If you're a fan of horror stories, then you know that one of the founders of this genre was HP Lovecraft and his Cthulhu stories. Lovecraft was born in 1890 in Rhode Island, and his Cthulhu storyline was based in a seacoast town of Massachusetts of the 1920s. Lovecraft's own father went insane when Lovecraft was 3, and Lovecraft himself had a nervous breakdown in high school. His stories were developed from his own severe nightmares.
This game title has been in development for many years, so the graphics in the end product aren't necessarily cutting edge, especially for the XBox platform. It's important to just accept this up front. The load times are also exceedingly long. Strangely, when we played this on our XBox 360 (in backwards compatability mode of course) the loading screens were super long - but the individual messages that would cycle through would not stay on the screen long enough to read. It was an odd combination.
I found it best not to think of Call of Cthulhu as a traditional horror game like Doom or Half-Life. This game isn't about constant action and harassment. It is much more like a steady epic that unfolds over time. It's not about in-your-face blood and guts, although there is plenty of both. It is more of a psychological gnawing away at you. It's a game that you need to set aside a long weekend, a bottle of wine and turn on the answering machine for. It's immersive.
So how does it play out. You are Jack Walters, a detective called in to help with a cult that has holed up in a gothic house in Massachusetts. Strangely, you have no gun. You and a few cops approach the house, and the cultists shoot your cop pals down. You try to pick up one of the downed cop's guns and the system says "Ewwww a dead body". Hmmmm. You go in and find that the cult is obsessed with you for some reason, and find a few dead cultists. You spot a trap door in one room - and when you open the trap door, you mysteriously can't walk around the room any more - your feet are now unable to step over the tiny ledge that lines the hallway. You go down, and see .... things go dark.
Fast forward to six years later. Now you're a PI, suffering from amnesia from that horrific event. You are sent into a small town to track down a missing "lad". The town is typical New England - dark, dreary, grey, with people who speak in monosyllables. I live here, I know this type of town ;) You're now ferrying items to get clues, doing sneak-avoidance to get into areas, and solving puzzles. You don't even get a weapon for about the first third of the game.
There are interesting twists because of the "going insane" aspect of this story. If you spend too much time in a scary area, your vision goes blurry and you have other issues. You can't always trust what you see. You have to plow through trying to do the best you can, as quickly as you can.
There is a group of horror players who will probably find this game "too slow". Players who are hooked on the constant action of Halo etc. probably won't do well with the long loads and exploring sequences. On the other hand, I really recommend that they stick with this. Fast adrenaline can be a shallow thrill. A slow-building insanity can really get to you.
If I have complaints about the game, it stems from some of my commentary earlier. The game elicits laughter when obviously it wasn't meant to. It seems that 99% of the doors you encounter are mysteriously glued shut. The dialogue is repetitive and sometimes inane. You're being shot at but can't pick up a gun?
That being said, every game has its dumb idiosyncracies. The guy in Grand Theft Auto could take down hordes of drug dealers but would drown in 1" of water. You just have to accept these things as part of the game environment.
I definitely recommend this game for adventure gamers who can handle the mature rating. If you're more of a shoot-em-up, at least rent the game to see if you can get into the flow of things. You might find that you really can enjoy something that has a slower pace.
Buy Call of Cthulhu XBox from Amazon.com