Mitchell), and Derek Hagan (Officer Andrews)
Call of Cthulhu: The Official Game is a rather pretentiously-titled survival horror game that… well, I’m sure you can guess which source material it is based on. Sadly, though, the whole thing plays out like a very typical Lovecraftian thing heavily padded with wandering around corridors and passages and what not.
Our main character is Edward Pierce. Of course, like every protagonist in such titles, he’s a World War 1 veteran turned private investigator, and like they all do, he sports a dashing beard and manly bass because… hot. Sadly, because I am controlling his character, I see his hands most of the time, and his face only in the cut scenes. He is hired by the wealthy Stephen Webster to look into the death of his daughter Sarah Hawkins, who apparently died in a fire alongside her husband Edward and her son. The police concluded that Sarah set the fire herself, and Stephen refuses to believe that his daughter would do such a thing. Sure, she spent time in a loony house, but still… he wants Edward to clear Sarah’s name.
Edward finds himself in Darkwater, because of course that place would be called that. It’s an island off the coast of Boston, one that most people avoid for a good reason: the whole place is mostly green – the kind of green one finds in vomit or slime. This game is really pushing the “everyone got slime-shagged by Dagon” ambiance. Edward will soon look into things, gets knocked out with distressing frequency, and eventually has to decide whether he’d like to help wake up Cthulhu or possibly die while trying not to.
Okay, the story first. There’s nothing new or unexpected here, as the cast is composed of stock clichés from Edward all the way to the cartoon villains, and much of the dialogues are plodding exposition. Perhaps this is also due to the limitations of the format: Edward has to talk out loud as he goes about doing his thing, apparently because I, the player, needs to be hit in the head all the time to get what is happening on the screen. Okay, I’m not too annoyed by the constant blather, as Anthony Howell has a nice, soothing timbre, but it breaks immersion when Edward is supposed to be sneaking around but here he is, talking out loud.
Because this story is basically everything I’ve come across in anything Cthulhu-centric, the ending “twists” are actually something I can see coming early on. I deliberately pick the option to summon Cthulhu because, damn it, I have spent nine hours or so playing this thing and I will see that big adorable green thing for all my troubles. This isn’t meant to be the best ending, of course, but it’s one that sees Edward eventually beating the crap out of everyone, and that’s a good thing.
You see, by the time I reach that point, I’m so overcome by tedium that I am itching to go medieval on the characters in this game. The gameplay elements are very average – mediocre, even. The shooting parts are bewilderingly sluggish, the puzzles are quite easy for what they are supposed to be, and for way too much of the game, I am just wandering around and clicking on highlighted items while listening to Edward’s incessant monologue. The game drums up some pretty good Lovecraftian ambiance in the cutscenes, but once I have to play the game, things go downhill with all this tedium present in the mundane gameplay elements. I especially loathe that entire stage set in the lunatic asylum, as I have to wander around in the maze-like passages looking for this and that, and then backtracking here and there while trying to avoid the staff – I eventually feel seasick from the first person camera view spinning all over the place as I try to recall my direction.
Animation-wise, I think they probably ran out of money or something, because the animations are quite dank at times. The lip movements frequently can’t catch up with the words being uttered by the characters, and the characters tend to move their arms around in ways that feel uncoordinated. Perhaps all these are deliberate, to create an unnerving, wrong kind of feeling, I don’t know, but the dank animation, coupled to an art style that makes every character look like they are the butt babies of Dagon and Cthulhu, only adds to my sense of tedium as the maze-wandering simulation stages just drag on and on.
In the end, I find myself enjoying the cut scenes far more than the game itself. In fact, later in my playthrough, I sigh more and more as the cutscenes end and I have to start the tedious wandering all over again. The final act, when things go crazy, brings back some of my initial sense of enjoyment and wonder, but by that point I just want things to be over. I always have a soft spot for tortured manly occult-hunters with gorgeous beards, but Edward Pierce deserves a far better game to headline.