Autumn of Indie GAME REVIEW: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land (iOS)

The games market on Apple’s mammoth App Store appears to be booming. With more and more titles flooding the format big and small developers alike are trying to claim a piece of the gold rush that massively successful games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Plants vs Zombies have miraculously achieved on touchscreen gaming platform that comprises the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad family.

The only problem with the current state of affairs is the number of puzzle games and blatant copies of established franchises now flooding this promising market that is bringing gaming into the mainstream. If one clone too many has left a sour taste in your mouth then you would be pleased to know that Bristol-based indie developer Red Wasp Design has brought a meaty strategy game to the table in the form of ‘Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land’.  

Based on the plethora of horror tales that the king of pulp horror H.P. Lovecraft is revered for, The Wasted Land is set in the midst of the First World War where a small team of plucky scientists and macho soldiers seek to get to the bottom of the sinister goings on of a mysterious German cult. Like the pulp literary genre it is based on, the game isn’t especially deep in plot – but it is rather fun, with a variety of cockney geezas and academic types waffling on about nonsense to amuse you to the accompaniment of eerie music that give levels macabre atmosphere.

There are many elements of The Wasted Land that make it stand out from similar strategy games. Already mentioned is the entertaining pulp horror setup and quirky characters. One nice touch in particular is the low rate of accuracy in early stages of the game, prior to the obligatory power ups and stat management that takes place between levels. In real life weapons are seldom 100% accurate. During the First World War this would be even more true and it is interesting to have to plan your strategy to compensate for this. Weapons that can be obtained in the game range from melee equipment for close range attacks to pistols, rifles, shotguns and heavy machine guns. Later in the game you also get to use black magic. Playing around and finding ones that suit your play style is good fun and at least makes starting the game over a great opportunity for experimentation.

The game was tested on both the iPad and the iPhone but clearly The Wasted Land is geared for the bigger screen as dialogue and narration text is too small to be decipherable on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Movement and other necessary gameplay elements are noticeably harder and somewhat more frustrating when the game is being played on a less expansive display.

The biggest flaw in the game is the controls and the lack of sufficient explanation to get your head around them. A bland and not altogether helpful tutorial does not make things especially easier, however for those that are incredibly persistent (and have a lot of patience to sink a few hours into the early stages) then the game becomes truly rewarding. The controls are also let down by the surprisingly fairweather state of accuracy in movement. Often the map would need to be reoriented to get your character to a place that was otherwise obscured by another character, a building, or a hole – or the game just outright refused to let you reach despite nothing else in the way.

Another element that lets the game down is the map screen. The game would have benefitted with a smaller magnification of the map on which the strategy battles take place to be able to see nearby enemies and plan your next move. The need to continuously scroll around for you to take advantage of ranged attacks is tedious and also a strain on the eyes. This reviewer had to stop a couple times on the more expansive maps due to the sudden onset of dizziness. Nevertheless, once you’ve got the somewhat confusing-at-first controls down, you will be addicted and will keep playing for as long as the main campaign will last.

The lack of an opportunity to plan for the map ahead can be frustrating. This can perhaps be explained away as being necessary to the plot of venturing into the unknown however it does remain make levels aggravating after a simple mistake like forgetting to top up your med packs or make sure everyone has gas masks bites you in the arse. The fact you can’t quit a level and return to the directory, even when frequently losing, to manage your inventory and buy necessary items like gas masks is incredibly annoying and this reviewer chose at one point to restart the game from scratch to make up for this capability error.

Overall this is a very promising strategy game. With fun characters and challenging levels, the game has a lot to like. It’s nice to see established intellectual properties like those of Mr. Lovecraft’s get a good treatment, and for an indie developer like Red Wasp Design to have the stones to take a chance in putting a strategy game on the App Store. This game is not without its considerable flaws, but if the developer can learn from experience and bring these improvements to later strategy games, then we could be in for a truly quality game in the not too distant future.

Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Dean Simons

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