App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S
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I've always felt World War I to be a criminally neglected setting for games; horror-based ones especially. Thankfully, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land--the first major offering from UK indie developers Red Wasp Design--helps fill that grossly underutilized niche a little more. Considering how much H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror were an integral component of my adolescent literary development, I jumped at the chance to review this one. Finding out that it was a turn-based strategy game (yet another of my weaknesses)? Even better.
An eerily distorted version of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” helps to set the mood for the proceedings. The premise sees a unit of British soldiers being joined by Professor Brightmeer from Massachusetts’ infamous Miskatonic University. Brightmeer informs Captain Hill and his men that dangerous cultists are conspiring to unleash unspeakable evil into the world and only their swift intervention can save humanity. The usual stuff, really. It’s not an incredibly original narrative, but in a game focused on combating eldritch horrors over cerebral investigation, it serves its purpose just fine.
The Wasted Land draws inspiration from a variety of pedigreed sources. Certain elements (character attributes, percentile-based skills) come directly from the pen-and-paper Call of Cthulhu RPG. Meanwhile, the Action Point-based tactical squad maneuvering and combat bear more than superficial resemblances to the classic X-COM PC strategy series. The “Basic Training” tutorial level (don’t confuse it for an “Easy” difficulty setting, despite finding it in the difficulty menu) will quickly acclimate most players to the nuts and bolts of the game and is highly recommended.
Most levels contain multiple mission objectives that reveal themselves sequentially. Some require holding specific locations for a time against waves of enemies. Others require the squad to escape the battlefield before a specific number of turns pass. The variety is welcome and it’s nice to see that Red Wasp wasn't simply content with relying on the same thing over and over, driving players into tedium-spawned insanity.
The ending is rather anti-climactic, which is a little bit of a letdown, but even the few issues the game does have are largely tolerable. Selecting units and UI elements is a bit fiddly on the iPhone’s small screen, but the recent addition of a pinch zoom makes that part somewhat less problematic. My only real complaint is, well, that it ends, mainly.
For the amount of influence his writings have had on the realms of fantasy and horror, it’s sad that more games haven’t been set in the realms of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. There have been a few, sure, but they've been rare and the good ones are rarer still. Thankfully, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land falls pretty firmly in the latter category. I’d love to see a console port and a sequel would probably make me vomit tentacles of joy. There’s certainly plenty of untapped material in Lovecraft’s shared universe to work with.