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E3 2018 Preview: Call of Cthulhu’s Eldritch Horrors Test Your Sanity

We’ve previewed the fall from sanity a couple times in our Call of Cthulhu previews from E3 2017 and Focus Home’s Paris showcase of games earlier this year. E3 2018 gave us yet another look at the narrative investigative RPG, based on the pen-and-paper RPG of the same name. A first-person game, Call of Cthulhu will not feature any combat, unless you consider fighting with your own sanity to fall into that bucket. Private Investigator Edward Pierce will be searching for clues about a pair of murders that took place on a quiet little island. Of course, we know that the Eldritch horrors that lie in wait won’t result in an easy case for Pierce to look into.

The demo we saw this year was about four chapters in, showing Pierce investigating a burned out house. During this investigation he could paint mental pictures to rebuild scenes of the mystery that had taken place, allowing him to piece together what may have happened. While this was early in the game (and thus, fairly straightforward), Pierce’s loose grip on reality will soon cause this mental palace to erode and his mind not to be quite as reliable for solving these mysteries.

Choices can be made based on the information you uncover, so retaining your sanity is going to be key to making the best informed decisions. Again, this wasn’t something we saw in action quite yet, but the demo was dripping with tantalizing promises of madness throughout. At one point while investigating a little boy’s room, Pierce discovers he’d been heavily dosed with sleeping pills. What had the kid seen? Soon after, Pierce is sent on a chase through the house after a figure that may or may not even be real.

From Pen and Paper

Getting its roots from a pen-and-paper RPG means that Call of Cthulhu has a lot of underlying systems it relies on as you move forward through the game. One room in the house had a secret bookcase that needed to be moved. There are multiple ways to solve this puzzle based on your skills and clues you’ve uncovered. Have a high enough skill in one area and you may easily discover the mechanism that makes the door work, but you’ll still need a crowbar–or high strength stat–to break it. You can also learn how to open the door the correct way by scouring the room. Each interaction changes depending on how you’ve built your character and how you progress the story.

Pen-and-paper mechanics also mean that some things will be left up to the roll of the dice. Even if you’ve got a high stat in one area, it’s still possible to fail certain skill checks, just like any good Dungeons and Dragons campaign. They were pretty clear that they didn’t want to explore sanity as an exploitable mechanic, so it will be unpredictable and offer a unique experience for everyone that plays.

When I asked about length, one of the developers told me that it will take about 10-12 hours to complete with multiple endings that you can get based on your stats and choices throughout the game. The branching paths will be impacted by your particular skills, relationships with people you meet throughout the game, and of course that pesky little thing called sanity that permeates every bit of Call of Cthulhu.

The investigative and slower-paced horror seems to really put Call of Cthulhu in a unique place as far as terrifying games go. Even watching the demo in a room full of people made me nervous. Mysteries that slowly unfold always grab my attention easily as they allow me to discover the mystery, and Call of Cthulhu looks like one that will have me both curious and afraid the entire time.

Don’t miss all of our E3 2018 coverage.