Call Of The Sea combines challenging puzzles, Lovecraftian lore, and a strong character-driven story into a powerful narrative package.
Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft had a tremendous impact on the world of video games. Understandably this has primarily been seen in the horror genre, from pioneers like Alone In The Dark through to recent indie examples like the cyberpunk cosmic horror of Transient. However, Call Of The Sea from developer Out Of The Blue is one of the more interesting examples of a Lovecraftian narrative in action.
Rather than taking the form of a horror game, Call Of The Sea is a puzzle adventure game with an intriguing plot. The player takes the role of Norah Everheart, a woman with a mysterious ailment who travels to the South Pacific. She is there to find her husband, who set off on an expedition to find a cure for her illness.
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Although Norah is alone in her journey, character is one of the strongest elements of Call Of The Sea. Norah is brilliantly played by Cissy Jones of Firewatch and Life Is Strange fame, adding a tremendous level of warmth to the game and handling the weight of an isolated protagonist well. Equally, the player gains a strong understanding of the actions and characters of the expedition through mise en scene, audio logs, and letters, from the arrogant Roy through to the genial Frank and devoted Harry.
Discovering what happened to the first set of adventurers is a chilling experience, though. Scenes of disarray are uncovered by Norah as she traverses the island, and as the game goes on things seem to get more and more desperate, giving the game a feel similar to the sharper end of walking simulators such as Gone Home. Since this game does have the tint (or taint) of Lovecraft to it, Call Of The Sea isn’t all sunshine and roses, particularly as things take an aquatic turn.
However, Call Of The Sea isn’t the same old eldritch cosmic horror story. Unlike many works that call upon the themes of the genre, the game has personal, tangible ties with both its characters and overall themes, and this makes Call Of The Sea all the more compelling and refreshing. The game could not be considered a horror by any metric, but instead carries a powerful emotional impact.
It certainly helps that the game is as pretty as it is. Call Of The Sea is absolutely gorgeous, with a timeless, cartoonish angle that makes its lush jungles, clouded swamps, and stormy shipwrecks all the more potent. It’s a direction akin to We Happy Few or Sea of Thieves, but with a much more varied color palette.
This wouldn’t matter if the gameplay wasn’t strong, but thankfully Call Of The Sea delivers in this respect as well. The game is effectively a first person puzzle game, although not as directly challenging as peers such as Myst or The Witness. Nonetheless, there are lots of “eureka!” moments to be found, and more than a few head scratchers in Norah’s journey.
Part of the reason why these puzzles are so effective is the way that Call Of The Sea is strict with its internal logic. As Norah comes to understand more about the civilization whose technology she is using to make her way along the island, she and the player gain some intuition to their practices and puzzles, making the setup of each progressively challenging puzzle more immediately understandable. It’s an interesting spin on the learning factor of the puzzle game, and one of the ways that the game manages to avoid falling into some of the less savory trappings of the genre in terms of the othering of foreign societies.
Call Of The Sea is a real surprise. A perfectly-paced puzzle adventure that manages to pour more than the expected amount of heart into its story, it manages to combine a number of disparate elements into a hugely enjoyable game, and certainly not one to be missed.
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Call Of The Sea releases 8 December, 2020 for PC, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One X. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.
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