CALL OF CTHULHU Review: Something Fishy This Way Comes

Developed by Cyanide Studio

Published by Focus Home Interactive

Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One

Available for $60 ($45 on PC)


It’s strange with how few straight Lovecraft video games are out there. The man is a legend. His stories have spawned an endless tide of “inspired by” adaptations, non-canon continuations, and well-intentioned knockoffs. If your story has any kind of sea monster or sanity draining abomination, be ready to be labeled, “Lovecraftian.” The moniker has become so popular with my generation (bullshit millennials) that you can practically interchange “Lovecraftian” with the word “spooky.” It’s not that the man didn’t earn the adulation. It would be hard to imagine the modern horror landscape without the likes of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Dagon.

Now if you’re raising an eyebrow at that previous paragraph, I’m talking about games based on actual Lovecraft stories, not just things labeled Lovecraftian. We’ve got Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, Eldritch, Cornarium, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, and a number of older point-and-click adventure games that no one remembers. I have no idea why; it seems that any game just bearing a Cthulhu title would be launched into success by name alone. Perhaps this is the work of a far greater force, something more insidious and malignant than any creature living or dead: licensing restrictions.

On the other hand, maybe it’s because Lovecraft stories are just a bitch to adapt. As much as I love undying horrors from beyond the far reaches of the cosmos, there’s only so many ways you can say, “I saw something super duper scary, and it broke my brain.” Even the most faithful and direct Lovecraft adaptations use the source material more as a springboard to launch into a more detailed story. Cult favorite Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth takes a lot of creative liberty in stitching like, four different stories together. Which leads us into Call of Cthulhu.

Honestly, just leaving your derelict ships beached on your shores, awash in the ominous glow of a distant lighthouse? Do you WANT fishmen? Because this is how you get fishmen.

Call of Cthulhu, the 2018 video game, is an adaptation of Call of Cthulhu, a pen-and-paper RPG created by Chaosium. Call of Cthulhu (2018) is not related to Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. None of them are direct adaptations of “The Call of Cthulhu,” a short story about a guy who finds a spooky statue. The “Cthulhu-verse” is where all this takes place, although Cthulhu himself hardly ever shows up. Okay… I think I get why there aren’t more direct adaptations.

I’m going to assume you’re unaware of the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG. I’ve only ever even met four other people that have heard of it, and all of them were in my playgroup. It’s super fun and I’d highly recommend it, but it’s certainly not Pathfinder levels of popular. It has plenty of mechanical flaws but makes up for them with the limitless possibilities and unbridled creativity the medium of pen-and-paper offers. Fortunately, your ignorance isn’t going to heavily hamper you, as the people at Cyanide Studios seem to have also forgotten about it.

Doing away with all of the breadth and creativity the pen-and-paper world offers, Call of Cthulhu is a linear adventure game. All that remains of the system that inspired it are seven skills that you can improve up to five times each. These skills act as gateways to certain dialogue options or puzzle solutions. If your strength is high enough, then you can just muscle your way through some puzzles. If your investigation skills are high enough, you can pick locks instead of hunt for the key. If your occult is high enough, you can speak fish. Cool.

“Hey kid, you wana learn fishpeak?”

You play as Private Investigator Edward Pierce, a WW1 vet with a drinking problem and a troubled past. After a fitful dream rousts you from your mid-afternoon booze-nap, a mysterious stranger arrives at your office with a job to investigate the Hawkin’s family estate. Off you go to the ominously named Darkwater Island. Once there you will point, click, and dialogue tree your way through that one Cthulhu story we have all come to expect.

Ha HA! I’ve got you eldritch horrors! You can’t break my mind if I break it first!

Now, none of this sounds bad so far. I’m certainly not about to shit on a Cthulhu story for being a Cthulhu story. As soon as you saw Cthulhu in the title, the betting odds were on fishmen, cults, glowing symbols, and a hefty dose of wobbly camera distortion. I’m fine with standard Cthulhu. As long as it’s told well, give me all the wall-eyed fish people you can muster. It’s in the execution that Call of Cthulhu ultimately fails.

Storywise, the pacing really screws the pooch. You very quickly sense that something is off in the world of Darkwater, but the game lacks the length or depth to allow that foreboding sense to naturally grow. The game is only like seven hours long, and by the end of the first level, you’ll have glimpsed your first painting of a fishman. By level five, you’re already locked in an asylum after coming face-to-face with a creature of the deep. It all just happens so fast, you have no chance to let the feeling of dread and mystery build. You’ll learn about, discover the location of, and acquire the fucking Necronomicon all in the same investigation of a derelict bookstore.

Cthulhu flies in the skyyyyy. Your whole world will dieeeee! Just take a look, it’s in this book, the reading brain blowwwwww.

Side characters suffer from the same lack of development. The cast is pretty standard, consisting of a mad scientist, crime boss femme fatale, tortured artist with evil premonitions, an insane scholar, and a fish person. Okay, so not “standard” standard, but certainly what we expect from a Cthulhu story. Once again, the major issue is that none of the characters get enough screen time to really give a shit if they survive.

Seriously, detective no-eyes here is a pivotal character

It’s a big problem when a Cthulhu story doesn’t grab you, but all of this could be forgiven if the game was fun to play. Unfortunately, the gameplay suffers from the same lack of pacing. Fundamentally, Call of Cthulhu is a point-and-click adventure in 3D. You’ll investigate crime scenes, amble about towns, and stumble your way through conversation trees in an attempt to suss out all the eldritch secrets your mind can fathom. There are also a few stealth sequences and one abysmal “gunplay” section that boils down to “click mouse to kill zombie.”

Once again, I’m not going to shit on an adventure game for being an adventure game. You’re a detective, so I expect most of the gameplay would revolve around your detective stuff. The big issue is that none of the skills feel meaningful. Aside from unlocking certain dialogue/puzzle options, there’s no benefit to upping your skills. If you go for better lockpicking, you’ll be able to pick better locks. If you pick higher strength, you’ll be able to shoulder bash more locks. If you pick higher dialogue skills, you’ll be able to convince people to open the door for you. Three different skills, all the same conclusion.

If you look very closely, it kind of looks like he’s pooping.

None of this is helped by the fact that none of the puzzles are particularly difficult or intriguing. Even without the beneficial skill checks, I didn’t once have to look up a guide or bust out my thinking cap. One particularly egregious action sequence had me smashing open different display cases trying to find which dagger was the magic monster killing dagger. There was no thought involved, just trial and error until I picked the dagger with the special blue marks on it.

God, you don’t just KNOW that the bone dagger is the only one that can kill the dimensional shambler spawned forth from the nightmare painting of a cursed oracle? You absolute scrublord.

Now I’m getting pretty down on the game, but I don’t feel like Call of Cthulhu is all a wash. The core story is pretty great, with enough spooky eldritch depth to feel like a true Cthulhu story. If the game just gave itself some more time to tell it all, it could be something really special. There are also a number of fantastic set-piece moments, where the line between what is real and what is imagined blur to a point worthy of the Lovecraft name. For fans of the mythos, it will be fun just for that alone.

I have to also acknowledge that much of my opinion is contingent on the $60 price tag. For a game this short and mechanically limited, it’s absolutely absurd to be charging full price. If this were a $20 fan game, I could easily see this making its way onto some Game of the Year lists. As a $60 title, I cannot imagine buying this and not being disappointed.

Ultimately, Call of Cthulhu is a cool idea that just doesn’t deliver. Building a game off of the Chaosium system is a monumental task, so I can see why they slimmed it down. But the amount of fat that they trimmed also cut away all of the meat. Call of Cthulhu is anemic, too short and contained to properly elaborate on either the story or mechanics. There are some great moments, and I would highly recommend it as a discount buy during a sale. As a full priced game, there’s no way I could recommend it to all but the most diehard fans.

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‘Call of Cthulhu’ is Phantasmagorically Fantastic

Cthulhu

Madness is everywhere in Focus Interactive and Cyanide Studio’s latest H.P. Lovecraft mythos-based Call of Cthulhu. The psychological, investigational, RPG steeps itself deeply in the world of Lovecraft, complete with Easter-eggs, winks and all the cosmic terror you can handle. Much more based on the physical pen and paper RPG, Call of Cthulhu takes the […]

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[Review] ‘Call of Cthulhu’ is an Immersive RPG, But Struggles to Remain Consistently Enjoyable

See if we can play with madness in our Call of Cthulhu Review.

On paper, Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu has the potential to be a deeply enriching dive into classic Lovecraft mythos thanks to a heavy influence from the 1981 tabletop pen and paper role-playing game of the same name. and you know what? Those pen and paper roots are where Call of Cthulhu tends to be strongest, but that’s also a part of the reason the game’s weaknesses are so prominent.

You play as private detective Edward Pierce, stuck in a rut via existential crisis when an intriguing case lands in his lap. Pierce must travel to Darkwater Island to investigate the death of the Hawkins family, who all tragically died in a fire at their home. Pierce hasn’t got much to go on, but a disturbing painting by the family’s mother could provide an otherworldy clue. Before you know it, there’s cultists, unspeakable creatures, and a sense of impending doom around every green-hued corner.

Call of Cthulhu is presented in first-person and gives you a procession of large open areas to explore and investigate during each chapter. Pierce can interact with the people of Darkwater, asking them questions to gain fresh insight and information on the case. Here is where Call of Cthulhu shines. The game doesn’t point out its clues to you in an obvious way, rather, it asks you to pay attention to what you see and what you’re told and go back over the notes in Pierce’s journal. As you complete smaller objectives you gain points to upgrade your skills in deduction, conversation, and knowledge of the occult among others. These effectively improve your chances of succeeding in certain sections of the game, be it gleaning extra info from an artifact or sweet-talking a disgruntled fisherman into starting a ruckus.

call of cthulhu review 01

While this method oversimplifies interaction in some ways, it makes for a great spin on the visual novel genre where you have a bit more control. Not so much a ‘walking simulator’, but rather a digital equivalent of a pen and paper RPG. This means you can fail an opportunity to progress one way, and still have a variety of other routes available depending on how skilled you are at a certain thing. The system is the most in-depth part of Call of Cthulhu and it’s a very good reason to persevere when certain other aspects of the game fall spectacularly short.

You see, while Call of Cthulhu talks a good game, whenever it tries to be a more ‘traditional’ video game it struggles. Stealth is introduced a few chapters in and is of the insta-fail variety. The first time it appears it’s fairly easy to navigate, though the game doesn’t explain itself very well in regards to how it works. It’s when it shows up the next time that it’s a frustrating mess. You’re hunted by a foe, unable to defend yourself without obtaining a certain weapon. Problem is, the stealth is implemented in such a patchy, ineffectual way that it makes traversing the environment a harrowing affair as you’ll be killed the second you’re touched by the enemy and its view of you is a tad vague.

Combat is another sore point. It’s very, very rare, confined mostly to situational button prompts that you can barely class as combat to begin with, but it does appear in an ever-so-slightly more fleshed out form later in the game, and it is wholly unpleasant and ill-fitting with the game. It’s telling that the source material has an aversion to combat in the first place, but quite why that extends to shonky stealth is a bit of a mystery, especially when Cyanide is no stranger to it.

These are somewhat brief ripples in the water thankfully. The structure outside of it is so well handled you can almost forgive these indiscretions. Take the way the game handles sanity. It’s woven into every kind of action you take, and your understanding, or lack thereof, can determine just how Pierce’s psyche holds up over the ten or so hours he spends on the damned island. That then flows through into the game’s branching choices and eventual multiple endings too, and the results are satisfying even with the more risible things you have to endure to get there.

These deep systems are nothing though if Call of Cthulhu can’t capture the tone and atmosphere of Lovecraft’s work, and for the most part, it does that exceedingly well, but this is a game with a fair few rough edges to navigate in the technical department. Visually-speaking, Cthulhu is a suitably uneven beast. On the one hand, it’s strong in its world design. The somber, grim greens of the game’s visual atmosphere wash over everything, giving an ethereal look to this once-proud fishing town. The biggest compliment you can pay Call of  Cthulhu is that it often manages to feel positively Lovecraftian. Not all the time (there are some sections that are a tad humdrum and could be from any first-person horror), but a significant portion of it.

Detail isn’t always Call of Cthulhu’s friend sadly. The character models are largely stunningly similar, and for a game that does not exactly have the biggest cast of characters around, it’s rather unfortunate how cheap that makes Call of Cthulhu look. The animation commits a comparable crime. Lip-sync is well out, and character models move rigidly and mechanically. It surprisingly doesn’t take as much out of the immersion as you’d expect, but the wrong combination of issues (which is an all-too-common occurrence) really can derail the mood.

Throw in an endgame that funnels you towards the conclusion in a far more basic manner than the opening sections and the overall feeling I came away with was one of frustration. There is a lot of promise here, but not quite enough of it fulfilled. The combat could have been done away with completely (rare as it is anyway) and the stealth either ditched or simplified. The strong suit of Call of Cthulhu is in its conversation/investigation mechanics. Sure the game would have been a little lacking in variety if that’s all there was but honestly, it would have been a much more consistently enjoyable and immersive adventure for it.

 

Call of Cthulhu review code provided by the publisher.

Call of Cthulhu is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

How ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’ Is STILL The Greatest Lovecraftian Horror Game

Yes I’ve played Bloodborne and yes it is an excellent game chock-full of Lovecraftian themes and imagery but today I’m talking about a game that predates Bloodborne by half a decade. While revisiting my back catalog (courtesy of three years worth of PSN’s monthly games), I stumbled upon Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I was familiar with the game’s title and genre but during my playthrough, I was immediately struck by how Amnesia absolutely nails the feeling of being a narrator in one of H.P Lovecraft’s short stories.

From the onset, the setting reminds me of Lovecraft’s twisted tale – The Rats in the Walls. The player-character Daniel wakes up in the intimidating Brennenburg Castle knowing nothing but that he must traverse it to reach its secrets within the Inner Sanctum. This premise alone allows the player to share the confusion and subsequent horror of Daniel as the game unfolds.

Lovecraft stated that “(t)he oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. Like in many of Lovecraft’s texts the fear comes not from what you see but rather it stems from your imagination. In Amnesia you hear and sense the monsters long before you actually see them giving the player a sense of dread and helplessness.

You just KNOW the creature is behind you and expect it to pounce at any moment but it doesn’t which only heightens your paranoia. This is amplified by Daniel (Amnesia’s protagonist) being unarmed for the most part. Aside from the ability to throw bottles to briefly stun, Daniel is defenseless. The atmosphere becomes extremely tense as you madly search for any wardrobe or table for refuge.

Amnesia has excellent pacing. While so many horror games throw hordes of monsters at you and constantly try to provide you with a steady stream of jump scares, Amnesia uses downtime very well to add to the latent horror instilled in the player. Because of the linear nature of the game and scripted events, the game truly felt like you were experiencing the game exactly as it was designed much like how a reader experiences a book. This results in a well-tailored player experience that the developers have full control over.

Similarly to Lovecraft’s tales, the player discovers snippets of the story at the same rate as the narrator. Events that have already unfolded are fed to the player through letters and diaries. Amnesia really keeps the player in the dark (no pun intended) for most of its eight-hour campaign which is amazing to pull off without irritating the player or intruding on their immersion.

We can’t talk about Amnesia without bringing up the sanity meter; a staple of Lovecraftian horror. The game’s sanity meter provides an excellent representation of the mental instability seen in many of Lovecraft’s work and incorporates it expertly as a gameplay mechanic. The game gets harder as Daniel’s sanity decreases meaning the player has as much incentive to frantically manage their sanity meter as Daniel himself.

As red, fleshy substances start to ooze through the walls, you explore darker areas and as the monsters’ appearances become more frequent Daniel becomes increasingly traumatized. Daniel must solve puzzles and remain in light to remain grounded and restore his sanity but sources of light act as a double-edged sword; light makes it easier to be spotted by enemies.

The level design of Amnesia is labyrinth-like; there is visible disorientation throughout the game reflecting Daniel’s mental state. Similarly to The Rats in the Walls as the player descends further and further into the castle so too does their sanity. Amnesia does a great job of emulating Lovecraft’s gothic aesthetic, the ambient noises and sudden gusts of wind make the player feel like that something is increasingly malforming the seemingly normal castle.

Then we have the monsters, the terror that these creatures imbue to a player is remarkably executed. Amnesia gets Lovecraft’s sense of helplessness right as the player-character cannot wield a weapon or even fight back; even staring at the monsters is detrimental to your sanity. As the odds are stacked against the player, you feel a genuine sense of relief every time you find the odd health vile or tinderbox as resources are scarce. This is where I feel many games that try to emulate Lovecraft’s themes fall short as most of these games are generally concerned with giving the player a sense of empowerment.

There’s nothing less empowering than cowering under a table, looking away and trembling long after the monster has left. Even the game’ plot somewhat revolves around sanity, without digging up too much, Amnesia endorses the Lovecraftian trope of madness derived from an ancient, otherworldly item found in an archaeological dig site.

The orb affects all those involved at the dig site, its appearance defies conventional description and radiates a cosmic-like power. Daniel remarks that upon reaching out and touching the mystical relic:

I felt drawn to the mystic light. I reached out, closing it in my hands. The faint glow escaped my fingers and began to spark brightly and spirit me away, unlocking alien memories of spiraling towers, endless deserts, and impossible geometry.

This description could be taken almost word for word from one of Lovecraft’s weird tales. Although we are never shown these alien landscapes their description is enough to inspire terror. I believe that this is also a subtle way to allude to Lovecraft’s iconic imagery. It is known that many of the descriptions of Lovecraft’s creatures are distorted due to the narrator’s increasing madness but by not referencing this directly Amnesia chooses to focus on Lovecraft’s theme of cosmic isolation of humanity. The cosmic abominations are merely props to drive hope that motif and I’m glad at least one horror game that draws from Lovecraft doesn’t just slap tentacles on something and call it a day.

Amnesia really stuck with me as an amazing and unique horror experience. The perfectly timed set- pieces as well as the careful pacing of the game’s story make it a game that can only really be experienced once but it is well worth the price of admission. While there are a good number of excellent games inspired by Lovecraft’s unique brand of horror I feel that Amnesia tastefully adopts the ideas and themes from the author’s works without compromising aspects of it.

Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game

Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game is a role-playing survival horror video game developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.

The game features a semi-open world environment and will incorporate themes of Lovecraftian and psychological horror into a story which includes elements of investigation and stealth. It is inspired by H. P. Lovecraft‘s short story ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, while also being an adaptation of the 1981 role-playing game of the same title.

The game follows investigator Edward Pierce who is a private detective in an existential crisis. As the Boston of 1924 doesn’t provide him with any cases, the war veteran flees into consuming alcohol and pills.

However, there is a glimmer of hope when a mysterious case one day lands on his desk. The detective is asked to solve the death of the Hawkins family, who mysteriously died in a fire.

As the only clue is a strange picture painted by the supposedly crazy mother shortly before her death, Edward has to set out to Darkwater Island near Boston, Massachusetts to find out more about the matter and discovers the impending revival of the Great Old One Cthulhu…

 

The game is released on October 30, 2018 with a Nintendo Switch release possible in early 2019.

All images are © 2018 Chaosium Inc. Call of Cthulhu is a video game published by Focus Home Interactive and developed by Cyanide SA; used here for information and educational use only.

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Interview: J. L. Giles on comics, cosmic horror, and the launch of Herbert West–Reanimator

One of our favorite mad scientists is making a return to comics with Herbert West–Reanimator, a new series by artist J. L. Giles. The titular Dr. West is the subject of one of H. P. Lovecraft’s most famous and enduring works, but the timelessness of the tale makes it rife for a new adaptation.

In this latest interpretation, Giles intends to flesh out the character even further and contextualize it for a modern audience. “Herbert West has some questions, hypotheses, and starts with good intentions. He wants to contribute to humanity and thinks that medicine’s main goal is to extend human life as much as possible,” he says. “Herbert runs into a wall. So, all the doors are closed. He rebels, trying to open a window by himself, and that’s when everything starts to go wrong. He must face the consequences, like Dr. Frankenstein or Prometheus.”

We interviewed J. L. Giles about comics, bringing fresh eyes to Lovecraft’s short story, and the creative process of putting Herbert West to the page. The series’ maiden issue, which tackles the original story’s chapter, “From the Dark,” was published by Ohno! Comics. It was released on October 7 via digital platform Gumroad, whose pay-what-you-want model lets readers access it at for free, or at a price point of their choosing. Read it here.


Dread Central: How did you first get into comics and horror?

J. L. Giles: When I was a kid I loved horror movies, but I could not see many, because my parents were careful with the content we watched at home. That feeling of having something forbidden perhaps fueled my fascination with that genre. I think the first time I saw zombies on TV was on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. A friend of mine had the “Making of…” VHS and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

I started buying comics when they were very trendy in the early 90s, and I was about 13 years old. I had always liked all Marvel and DC characters, but that’s the moment I began reading the stories. From a very young age I had been good at drawing, but it was not until I saw Todd McFarlane’s art that I felt that I wanted to dedicate myself professionally to art.

In 2014, indie writer Gilbert Deltrez asked me to work on some of his scripts. He had a lot of dark horror stories and told me to choose the one I liked the most. And that’s how I started working on Under The Flesh, a zombie apocalypse-themed comic. That book opened the doors for me to work in Marvel Comics, and since then I have been collaborating with them doing illustrations and comics of The Avengers, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Panther, and many more!

DC: What drew you to the source material?

JLG: For many years I have been familiar with H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, and I wanted to do some adaptations of his tales. My work as a freelancer sometimes leaves me with free time to do personal projects, and I was not sure what to draw. My wife, Anna, then suggested that we work on Herbert West–Reanimator. She works in laboratories, and I think that atmosphere with flasks, test tubes, formulas, caught her attention. So much that it was her who started adapting the script for the comic without telling me anything. One day she arrives and tells me, “Here’s the first chapter!” And I loved it.

DC: Since the story is framed in the present day, can we expect some departures from the original story in later issues?

JLG: We placed the narration of the original inside a frame story that will allow us to connect in the future with more Lovecraft tales. I think bringing the story to the present time helps us connect faster with it. I want to allow a more direct connection between the readers and the characters. For example, as we all know, the narrator is Herbert West’s assistant. But Lovecraft doesn’t even give him a name. He’s a person who is there like a slave, a witness collaborator. He acts as an omniscient narrator, but story-wise he is totally dispensable, almost invisible. We have respected the narration, but we have given Herbert’s assistant more prominence and personality. We get to know him directly as an old man willing to tell us what happened. As the story progresses, his role becomes more important. He is no longer a mere observer. We discover that he hides certain things in his narration. And it is logical, given he was co-responsible of Herbert West’s horrific enterprise.

DC: Do you plan for this to be a very faithful kind of adaptation?

JLG: Adapting literature into sequential art always involves changes, because they are different media. I think the important thing is that whoever reads our adaptation feels like he’s reading Lovecraft. That is the priority. And all the frame we build around is there to put a spotlight on the original story. Lovecraft is the star.

I think that the Reanimator’s tale has sometimes not been treated fairly. It has become a kind of cliché of the mad scientist who laughs with the syringe in his hand. They have turned it into a comedy. That is fine, but I want to present a more human Herbert West. It is clear the man suffers from certain disorders, perhaps narcissistic. I cannot “diagnose” him because I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. But deep down I feel the story is not so much a comedy as a tragedy. Still, there are bits of humor in our adaptation, and we even make nods at the well-known clichés of the past.

DC: As an artist, how do you strike the right balance between Lovecraftian lore and your own interpretation of the text in this kind of medium?

JLG: You have to respect the source. I want to sell a Reanimator that [respects] the spirit of the original. Lovecraft’s work is so creative that [it] allows the mind of the visual artist to fly. You can take his ideas and do so much with them! But the thing is maintaining the essence of Lovecraft, treating it with respect. That is the challenge. And we hope we have achieved it here.

DC: How long did it take you to finish the first issue?

JLG: If the work had been uninterrupted, maybe two months and a half. Lovecraft’s story is divided into six chapters. We have only completed the first one. It’s about 12 pages. But behind it, there’s the documentation, the design, the plot, the adapted script, the art, color, letters. I wanted to make it the best possible sample of what I can do. If the public likes this first chapter, I’m sure they’ll like the rest. But it’s in their hands.

DC: What kind of research and preparation did you have to do while working on the comic?

JLG: It is important to read many Lovecraft stories, so the audience feels that the adaptation is true to his style; though we have modernized the narrative and the dialogues. The story is told as a flashback, but we did not want to put it inside a 1920s closed box. We know it happened a long time ago, but we do not want to set a specific date. We have documented ourselves to know what scientific instruments looked like a long time ago, hospitals, universities, coffee shops. It is fun to see how things change, and as far as technology is concerned, much more!

DC: When can readers expect the next installment of Herbert West–Reanimator? Can you give us a hint of the eldritch horrors that will be making an appearance in future chapters?

JLG: We are already working on chapter two, and planning to launch an Indiegogo campaign very soon to fund its creation, promotion, printing, and shipping. It’s important to be able to pay the bills too! I’d like to [be] dedicated to this for the next four to five months full-time. Otherwise, it will take me much longer to finish it. As far as volume two, we still haven’t decided what story to feature next. We have some ideas, but we don’t wanna cross the river before getting to the bridge first!

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[Review] ‘Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics’ Brings Turn-Based Terrors, But Needs More Strategic Depth

Turn-based strategy is at its best when it throws in a good bit of sci-fi and/or horror. A fusion of alternate history also helps too it seems. The novelty of the concept Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics brings to the turn-based strategy genre is what really sells it.

A turn-based strategy title that heads to alternate-reality World War II doesn’t sound like too much of a leap, but how about you throw in a technologically-advanced Nazi war machine that’s in league with eldritch abominations?

That’s what you get here, and it serves as a delightful backdrop to a relatively limited strategic stage.

The Nazis are turning the tide of the war thanks to technological advances, and your elite squad of allied forces is deep behind enemy lines. There’s a secret war against the Cult of the Black Sun going on which might have something to do with the creeping death from underground that threatens to become the real problem at any moment. To put it simply, you’re up shit creek and the water’s filled with tentacle monsters and Nazis.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is part of Modiphius’ tabletop RPG universe of  Achtung! Cthulhu, itself a heady blend of Lovecraft (rather popular in games at the moment) and World War II (Achtung! is an official canon part of the RPG’s lore). In this particular part of the world, your team has a particular set of skills that make them perfect for fighting back the dual threat of Nazis and the brood of Cthulhu. The focus is on managing that team rather than handling a whole organization a la XCOM. A turn-based strategy it may be, but its tactics by name, tactics by nature for Achtung!

achtung cthulhu tactics review

What that means is there’s less tinkering behind the scenes between missions. Yes, you can upgrade your squad in RPG-lite style and change up their loadouts, but that’s pretty much the extent of it, and you have a set four characters throughout who could do with a bit more personality. The meat of the game is on the battlefield though, where the story unfolds from mission to mission, where you face escalating threats as your squad trudges deeper into enemy territory. The focus is on the story and the missions which mean Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is far more scripted and streamlined than XCOM or the recent Cold-War set Phantom Doctrine.

This is not necessarily a bad thing mind, for the tactical essence of the missions is deeper to compensate. When out of combat, your squad can move freely from point to point without any costs to Action Points (AP). Once you spot or are spotted by enemies, the game locks into combat mode, a familiar turn-based, and tile-based, strategy. Here you set the individual directions your four-person squad is to look in. This helps to reveal any foes in that line of sight as the map uses the typical ‘Fog of War’ effect as a more literal threat, always shrouding what isn’t in the eye-line of the squad. It adds a bit of tension to combat when you can’t be exactly sure what’s lurking, but know it’s there. It’s kind of fitting in fact, for a game taking in Lovecraft’s unknown entities. You can illuminate the fog with light sources too, so flares come in handy.

Beyond that it’s pretty much the XCOM set up. shot chance percentages, Overwatch, particular weapons, equipment, and abilities for each squad member. There are even status effects on your squad’s psychological state as the mere sight of the beastlier foes they come across can put them in a panic and eventually shred their sanity. The key difference is that when you kill enemies and complete objectives on a map, you gain momentum points that can be spent on extra moves during a turn. Having that one extra shot at a stubborn Shoggoth can be the difference between victory and failure so it’s a smart move to reward good tactical play this way.

achtung cthulhu tactics review

As time goes on, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics begins to lose some of its shine. The map design, while solid, lacks inspiration, and having little in the way of anything to do outside missions only drives this home harder. Yes, it’s nice to see this format used to focus on characters rather than an overall organization, but the squad is found wanting for personality. Then there’s the enemy variety. You expect the ungodly horrors to escalate as you progress and for a while they do, but it’s a rather limited assortment and there’s not much variance in how they can be dealt with.

While we’re listing gripes, the presentation is a bit drab too. It’s not ugly, just fairly standard visuals both in the missions and on the menu screens with the only flair coming from the character design (which, even then, is nothing spectacular). It’s not the be all and end all, but with the game already feeling a little light in a multitude of ways, looking so ordinary doesn’t do it any favors either.

There’s been the odd technical hiccup, but nothing too major. The odd shuddery camera movement here and there and an occasional brief freeze. Also worth noting is that some enemy turns have taken far too long to be completed and that can boil into frustration. The developer has taken notice of this though and is looking into fixing it. Otherwise, Achtung! is fairly solid.

What Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does well is offer a fairly approachable turn-based strategy for fans of the tabletop RPG, and also act as a nice introduction to that RPG for the uninitiated. It lacks an extra bit of polish and a few more bells and whistles, but it’s still an enjoyable enough tactical adventure.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review Code provided by the publisher.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is out now on Steam PC, and at a later date on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

The Influence of Bram Stoker on ‘Bloodborne’

Bloodborne is a game that blends cosmic horror with a Victorian Gothic aesthetic. A very cool combination, that. Although a lot of people—myself included—have written extensively on the influence imposed on the game by the inimitable H.P. Lovecraft, it seems that barely anybody has examined it in relation to Bram Stoker’s canonical novel, Dracula.

Let’s first address the fact that the player plays as the Blood-Drunk Hunter. That’s a fairly vampiric title, wouldn’t you say? The hunter is tasked with attempting to put an end to the Scourge of the Beasts, which plagues the city of Yharnam. The more beasts a hunter slays, the more they begin to lust for blood. Eventually, the hunters themselves manifest into beasts far more atrocious than those they once hunted. Although NPC hunters like Father Gascoigne grow to resemble a more lycanthropic sort of beast than one that is aesthetically in line with traditional vampires, it is not outside the realm of possibility to associate bestiality with vampirism. Specifically, it is not outside the realm of possibility to associate the perception of bestiality as a result of vampirism.

The argument here is that the more beasts a hunter kills, the more beastly they will become. Bloodlust could, in fact, alter a person’s perception as well as their appearance, blurring the lines between man and beast. Perhaps Gascoigne turns into a massive werewolf because he has been adversely affected by bloodlust. Or, perhaps you, as the Hunter, perceive him that way because the viciousness of the fight has caused you to develop quite a thirst for blood—the blood of beasts. “The sweet blood, oh, it sings to me. It’s enough to make a man sick.”

This may seem like a stretch initially, but it is far easier to believe that bloodlust affects a hunter’s perception than it is to believe that it causes the hunter to metamorphose into a beast. Beasts like Ludwig and Laurence were not ordinary hunters, and they have already become beasts by the time you encounter them. It was the blood of the Healing Church that brought about their transformation, as opposed to the psychological sensation of bloodlust brought about by the hunting of beasts. The player witnesses Gascoigne’s change, and it seems that this could just as easily be a hallucinogenic effect instigated by the fact that they are starved of blood. By viewing Gascoigne as a beast, killing him becomes far less morally grey. The more bestial he becomes, the thirstier the hunter gets.

Also, the blood vials the player drinks in order to regain health—in the way that blood increases a vampire’s vitality—are not filled with blood from the Healing Church. This is proved by the fact that the beasts felled by the hunter drop blood vials. When you drink these, you are drinking beast’s blood, as opposed to the transfused blood of the Great Ones synthesized by the Healing Church. Who is to say that these beasts aren’t humans, viewed as abominations through the medium of distorted perception in the same way that Gascoigne’s appearance changed so radically in such a short space of time?

The presence of vampirism in the world of Bloodborne culminates in the depiction of Cainhurst Castle. A coach drawn by spectral horses pulls up to collect you from Hemwick Charnel Lane. After a spoopy cutscene, you’re brought to the Castle. This entire sequence directly parallels the way in which Jonathan Harker was escorted to Castle Dracula, and there are even Tainted Dogs in the area in which the carriage arrives, resembling the wolves that chase after it in Stoker’s novel.

When you arrive, the horses that drew your carriage have frozen to death. A massive stone Castle looms over you, and there are vicious enemies known as Bloodsucking Beasts between you and it. Their silver hair and aged faces cause them to resemble the bestial forms of Stoker’s vampires. Usually handsome and elegant, vampires become horrifying in appearance once they have been starved of blood for too long. This is just the beginning of Cainhurst’s parallels with Dracula, though.

Cainhurst Castle was once home to the vampiric Vilebloods, who were elegant aristocrats that indulged in blood that had been deemed forbidden. The last surviving Vileblood is Queen Annalise, as the rest were murdered by Martyr Logarius and the Executioners, who saw their vampiric ways to be as abhorrent as those of the beasts they hunted. After the player kills Martyr Logarius, they can access Queen Annalise, who was his prisoner. The player can then join her Covenant, which allows them to acquire Blood Dregs from killing other hunters in PvP. Essentially, the player kills these hunters and drains their blood for Queen Annalise, the vampiric matriarch of the Vilebloods. The Vilebloods also use their own blood in order to imbue their weapons with blood magic, which resonates heavily with the traditional design of vampires in literature.

Bloodborne, although most evidently derived from the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, pays homage to Stoker’s Dracula in many ways. Cainhurst Castle is the only area in the game that seems to have little to no cosmic influence, and its design is derived entirely from Stoker’s Gothic horror novel. This makes sense, given the prominence of the novel in relation to the genre of the Victorian Gothic, which serves as the base aesthetic upon which the Lovecraftian aspects of Bloodborne are superimposed. Between the Vilebloods and the hunter himself, it seems that Yharnam is home to some whose thirst for blood is insatiable. The beasts in the game may not look like vampires, but maybe that’s because they’re actually the unwilling thralls subjected to the wrath of the Blood-Drunk Hunter.

How ‘Fallout 4’ Turned a Normal Mission Into a Nightmare

Preston Garvey had sent me on yet another mission to help yet more settlers, and I had begun to believe they were all the same. Go in, kill some bad guys, get out. This time I found myself at the bottom of the Dunwich Borers quarry, looting the left arm of a dead raider’s power armor—the last piece I needed for my own set—when I saw a door tucked away in the side of a cliff. Curiosity drove me to open it, and that’s when the nightmare began.

The storytellers at Bethesda created an open-world experience in Fallout 4, and sure, the main story is about finding your kidnapped son, but the more terrifying stories are told in the background, in hidden snippets that require you to dig deep and uncover the secret lore of the game. This was one of them.

The Apocalypse and Lovecraft

As I ventured into the caverns beneath the Dunwich Borers quarry, flashbacks shook the screen. Flashes of times before the Great War showed men hard at work carving out the tunnels, only to snap back to the present era where I found only ghouls—humans that had been exposed to too much radiation, their base natures twisted and warped beyond recognition.

The horror should come as no surprise. H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has long influenced the Fallout series. One of the core stories of this Mythos is known as The Dunwich Horror, a tale set in the fictional town of Dunwich, Massachusetts, the same state where Fallout 4 is set. Fallout 3 included a location called The Dunwich Building in which people worshiped Ug-Qualtoth, an unknown being with god-like powers.

The naming convention of this creature is similar to Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothoth and Yuggoth. Coincidence? Not hardly. The Dunwich Horror features a deformed main character named Wilbur Whateley that is barely recognizable as human, much like a ghoul. The story revolves around mysterious events 0n his family’s farm. Wilbur purchases a lot of cattle, but his herd never grows—and the animals that remain in his heard begin to have hideous open wounds.

I won’t say more. If you haven’t read Lovecraft before, check him out. The man is a master of atmospheric horror. He can scare even the most hardened horror fan. Lovecraft’s words creep into your brain like a fog and leave you unsettled.

It was this same atmospheric effect that made the Dunwich Borers so terrifying. The meaning of the flashbacks is never explained. Their cause is never explained. But their effect is immediately apparent.

Deeper into the Caverns

The ghouls came from every nook and cranny. Bodies I had dismissed as corpses stood and attacked. I began to fire a single round into the skull of every corpse, just to make sure. More than once, the corpses stood and attacked. With each step I took, the lights flickered erratically.

The path descended deeper into the cavern. Bodies and ghouls littered the lower levels more heavily than in the better-lit areas above. The flashbacks seemed tied to power sources within the mine. The moment I flipped one, another flashback would dominate my screen. Moments after it ended, ghouls flooded the hallway.

I fought through tunnel after tunnel until I reached the lowest level. A dimly-lit pathway opened into a larger cave. Construction equipped dotted the room, and a makeshift bedroom had been erected to one side. I dispatched the single ghoul that greeted me and looted the room. I thought I had reached the end; after all, I found a Sneak Bobblehead that permanently upgraded my abilities. Items like that aren’t left about haphazardly.

Then I saw another exit. Tucked away in the darkened corner of the room, a tunnel led deeper into the cavern. I stepped inside. I didn’t expect a flashback. I had grown used to their appearance after flipping a power switch, but I had not found one in the previous room.

When light filled my screen, I watched the eeriest flashback yet. A crowd of people knelt in front of an altar, their hands bound behind them. A man named Tim Shoots addressed the crowd. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the flashback faded—and a named ghoul attacked. I gasped at the name Tim Shoots over the creature’s head. Two more ghouls, Bradley Ramone, and John Hatfield, also joined the fray.

I had just watched a holotape with the three men, but I had not understood their intent.

I killed all three. My last round dropped Bradley Ramone feet from where I stood, and the momentum of his charge carried his now-dead body past me. I walked into the room with the altar, ready to fight more undead, but nothing remained of the flashback. A massive hole filled with radioactive water occupied the space where the altar had been.

At the bottom of the hole, I found Kremvh’s Tooth. This weapon looks like a machete forged from the jagged fang of some otherworldly beast. Upon further investigation, the weapon can be given a unique mod called “Sacrificial Blade.” This causes the target to bleed and deals a tremendous amount of damage.

A simple mission to kill a few raiders had led me to the remnants of a cult that worshiped a Lovecraftian god. Despite the hours I sank into Fallout 4, no other mission created the same level of unease and apprehension that descending through those flashback-filled tunnels did. The storytellers at Bethesda managed to pull me into the long-forgotten lore of a half-destroyed world and used my curiosity as the vehicle.

Watch The First Hour Of Gameplay From CALL OF CTHULHU: THE OFFICIAL VIDEO GAME

Ahead of its release next month, the first hour of gameplay from Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game has been uploaded to YouTube, and can be viewed below. Although it won’t be a strict adaptation, developer Cyanide drew inspiration from both H. P. Lovecraft’s original novella and the subsequent tabletop role-playing game, so Lovecraft purists should be very happy with the final result. Publisher Focus Home Interactive are currently offering a ten percent discount to those who pre-order, so you might want to keep that in mind if you were thinking of picking it up.

As you can see, the main focus of Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game will be on atmosphere and exploration, and whilst there will be some combat, you certainly won’t be fighting your way through hoards of enemies. Similarly to the seminal Lovecraft-inspired game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, there will also be a sanity meter, which means that the more horror you encounter, the weaker your grip on reality will become. And you’ll be encountering a lot of horror throughout the twelve to fifteen hours of gameplay.

The semi-open world RPG will place you in the shoes of private investigator Edward Pierce, who sets out to solve the death of a family on Darkwater Island, and soon uncovers a plot to unleash upon the world the sinister Great Old One known as Cthulhu. The new footage sadly does not give us a look at Cthulhu himself, so we’ll probably have to wait until Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game releases on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 30 to see how Lovecraft’s most famous creation will look in glorious eight generation graphics.

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