Column: Cthulhu Eats the World: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land

By Brian M. Sammons

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Red Wasp Design For PC, iOS, Android.

Welcome back, friends, neighbors and squid-faced abominations from beyond time and space. Cthulhu Eats the Movies has changed – mutated, if you will – into Cthulhu Eats the World. Why? Because Cthulhu is ever hungry and movies alone just weren’t cutting it. Now, don’t panic. I will continue to discuss Lovecraftian movies, but I will also occasionally shine a flickering spotlight onto TV shows and even videogames with Lovecraftian touches from time to time. And speaking of video games, let’s kick off the new format right now with a look at a game that could not be more HPL-licious if it tried: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land.

This is a relatively short and simple game, but I’m not using those words as pejoratives. It is an undeniable short game, but then, it’s also very cheap. At just five bucks, it is well worth the price. Also, don’t think that ‘simple’ means ‘easy’ or ‘not engaging.’ It only means it has a very good pick-up-and-play property to it. That only makes sense, as this game first saw daylight on Apple’s iPad. Now it is available for Android-enabled mobile devices and it’s on the PC, which is the version I played and will be reviewing for you today.

The first part of this game’s title, Call of Cthulhu, refers to the venerable and multi-award-winning, pen-and-paper role playing game by Chaosium that is itself inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the collective world of cosmic horror known as the “Cthulhu Mythos.” In regards to that RPG, this is a pretty barebones translation. Only the basics have made the jump from the pen-and-paper game to the electronic one. That means a handful of stats and skills that only loosely follow the original CoC (That’s what we ‘in the know’ call “Call of Cthulhu“) game. So, if you are a rabid fan of the RPG, you may be a bit disappointed with this ‘lite’ version. However, I am a huge fan of the old game and I still liked this one loads. Yes, it’s not really like playing CoC, but, if you want to do that, then pick up some books and funny-shaped dice, gather your buddies, and just go do the real thing.

So, if it’s not a whole lot like Call of Cthulhu, how does this game play? Well, did you ever play the old PC game, X-COM? That’s the shorthand for us old-school gamers. For you young’uns out there, both X-COM and this Wasted Land are turn-based strategy games with light RPG elements. For the truly uninitiated, let me break that down for you further. This game is set in the bloody trenches of World War I where you play a small band of soldiers and investigators off to face things far more horrible than the Great War. To battle the assembled horrors arrayed against you, each member of your unit will have a number of action points based on their dexterity statistic. You will move across a war-torn field of battle, each step costing a variable number of action points based on the terrain. To fight, you will use a nice range of weapons, from pistols and rifles to machineguns, artillery barrages, to even volatile dark magic, and each attack also costs action points. When you’re all out of action points for all your little guys, it’s the enemy’s turn to move and attack, using their own action points to do so. When they’re done, it’s your turn again. On and on it goes until you’re either victorious or you’re dead and consumed by unnamable horrors. Got it? Like I said, the game design is simple, but there is a surprising amount of strategy to be found here, as you mix up weapons, spells, skills, armor, and gear to maximize your chances of victory.

As for the Cthulhu elements, before long, you go from shooting Germans in the face (Sorry, my Teutonic friends, it was war) to doing battle with crazed cultists, the recently re-animated dead, frightening flying polyps, sinister spiders from Leng, deadly dark young of Shub-Niggurath, and more. Each of these threats has its own powers, strengths and modes of attack. The dark young are like tanks with their high armor value and their loads of hit points, while the spiders and polyps can freeze your investigators in place with their webs and mastery of the winds. Learning how to combat each new foe is important and trying to take on large groups of mixed enemies can be quite a challenge, but an enjoyable one. And since this is Call of Cthulhu, battling these supernatural advisories is always costly to more than just your soldiers’ lives. Every time your characters interact with one of these alien entities, they lose a little bit of their precious sanity. Lose too much and…well, you can probably guess that the end result won’t be pleasant.

Now I wouldn’t be doing my job as a hardnosed critic if this were a total love fest for this game and it does have some flaws, most noticeably with the PC interface. This was a direct port for the iOS game, and I mean VERY direct port, so everything here is based on touch, only, this time, you’re using a mouse pointer and not your finger. While this is fine in theory, I found the controls to be, at times, a bit clunky.

Case in point, to select an enemy to attack, you must click and hold the mouse button down on it. Sometimes, that worked okay; other times, not at all. When it didn’t work, you had to go back to your friendly unit, click on it again, then repeat the process and hope that it worked the second time. Sometimes, it took a third or fourth time to get it right. Worse, there was no way to tweak the settings. Find the drag-and-scroll method for moving the very tight view of the battlefield around far too sensitive and hard to control? Too bad. There are no options to slow it down at all. You’ve just got to get used to it. Come on, guys, the ability to control mouse sensitivity was introduced to PC games how many decades ago? Would it really have taken so much effort to add that to this port? And you know what might have helped this game with some, if not all, of those issues? A few controls and options mapped to the keyboard. However, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land does not use the keyboard at all for anything. Does anyone else think that’s a huge oversight for a game on the PC?

Still, a few niggling technical issues aside, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is a great little gem of a game for Cthulhu cultists to enjoy. The action is fun, the strategy is engaging, and the story moves along briskly. As a ‘horror game,’ it’s not at all scary, but it is loads of fun. If you want to get into some Lovecraftian gaming goodness, CoC:TWL will do that for you handily and you really can’t beat the price. Consider this one highly recommended.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has been critiquing all things horror, science fiction, dark, or just plain icky for over a decade. His reviews and columns can currently be found in the pages of these magazines: Cemetery Dance, Shock Totem and Dark Discoveries, and on these websites: Horror World, The Black Glove and now here. Not being satisfied at being a humble and handsome critic, Brian has penned a few tales himself. They have appeared in the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, Dark Animus, and Horror Carousel, and in the anthologies Arkham Tales, Cthulhu Unbound Vol. 2, Horrors Beyond, and Twisted Legends, among others. He has also written extensively for the Call of Cthulhu role playing game, in an attempt to corrupt as many new, young minds as possible. Despite all this, Brian is often described by his neighbours as "such a nice, quiet man", and he loves animals.

Brian M. SammonsColumn: Cthulhu Eats the World: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land