The Game: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land
The Device: Droid X and rooted Nook Color
The Price: $4.99 for Android, iOS, and PC
The Basics: After months spent playing casual games on my phone, light puzzlers that perfectly filled time spent waiting for the subway or sitting on the toilet, it’s nice to play something with a little more substance. Even if that substance is green ooze.
H.P. Lovecraft aficionados likely perked their ears up pretty quickly at the title of this game alone, even though it seems hard to avoid the Lovecraft mythos these days, particularly everyone’s favorite octopus-faced cosmic entity: Cthulhu. Cthulhu films, books, board and card games, rpgs, dice, music, and products of all sorts (ski masks, anyone?) have sprouted up from seemingly every crack like the tentacles of some unmentionable horror.
At its dark unnatural heart, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land (developed in conjunction with Chaosium, the folks behind the famed Call of Cthulhu role playing game) is a turn-based strategy game in the vein of classics like Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars. Set quite literally in the trenches of the first World War, the game starts off as the British Secret Service send for an American professor who’s knowledgeable about the kind of new challenges the Brits are about to face. A nearby German cult is up to no good, performing heinous experiments on the recent war dead and attempting to summon up even greater horrors from another dimension. You control the British unit as they weave through mustard gas-laden battlefields to face German troops and the various beasties fighting on their side.
Purists will note that this doesn’t sound a whole lot like the original Call of Cthulhu novella, and it’s not really an adaptation. The theme is what’s most important and thankfully they’ve done a tremendous job translating it into a strategy title. Expect a lot of references to events and creatures to everything from ‘The Shadow out of Time’ to ‘Herbert West- Reanimator’.
With a fully 3D engine with chunky but well-detailed models, the game certainly looks fantastic as you control your characters one by one and move them around the map. Each character can hold two weapons and two items, and they have a set number of action points that determine how many things they can do per turn. Shooting a rifle may cost 40 points but using a knife is only 15. Characters don’t have set movement and they instead use action points, allowing you to choose whether a character should move a long distance, stand and fight, or some combination thereof. The missions are fairly straightfoward- get to a certain position, hold off the enemies while someone does something, hit a few points on the map- but the nice variety of enemies keeps things interesting. The game can be tough, too, and generally you’ll have to worry about keeping key members of your team alive. Fortunately the game not only saves your position every turn but it also allows you to scroll back to the last turn or objective given, in case things go sour and you do wind up dead.
Of course, this being Lovecraft, physical pain isn’t the only thing you should fear. Facing an otherworldly foe is tough on the noggin as well, and if one of your characters looks too deep into the abyss and his sanity drops to zero he’ll go insane. Sometimes this will result in a character going berserk, which gives them action points far above what they usually have- which sounds great, but they will die in a couple of turns if untreated. It might seem like a smart strategy to let characters go insane in order to take advantage of this berzerker mode but it doesn’t always work like that- sometimes the horror simply stuns then and leaves them immobilized in terror.
Beware when you face non-human enemies such as Flying Polyps, Leng Spiders, Dark Young, reanimated corpses, and even a nice surprise or two at the end…
The Review: I love this game. While sometimes your actions rely on luck (you can see the hit percentage of any attack and choose to boost with more action points if you have them) it’s always satisfying to make a good plan and see it all come together. This is the kind of game you’ll want to mull over and choose a smart strategy, because you can and will get overwhelmed if you don’t take things slowly. It’s a really clever game with a great theme, so what’s not to love?
One major complaint is that the game just didn’t keep going, but that’s ridiculous for a something that will take you a good five to six hours to wrap up its fun story. It’s just hard not to want more and more once you’ve peered into its depths.
The touch controls work well for a strategy game of this type, but the perspective can sometimes make you tap on the wrong character by mistake. It’s generally very accurate though, and since the map is completely 3D you can spin it around to get a better look at things just by hitting one of the two arrows at the bottom of the screen.
The nine lengthy levels offer a nice variety of challenge and you’ll grow attached to your characters as you level them up between games. While you will start off not knowing what exactly to do with everyone you’ll soon figure out just what each person can add to the team. One of my guys was a monster with the shotgun so I loaded him up with armor and cranked that shotgun skill up to the max, turning him into a walking tank. Another was a master at rifle and artillery strikes so I boosted his stats to give him more action points to maneuver with and made him guard us from far-off threats. Another had high sanity so he was given spell books to heal his friends. I’m excited to try the game again on the hard difficulty to try new tactics.
After being impressed how well it ran on my slowly dying Droid X I booted up the ol’ rooted Nook Color to see how it handled it and it worked even better, the larger screen allowing me to better plan my actions and appreciate the mind-numbing horror. This thing must rock on the iPad.
This is the kind of game that makes me feel better about being too apathetic (and broke) to pick up a Playstation Vita or 3DS. With games of this quality on Android and iOS, why would you need anything more? DLC is on the way for the game and you can bet I’ll snatch it up faster than you can chant Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
The Final Grade: A+