GAME REVIEW: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land

World War One was already a pretty grim period of time for a game to visit. Add the machinations of tentacled elder god Cthulhu to the mix and it becomes even worse. Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land does exactly this, making the horrors of war that much more horrific.

Red Wasp Design’s game has been available on Android and iOS for a little while now, but was recently released on the Steam digital distribution service for Windows PCs. This newly released version has received a graphical upgrade and includes the DLC ‘Kaul’s Dairy’ which was previously a $5 purchase on iOS.

The game itself is a turn-based strategy role-playing game which puts you in command of a team of investigators and soldiers. Your mission is to investigate the enemy and to uncover the dark conspiracy that binds them to a darker, even more terrible adversary. On the player’s turn, each character can move a certain number of spaces or take certain actions based on that character’s available action points. When all desired actions have been taken, the player ends their turn and the enemy units can then move.

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land Screenshot

The characters in your team all come with their own particular skills, strengths and equipment that can be upgraded and tailored to your own particular play style. Some are purely soldiers who might be proficient in hand-guns or hand to hand combat. Others bring more psychological abilities to the table such as a higher resistance to things that may damage their sanity. For this is the twist that the game introduces. Not only must you defend yourself from the mundane weapons of the enemy, but also the undead horrors and foes that you will meet on your journey. Every time a character faces and kills one of these horrors, they will lose a portion of their sanity. The game is not just about massaging your health bars but also trying to preserve your team’s mental state. If a team member’s sanity drops too low, they will experience a state of paralysis or mania. The psychologist in your team can treat this state if nearby, in much the same way one soldier with a medi-kit can treat another.

I found the game to be pretty easy but when the difficulty spikes came they were very harsh, for myself at least. Some people might revel in this but having to attempt the same thing over and over became quite irritating. I might have slipped up in the upgrades that I gave my characters even though they all looked appropriate and useful, so you may find yourself consulting online gaming guides at intervals.

The game utilises a clunky buying system for your visits to the shop between levels. It’s nothing too bad but involves clicking on spaces, then clicking on the item to buy, then right clicking to purchase. It feels more like a throwback to the touch-screen abilities of the game’s other platforms rather than a mouse and keyboard control system. I also saw this when some mouse clicks seemed to fail to register when trying to get my team members to move, having to click multiple times until they responded. It wasn’t often but was enough to be noticeable.

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land Screenshot 2

The graphical upgrade given to the game seems to have made things clearer than its mobile cousins but I couldn’t see any other benefits. Whilst the game does have a look and charm of its own, with good variety in enemies and suitably grim scenery, I don’t think it will ever make you think “Wow this looks brilliant!”

The sound design is pretty one note (no pun intended). Early levels are set to the cacophony of bombs and machine gun fire in the background on a loop that gets all too short and started to give me some audio fatigue. The sound effects are a little better, gun shots cracking and explosions booming, but fall down a little when you realise that everything seems to have one sound effect and that is your lot. If a group of six shambling horrors appears on the map, you better get used to hearing the same grunt multiple times. I don’t expect everything to have more than one sound effect but enemies could certainly benefit. When I experience the same things happening over and over I just get bored of the sound palette and begin to switch off.

I enjoy anything Cthulhu, I think the mythos is one of the best things to come from literary fiction, so I was surprised to find myself a bit underwhelmed with Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. I quite liked the tale it told, the presentation was fine for the most part and it has enough depth and systems to appeal to my stat tweaking mentality. I do own the game on my Android tablet too, which may have coloured my perception a bit. What felt like a novel type of game to play on a tablet just feels a bit under-par when played on PC. I can’t shake that opinion even though I can’t put my finger on every reason behind it. What I can say is that if you are a Cthulhu groupie, or a fan of the XCOM-esque turn-based strategy games, I am sure you will get enough value out of the game to warrant a purchase. If you aren’t I think you may simply find a reasonable horror game that might just make you want to get on board the Lovecraft train and pick up some of his books to see what all the fuss is about.

Link to the game on Steam.

Rating: 3/5

Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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