Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is a turn-based strategy/RPG based on the Call of Cthulhu tabletop roleplaying game by Chaosium, Inc. The game is set during Word War I and pits a team of investigators with some members of the british army against an ancient evil building an army of the undead under the European battlefields.
I should mention that I was playing the iOS version of the game for this review, but I would imagine pretty much everything remains the same across platforms, with the exception of using a mouse on the PC versus touchscreen controls on mobile devices. That being said, on with the review!
The storyline of the game is told through small snippets of text on the mission screen, and with brief dialog sections during the missions. The story builds gradually, with nothing really paranormal starting until about 3 missions into the game – so the pacing is quite good. There is a small tutorial mission to familiarize yourself with the controls, and then you’re right into the game. The tutorial is decent at explaining how things work, but I found it was easy to forget a few things by the time they became relevant in actual gameplay, which I will delve into more in my nitpick section a bit later on.
The gameplay is where CoC:TWL really shines. I’m normally not a fan of strategy/rpg games because the more hardcore games in that genre have endless amounts of unit customization and other micromanaging that’s required, and micromanagement in games always gives me a headache. However, this game seems to strip out a lot of the unnecessary baggage of other strategy games to make a more stramlined experience that’s easier for more casual gamers to get into.
Each unit on your team has a certain number of action points, and activities such as movement, using healing kits and firing weapons each require a certain number of AP to perform. Once you’ve expended all of your usable AP, or have simply taken all the actions you want, you press a button to end your turn and then the computer takes it’s turn at which point control reverts back to you. In this regard, the game plays very much like a boardgame. In between missions, you have the opportunity to spend experience points to upgrade your investigators, visit the Quartermaster to buy new weapons, armor and supplies, and swap items between characters.
As with any strategy game, if you choose to just charge blindly into situations, you’ll end up getting yourself killed quite quickly. Fortunately, if a player dies they have a certain number of rounds before they actually die, giving you a chance to move someone adjacent to them and administer a health pack to revive them, assuming you can get to them in time and have a health pack to use. The same holds true for when players go insane (which is a common occurrence in the world of the Cthulhu mythos). When a character loses their sanity, they will either become paralyzed or manic. Going manic has some advantages – mainly moving faster, being stronger and feeling less pain, but the disadvantage is once the mania runs out, you fall unconscious and need to be revived. These symptoms can be alleviated similarly to injuries by having a character with the Psychoanalysis skill equipped with the necessary books treat the character and help them pull themselves together.
All in all, the game is quite fun to play, and I’ve found myself finishing a mission and not having realized how much time had passed. That being said, there are some minor issues that caused me some frustration with the game – but these are by no means deal-breakers. Allow me to break these issues down into a bullet list:
- Buying and selling items from the Quartermaster is not as intuitive as I would have liked. It was not covered in the tutorial, and I needed to use the little help button just to get an idea of what I had to do. But even then, I sometimes had issues. I finally figured out for example that to buy an item, I needed to click on an empty spot in my inventory, click on the item I wanted to buy, THEN click and hold on the item to actually purchase it – whereas in my understanding of the instructions, just touching the empty inventory slot and then pressing and holding on the item to buy would complete the transaction. Maybe I misread things, but once I figured out what I needed to do it’s pretty quick and painless. I just think it needs to be documented a bit better, or maybe made a bit more intuitive.
- During missions, you have to pay a lot of attention to the items you have equipped. In the pane on the right side of the screen, only the item currently showing is actually equipped. I had a had a gas mask equipped and my character died walking through some poison gas. It was at that point I remembered the tutorial mentioning this, but as I said earlier in the review, the 4th mission was the first time I encountered any poison gas, and by that point I’d already forgotten what was said in the tutorial. Now, this might not be as big of an issue for someone who sits down and plays 5 or 6 missions in a sitting, but for a more casual gamer, this information can be easy to forget.Further on this point, there were times when I was unable to fire my weapon at a target and the reason was not always readily apparent. Usually it’s because either something in the environment is blocking your shot, but in a couple of cases in my playing it was because my character didn’t have his weapon equipped. I would have assumed that if your weapon was equipped in the previous mission it would stay that way, but apparently not. This sometimes lead me to get a bit frustrated trying to figure out what the issue was. Some sort of warning that you don’t have a weapon currently equipped would have made it a bit easier for me to figure this out, but even better yet – if you only have one weapon for a certain character, I think it should be equipped by default. I’m not sure if this was a glitch or intentional, but it was still confusing to me.
Other than those two minor issues I had with the game though, I still find it really fun to play, and it’s an easy enough game for more casual gamers, or people unfamiliar with strategy/rpg games to get into. Hardcore strategy gamers might find the game a little more simplistic than what they’re used to, but it shouldn’t detract from their enjoyment of the game. And if you’re a fan of the Cthulhu mythos and/or the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game, you should definitely go buy this game right away.
Overall Verdict: 9/10
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