It’s been a good year for fans of HP Lovecraft’s work and style—from HBO’s Lovecraft Country series, to Richard Stanley’s mind-boggling film adaptation of Color Out of Space, to everyone’s favourite eldritch god Cthulhu tormenting Kristen Stewart on the big screen in Underwater. The famed cosmic horror writer’s tendrils were woven throughout 2020’s entertainment, and now a new Spanish indie studio Out of the Blue has taken a crack at the writer’s stylistic oeuvre with its debut title Call of the Sea.
Out of the Blue’s studio is quite small, so the team’s ambitions for its first adventure puzzle game were not set particularly high, but Call of the Sea’s execution is excellent for what it is.
The main goal of Call of the Sea is to lead you through this fun mystery narrative inspired by the work of Lovecraft, and to that end, it does so perfectly. You take control of Norah, an estranged wife with a seemingly crippling medical condition, off in search of her husband, Harry Everhart, who has mysteriously disappeared. Norah receives a mysterious package with cryptic clues that takes her to the beginning of her husband’s trail on an abandoned and supposedly cursed island just east of Tahiti.
What follows is a short but finely told tale of a woman following the ghostly trail of a spouse whose obsessive and stubborn quest has left behind death and catastrophe, but no answers as to why.
In much the same style of other adventure titles like Firewatch, which is a heavy inspiration here too, Call of the Sea takes you deep into its unravelling narrative through the clues left behind by Harry and his expedition. As you uncover more of the island’s truth, you grasp the growing insanity it imposes upon all who enter.
Beyond piecing together the story, Norah is challenged by a series of puzzles, ranging from quite simple to more complex and thoughtful. Each is unique, however, and generally grants enjoyable satisfaction once solved.
That is mostly the extent of the game’s “action”, which only serves to intersperse more of its plot throughout its world. The game is the right length with only six chapters and a prologue, which keeps the story contained, focusing on its Lovecraftian storytelling. Each chapter continues to build and increase the stakes, and the setting, atmosphere, and sometimes even play-style also switch up to keep Call of the Sea feeling uniquely fresh.
The prime aspect to be commended is the game’s atmosphere as it pivots between the dread and horror of a Lovecraft story to something that ends up being quite beautiful and satisfyingly blissful (provided you take the correct option of the game’s two ending choices). The excellent art direction of Out of the Blue’s initial offering is the foundation of its well-crafted atmosphere, as the wonder and beauty of Norah’s quest and its subsequent descent into purgatory are well served by the game’s look. Players feel the same intrigue and breathlessness experienced by the game’s characters purely through its artistic visual design, which is reminiscent of the likes of Firewatch.
Call of the Sea’s sound design also brings the game and story to life, with strong voice performances from Cissy Jones (as Norah) and Yuri Lowenthal (as Harry), and a memorable soundtrack that also serves a narrative purpose.
All told, Call of the Sea is a well-executed narrative in a satisfactory adventure puzzle game. With a length of play at about four to five hours, the game is well worth a weekend’s play to explore its story, and it also has the bonus of a few fun brain teasers. For fans of an atmospheric Lovecraft-like work, Call of the Sea is a good choice. Even if you don’t have a proclivity for cosmic horror, the game is still worth a recommendation—especially when it’s available for free on Game Pass.
As a first effort, Call of the Sea gets a lot right, and that’s why indie developers Out of the Blue are well worth watching in the future.