• Mike

It's Getting Old, Pal: Call of the Sea Review (Xbox One)



The world of H. P. Lovecraft is known to be one of unfathomable horrors, metaphysical impossibility, and dripping with atmospheric insanity. Its depths have been explored and expanded upon for years even after the late author's timely departure from the mortal realms. Most literature and gaming works focus on the human perspective, where a detective or average Joe has an encounter with these strange and unknowable abominations and is charged with the impossible task of surviving. However, I have yet to play a game where the media takes on a more positive look on the mythos. Even Sea Salt took the role of a reverse horror game. But here, in this game, we see the Eldritch world in a new perspective.


Story


In this story we play as Norah, a woman suffering from an unknown disease on a voyage to find her missing husband. He left looking for a cure to her disease and found himself and his crew on an island said to be haunted. Throughout the journey, you find clues on how to progress and what happened to the expedition. As you venture further into the island, things become stranger and more alien. The structures dotting the island become less and less human, and the technology you find starts to resemble the makings of a people who know more about the universe than any native would.


Near the end you start to piece together the truth: your disease is NOT a disease at all, but a natural part of your life. Why? Well, you will need to play to find out, but the inscriptions on the walls tell the story pretty well, if you pay attention. In the end, Norah needs to make a choice. It's the only real choice you get in the game. Needless to say, I had spent too many HOURS trudging through puzzles and self-discoveries to NOT go as far as I could. Sorry, Old Pal, but I have a date with destiny -- consider this a divorce.


Gameplay


This game is a first-person puzzle game with story-telling elements. Each area is one big puzzle to solve. It normally goes like this: enter an area, find clues about the area, Norah jots it all down in her notebook, see that there is an object missing or an object that needs to be solved, do a scavenger hunt to find more clues and items, use said items and clues to solve smaller puzzles that in the end help you solve the level puzzle to move on to the next. Between all this, Norah has internal dialogue said aloud, making comments about the environment or her past. Rinse and repeat, you have a compelling story about a loving wife finding herself while looking for the one she loves.


One thing you may notice is that Norah cannot swim. However, in one part of the game she obtains the ability to swim by transforming into a fishman...or perhaps a mermaid? Unsure, but doing so proves to her she is not normal. Her first encounter with this ability was during a trance or hallucination. It was a shock to her core, but it never frightened her. In fact, it felt right, like it was meant to be, and that feeling only intensified as the story went on.

In the end, she concludes that her husband had figured out what she was, and the entire journey was his attempt to save her life, to send her back home, as it were. Because if she were to never complete her transformation, she would slowly die a painful death.

There are two endings: one where you accept who you are and go to live in the realm of your people, probably Dagon, or you return to your husband to live the rest of your life with him, to die as a human. I had done far too much to just turn back, so I went to Dagon's realm (at least, I think it is Dagon's world).

Graphics


The game uses hand-painted textures, which is not common with Eldritch horror. However, it does help give it a fariytale vibe and make everything seem more dreamy and light-hearted. It was a good choice in art direction, I feel. Don't think that just because the graphics don't reflect reality that there was no detail in the levels. On the contrary, this world the developers crafted, while linear in design, is dripping with detail. The world was made to look alive and not just a bunch of interconnecting hallways, which, if you were to strip down the graphics to their bare minimum components, that's exactly what they would be.

Color is used a lot to help set the mood, and the set pieces are just beautiful. My favorite scene was the marooned ship on the beach. Huge claw-like gashes gutted the ship, a massive hole under the bow of the ship by which the player can enter and exit at their leisure. Leading out of the ship are wires supplying power to an encampment not a few yards away where the crew bunkered down after the ship's beaching. It is clear that the island is extremely hostile to any entity that is not like them or Norah. The world building is very good.


Conclusion


I never expected to like this game as much as I did. Games like this I normally find boring and vapid experiences. Void of life, love, and nothing to write home about. However, this title was amazing. The story was compelling, and the art was sublime. I 100% recommend this game to anyone who is looking to just relax and solve a few puzzles. Don't worry -- the puzzles are well worth the time, even if Norah tends to chatter on a bit much.


You can find this game on Xbox Game Pass or for $19.99 on Xbox One.

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