CALL OF CTHULHU: THE WASTED LAND – video game review
By Red Wasp Design
For PC, iOS
This is a relatively short and simple game, but I’m not using those words as pejoratives. Now it is a short game, that is undeniable, but then it’s also cheap and 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 light on Apple’s iPad. Now it is available for the PC (soon it will also be out for the Android platform) and that’s 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 the RPG, this is a pretty bare bones translation. Only the basics have made the jump from 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 liked this one loads. Yes it’s not really like playing CoC, but if you want to do that then pick up some books, 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 collected 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. To fight you will use a nice range of weapons, from pistols and rifles to machine guns, artillery barrages, and even volatile dark magic and each attack also costs action points. When you’re all out of action points, 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 it 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 surprisingly 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 their 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. Loose too much and…well you can probably guess that the end result won’t be too pleasant.
Now I wouldn’t be doing my job as a hardnosed critic if this was 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. Some times that worked OK, other times not at all. When it didn’t work you then 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 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 title? 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 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. 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 it highly recommended.