Hailed as a cult literary genius, HP Lovecraft's numerous works take in ancient prophecies, alien invasion, and the ancient lost cities of weird fish-people. Central to this universe is Cthulhu, god of this strange race of mermen, and whose calling, erm, is the reason for this impressive horror epic. But we're not talking fuddy-duddy literary adaptation; this is full blown, skin-crawlingly creepy stuff.
You play Jack Walters, a successful young detective, called one night to a disturbance at a religious cult's compound, and boom - next thing you know, Jack's swinging from the rafters after six years of amnesia and a nasty spell in the mental asylum. The game charts the lost time between your awakening and untimely descent into madness, all told in stylish retrospective. Visually there's nothing that impressive; cut-scenes are where large chunks of the story are told, and they're distinctly rough around the edges. The environments are fairly bland and uninteresting, yet you won't get to appreciate much of them anyway, such is the dark and murky nature of the game.
Nope, it's the truly absorbing storyline which drives Call of Cthulhu and makes you want to stick with it, much like the recent Fahrenhei, except set in a first-person perspective. The game does away with any kind of fangled HUD interface, making for a far more immersive, true-tolife experience. This really is like working your way through an interactive movie.
The game draws on the rich material inspired by Lovecraft's twisted world, and actually recreates its creeping, claustrophobic horror surprisingly well. At every bend you'll slowly edge Jack along, convinced something nasty is waiting round the corner. When the shocks come they are well executed, and although not entirely unexpected, still terrifying. We knew it was foolish to open that door ahead - we could hear the tortured groans and shrieks coming from within, but it still didn't stop us dropping our load when a viscous creature burst out from behind it.
The script rattles along, the drip-feed of clues and information just enough to keep you hankering after the next fix of fishy mystery. There's a fantastic amount of dialogue on offer as well; NPCs offer loads of different replies when frequently asked the same question.
This slow-burning tension is somewhat spoiled, though, as the game shifts towards actionbased adventure. Jack is gradually armed with machine guns and shotguns in addition to his more fitting pistols, and the game crawls across genres into almost full-blown FPS by the closing levels. The lack of a targeting reticule of any kind makes combat tricky and draining on your health, and it isn't particularly well done.
The adventure/horror theme works far better with this sort of material, and as such we wish the developer had left the game just so. A top adventure for the most part, though, and essential to fans of the genre.
Dark, disturbing horror adventure with a great script. Loses the plot with too much shooty action towards the end, though.