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Walking simulator. It’s sometimes used as a derogatory term, but I’ve grown to actually love the genre. Tacoma, What Remains of Edith Finch, Observer, to some extent Oxenfree (although it’s delivered in a much different way) – these games are shorter experiences without combat, some minor puzzle solving, and driven by a gripping story. I don’t know if Call of the Sea entirely fits into this genre due to its prominent focus on puzzles. But with its mysterious South Pacific setting, stunning visual aesthetic, and intriguing plot, Call of the Sea takes the player on a journey of self discovery that I think everybody should experience.
A Technicolor Mystery
Developed by Spanish studio Out of the Blue, Call of the Sea is a tale of one woman’s lone expedition to a mysterious island off the coast of Tahiti in search for her missing husband. After receiving a package in the mail suggesting he was lost on this forgotten island, Norah sets off to track him down and rescue him. But really, the game is less about Norah’s actual search for her husband, Harry, and more about the search for her true self.
Despite it having such a bright and saturated visual aesthetic, the developers have not shied away from their inspiration from HP Lovecraft. The further you explore the island, the more this inspiration begins to rear its head. I won’t spoil it for you in this review, mind you, but it really is quite the surprise how deeply ingrained this game is with Lovecraftian themes and design without itself being a horror game. And I absolutely think this is worth congratulating the developers on. In fact, most of the game (despite a couple of dank and dark levels in stormy environments and rain soaked beaches) is set to a backdrop of stunning tropical forests, gorgeous sunsets, colorful cave systems and reefs with plenty of volumetric light shafts and screenshot worthy vistas. This is such a nice change from most Lovecraft-inspired titles that are (understandably) inexplicable-cosmic-horror-laden, and usually not for me.
The visual design is very impressive. The game’s environments often look hand painted and are truly gorgeous. Despite the game being entirely set upon a South Pacific island, there are a nice selection of locales that each chapter puts you in. From landing on the white sandy beaches at the start with its stunning, verdant, tropical rainforest, with waterfalls and lorikeets aplenty, to exploring under the flashes of a thunderous storm. From brightly colored underwater sections with schools of colorful fish all around you, surrounded by stunning reef life, to mysterious and almost otherworldly structures, Call of the Sea’s art direction is nothing short of incredible.
As you explore the island, Norah is faced with a litany of puzzles to pass through the game’s six chapters. Ranging from simple to somewhat complex, the developers have done a marvelous job of giving the player a different type of puzzle to solve in order to progress the story through the chapters. I’m someone who often overthinks puzzles in games, and I did just that in Call of the Sea. But with some persistence, and a couple of moments of taking a step back and trying not to overthink the clues in Norah’s journal, I found the game’s cleverly designed puzzles challenging enough, without being frustrating.
And that’s the key gameplay loop. Find environmental clues and notes to fill in the journal, and then utilize these to assist in solving the puzzle ahead, rinse and repeat – but in a way that thankfully, never felt like I was repeating the same puzzles to complete the game. Some of the areas you explore are quite expansive and require multiple steps to unlock a door, or trigger something to pass through to the next section. And you’re constantly feeling rewarded for finding items and clues and moving the story forward.
The story really shines. The combination of the puzzles and the narrative complement each other brilliantly, without ever feeling as though one was out of place with the other. There is a mystery behind the island. There is a personal mystery that Norah is dealing with as well. And of course there is the mystery of Harry’s disappearance. They all culminate towards the end of the game in very impressive fashion. As you follow Harry’s doomed expedition through the game’s six chapters, you learn what has happened to him and his crew, and it leads you closer and closer to discovering your truth in the game’s excellent finale.
Call of the Sea is another walking simulator-type game that I thoroughly enjoyed. With its vibrant aesthetic, interesting and unique 1930s setting, Lovecraftian themes, mysteries and thrilling moments, and a really strong ending, it’s a game that you can get lost in and binge in one evening. It has a truly remarkable art style, music that fits the tone perfectly, and the pacing of the chapters really leaves little to be desired. Any time you’re feeling like you’re not progressing, you’ll nail that next puzzle, and move the story forward onto the next intriguing area and the game will keep its grasp on you.
If you’re a fan of HP Lovecraft, of quieter, more slowly paced games, or if you’re just a fan of indie games that are unique and interesting, I greatly recommend you play Call of the Sea.
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