As there are likely to be a fair few who’re sitting back saying ‘the call of who?’ at this point, so standby for some background information. Cthulhu is the invention of H.P. Lovecraft, and was featured in many of the great horror writer’s works, often pictured as a giant, octopus-like creature, and described as a dormant deity feeding on mankind’s anxiety and fear.
The Cthulhu mythos is quite well-known, thanks in part to a series of Internet memes, but it’s probably through the pen-and-paper role-playing game Call of Cthulhu that most will have been introduced to the terrible, tentacled beast.
The role-playing game primarily focused on regular people becoming drawn into increasingly terrifying situations, then slowly being driven mad by cults, horrific beasts and the awful knowledge that nothing could stop Cthulhu’s plans.
Published by Chaosium, it was announced last year that they were working with a game developer named Red Wasp, and would be bringing out an iOS and Android game based around Cthulhu in the New Year.
After a brief false-start, where the game suffered from a few bugs after being released in the App Store, we have a complete and working version of Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land for the iPhone and iPad. Here’s what it’s all about.
Set in World War I, the game follows a team of soldiers and an American professor who are investigating some odd goings-on in the trenches, and the strange involvement of a group known as the Cult of the Awakened. Of course, things start to take a turn for the weird quite soon, and it becomes clear that Cthulhu and his minions are preparing to take over the world.
What’s refreshing about The Wasted Land is the decision to not sour the brand by making the game some mindless shoot ‘em up, but instead to stick to its origins and go for a decidedly old-school turn-based RPG. You’re in command of several characters at once, and can order them to move around, fight and interact, all of which are dictated by the amount of action points available.
See, we said it was old-school! Depending on what you’re trying to do, you can complete several actions in a turn, or just one if it’s complicated – like firing a gun or walking a long distance. Each character has their own set of stats, all of which can be enhanced at the end of each level, plus new equipment and weapons purchased.
The action is presented in a 3D/top-down style, much like isometric adventure games, and the graphics are really excellent. The characters all look great, and despite not being able to see faces, it’s never a problem to tell them apart. The landscapes you’re fighting through are also spot-on, with carefully chosen colour schemes which avoid any potential problems of obscuring enemies.
Needless to say, once you get to the more nightmarish stages, everything looks suitably Lovecraftian too. Red Wasp has also done a great job with the audio, with standout pieces being the opening, distorted version of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (that would be right at home in Silent Hill or as part of a David Lynch dream sequence) and the ever-present background sounds of battle, which are familiar, but still oddly ‘off.’
Whether you’re new to turn-based RPGs or not, you’ll want to go through the beginner training stage before launching into the game itself, as the majority of the controls are explained here. Elsewhere, you’ll find helpful, if clunky, on-screen guides which usually require a couple of read-throughs before being understood. In fact, the game itself will need a couple of plays before you’re completely familiar with not only the control system, but also the strategies that work best against the enemy.
Combat is an important part of the game, and there are some interesting strategic elements to explore, including the best use of environmental cover (such as man-made trenches and craters left by shell fire) and making best use of gunfire, hand-to-hand combat, precious medical units and the ability to run away from your foes. It takes some getting used to, but once you’re in the swing of it, it’s a very player-friendly system.
Two other things standout about The Wasted Land. Firstly, it’s a difficult game, and every level really needs planning out before attempting. Adopting an ‘all guns blazing’ approach before your characters are ready will result in a quick death every time. (Plus, with certain characters essential to the game, you’ll need to think about how to protect them when the going gets tentacle-y.)
Once you’ve got over the difficulty – and it’s a constant right from the start – the next thing to strike you is how much time you’ll need to invest. There are nine levels in all, and even the early stages take a good 45 minutes to play through, and that’s without dying and starting again.
If you’re after a quick game to waste five minutes, the The Wasted Land will make you late for every appointment you have until it has been completed. It’s addictive and a lot of fun to play, plus as you really need to think about your objective and how to achieve it, it’s hugely satisfying too.
It’s not faultless though, as the control system is temperamental – walking instead of shooting, selecting instead of aiming – and on the iPhone, several of the buttons are absolutely tiny, so the sausage-fingered could find it frustrating.
Red Wasp were quick to iron out the bugs the first time around, and The Wasted Land has been revealed to be an engrossing, thoughtful, challenging and very good-looking RPG game. If they continue to refine the controls, and perhaps add other missions in the future, it’s all set to be a classic of its genre.