When I first learned about Call of the Sea by Out of the Blue games, I immediately thought about the many failed attempts of video games telling the story about the Lovecraftian horrors of Cthulhu, Dagon, and many other cosmic “great ones” of his mythos. Call of the Sea is by far the best story-driven game that follows the popular myths of creatures and gods with its own unique blend of beautiful art, environments, and story while giving a reasonable challenge to any puzzle-solving gamer.
Norah Everhart has been stricken with a seemingly irreversible illness and her husband embarks on a journey to find a cure. She receives a mysterious package and goes off on a journey of her own to find her missing husband and the cause of her ailment, all on a beautiful, deserted island. An incredibly basic and cliché premise. What sets the story apart is its use of mystery without being overly ominous or scary. In fact, the story focuses mainly on the history of Norah and her husband Harry while also slightly touching on her sickness and the progress of Harry’s expedition to save his wife.
This gives some great character development and insight into their motivations. While most games focus on the horror aspect of their story, this one is about love, loss, hope, and failure. It was a breath of fresh air to play a game that was about the characters rather than the spectacle.
Rarely do I search for collectibles and documents to read about the events of a game. I would rather have it all given to me by audio while playing the game. Call of the Sea however had me wanting more to find and read. Documents, photos, and equipment is strewn about the island. Norah narrates them all as players find them, giving backstory on not just Harry but his entire expedition team. This is what I call great storytelling.
As always, a story can be great, but does it play well? Call of the Sea is no action game. Expect a lot of walking and heavy puzzle solving. Think “The Witness”, another walking sim/puzzle game developer by Thekla Inc. but with more dialogue. If that is not your cup of tea, then you should move on to something more fast-paced and action-driven. The slow-paced gameplay and increasingly difficult puzzles are standout elements of this game.
I know some players would think it’d be nice to walk or sprint a bit faster, but honestly, with a game this beautiful and full of items to find, you need to take your time. As players search through each different environment, they find clues which Nora will write or draw in her journal to refer back to again so there’s no tedious backtracking. This little feature helps keep you focused on the puzzles at hand rather than exhausting your time and energy remembering or writing things yourself.
Each puzzle is unique and sometimes mind-numbingly difficult, especially towards the last two chapters. No two puzzles were alike. Each one gave its own challenge and expectations. One example is searching for clues on how to activate a massive organ piano to progress to the next level. Once you find what each note represents, you must open and close valves to play the proper tone. Those clues are found nowhere near where the actual puzzle is. They are found at a camp further away, so if players don’t search properly, they may find themselves stuck or backtracking to find everything they need. Paying close attention to detail and searching for as much as possible are the keys to success.
Aside from the gameplay and character development, Call of the Sea looks beautiful. It has a unique art style with its vibrant colors and environments. This is a very distinct take on eldritch horror-style games since they are usually dark, gloomy, and full of death and scares. It does have some dark and eerie places to explore, but its focus is the gorgeous landscape, serene music, and steady pace. Players will still see some strange events and findings throughout their exploration which provides a lot of mystery to Nora’s journey. Black goo, weird footprints, and giant creatures are just an example of what to expect.
The only downside to the game is its length. It is short and if you breeze through each puzzle, it can be finished in one or two sittings, approximately 6 hours. The only variety it offers is two different endings. Everything else will play the same. No unlockables, extra levels, or puzzles. There is barely any replay value to Call of the Sea. Enjoy the ride while going through your first playthrough. I recommend players experience this amazing story, relish its puzzle-fueled gameplay, and appreciate a unique take on Lovecraft lore.
“I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that
may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed…”
― H.P. Lovecraft, Dagon
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Call of the Sea for the PlayStation 5 provided by Out of the Blue and Raw Fury.