Number of Reviews: 5
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Great Flavor, Hasty Pacing, December 6, 2020
Right from the outset, The Call of Innsmouth builds itself upon a strong aesthetic foundation. The style of the prose and the parlance of the characters just screams “pulpy noir set in the 1920s.” This, combined with a darkly atmospheric visual presentation, makes for a game that oozes an instantly-recognizeable flavor. About 15 seconds in, I was absolutely hyped to go gumshoeing across Lovecraft Country, slowly uncovering unsettling hints of more sinister happenings behind a seemingly-mundane missing person case.
Except… that’s not quite how it goes.
Generally, I reckon that preserving a sense of mystery throughout the bulk of the story is crucial to the appeal of a piece of detective fiction. Ditto for a played-straight Lovecraftian work. But The Call of Innsmouth goes in the other direction, laying out quite a bit of blunt exposition early-on, so that the entire mystery is explained fairly clearly, even well before the climax. And I do mean explained - in most cases, you as the player aren’t making deductions or trying to weigh evidence to figure out what’s going on. Nor is there much room for ambiguity. You just get told everything directly, either by other characters who are happy to volunteer everything they know in a few major info-dumps, or by the internal monologue of a protagonist who can sometimes be exceptionally quick at jumping to conclusions.
This, I think, is a detriment to an otherwise well-written story. I would have preferred the underlying horrors to be revealed more slowly and gradually, with more opportunities for the player to apply their own logic to the course of the investigation.
That aside, I did enjoy many of the more action-oriented scenes in the latter half of the game. Many of the choices at that point are hazardous, with plenty of opportunities for insta-death, but they didn’t feel arbitrary. On the contrary, these choices reward the player for paying attention to the current situation and applying a bit of logic or intuition to it - for example, realizing that you need to take a hostage because you are unlikely to defeat/outrun your foes otherwise. That’s great. But why aren’t there more opportunities for the player to use their brain like this in the earlier, more investigative sequences of the game? As it is, there are very few points during the investigative phase where the player’s choices matter at all.
Overall, strong writing, has the right vibe, but could have done a better job at making me feel like a detective.