Review – Call of the Sea

I was immediately intrigued by Call of the Sea after the very first trailer. The first-person exploration type of gameplay combined with a bold and vibrant art style caught my attention right away. Then of course there’s the dark and compelling mystery at the heart of the game. After clamoring for it for months now, my call has finally been answered.

Call of the Sea is a first-person exploration adventure set in the 1930’s. You play as Norah Everhart, a plucky woman who is suffering from some mysterious affliction. Her husband, Harry, left on an expedition to find a cure for her illness, never to return. After receiving a strange package with a picture of Harry, a ritualistic knife, and some coordinates to a small island off the coast of Tahiti, she picks up the trail of her husband and his crew. But she quickly realizes that this island has many secrets of its own, just waiting to be unearthed.

Call of the Sea

Photos and scattered papers provide Norah with insight as to what happened to Harry and his crew.

Being a first-person exploration game, Call of the Sea reminded me quite a bit of Myst. Although, the most of puzzles feel more natural to the story and aren’t nearly as difficult. The puzzles are definitely the game’s strongest feature. Each one feels like it actually belongs in the game. Along her journey, Norah will come across ancient structures and ruins that she’ll need to figure out how to interact with in order to open up the way forward. She’ll also have to try to get past the the obstacles and rigs left behind by her husband and his crew. By having the puzzles set up in this way, it feels like a natural progression of her journey, rather than some out of place impediment to move past.

Call of the Sea

The ancient ruins are both beautiful and intriguing.

However, it’s important to remember that a game like this is only as good as its story. Luckily, Call of the Sea remains captivating throughout its entirety. I was a bit nervous in the beginning when Norah essentially does nothing but dump exposition whenever you interact with something, but thankfully, this is only the case during the prologue. The rest of the game, she’ll make comments and observations about things, but they feel much more natural. She’ll even jot down important information in her journal, which makes solving the puzzles much easier.

Call of the Sea

There are secret items you can find in each chapter and they all reference something from the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Call of the Sea wasn’t quite what I was expecting tonally, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a game steeped in the lore of H.P. Lovecraft, but surprisingly, it’s not a horror game. There are moments of unease and the clear deterioration of sanity that is a Lovecraftian staple, but for the most part it’s a mystery, love story, and a journey of self-discovery. After a while, I found myself not caring that there weren’t strong horror elements because I was still invested in uncovering what happened to Harry and his crew. Not mention uncovering the secrets of the island itself. Even though the outcome of her adventure is glaringly obvious from early on, it’s still written so well that you’ll remain interested in playing it through to its conclusion.

The story is further sold by the strong vocal performances. Cissy Jones and Yuri Lowenthal play Norah and Harry, respectively, and it’s their chemistry that drives home their deep connection. Cissy Jones in particular has the more difficult task, as most of the game is carried on her shoulders. Aside from the exposition-heavy introduction, she portrays Norah wonderfully as a smart and tenacious adventurer, whose independent spirit and keen observations make her a delightful protagonist.

Much of what Norah discovers about the island’s history is depicted through murals.

The mysterious tone of the game is driven home by both its musical score and and art design. The music fits the otherworldly feel of the game well, creating an ambiance of both fantasy and trepidation. The art style is vibrant and bold, with each chapter of the game feeling very different from one another. While not necessarily a graphical marvel on the technical side, the slightly cartoonish art design helps to cover up some of the areas where the developers had to cut corners. There are a few times I got stuck in the environment and had to reload my last checkpoint, but those instances were rare. It’s also worth mentioning that Call of the Sea did suffer from framerate drops when it first released, but a patch has fixed this issue and my playthrough remained at a steady 60fps. 

And I know where this is going.

Call of the Sea wasn’t quite what I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. It surprised me in a lot of ways. While the ending was easy to guess early on, the writing for the rest of the story was so strong that I still found it compelling. The voice acting is very well done, as is the musical score and the art design. The puzzles weren’t overly difficult, but were a lot of fun and felt like they belonged in the game. I highly recommend checking out Call of the Sea, especially right now while it’s on Game Pass. This is one call that shouldn’t be left unanswered.

 

Graphics: 8.0

The bold and vibrant art design is striking and varied throughout the whole game. You can tell where they had to cut certain corners, but the slightly cartoonish art design hides a lot of its imperfections.

Gameplay: 8.0

It’s a first-person, exploration adventure game with a wide variety of puzzles. The puzzles feel organic to the story and aren’t unfairly difficult. However, there are a few bugs that will cause you to get stuck in the environment.

Sound: 9.0

The music fits the fantastical and otherworldly tone of the game. The main vocal performances by Cissy Jones and Yuri Lowenthal are top notch.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Call of the Sea is a game that sinks its hooks into you right from the start and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. The puzzles are fun and well varied.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Call of the Sea is available now on Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X.