Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted land (iOS)

The Old Gods of H.P. Lovecraft have seen few and far between successes in the gaming world. Now developer Red Wasp brings the fantasy horror universe to iOS devices in classic turn-based strategy form. Will it leave you running for the asylum, or bowing at the alter?

I'm really no fan of turn-based anything. That's a hell of a way to start this review, I know. See when I was a kid, I was really into table top strategy games like Warhammer and D&D, but as time went by my patience with the medium waned. At this point I don't know anyone who's into gaming with miniatures and I'm not interested in them for anything other than some nice memories.

Pudding Lane sounds so happy doesn't it?
Strategy gaming is much the same for me. Titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, which I once thought were the bees knees, are now all pretty much a jumbo helping of no thank-you. I simply don't have the  temperament to plan out complex strategy's and attack plans anymore. Maybe blame the years of playing action games and shooters for souring me on the tried and true art of taking turns- it's as good a scape goat as any.
Definitely not in Kansas
But with all that, when I first saw Red Wasp's The Wasted Land, I was piqued. For one, it's based on the classic horror mythos of Cthulhu, and lets face it, the giant squid-headed god hasn't exactly seen all that many games. And he definitely hasn't seen all that many good ones. There was Dark Corners of the Earth and... ? Yeah, that was about it... unless you count 'inspired' games like Alone in the Dark that is.

Anyway, the second thing that hooked me was the setting. TWL is set in the gritty trenches of World War One. How many games do you see set in WW1 these days? And a horror game set in WW1? I'm a sucker for a unique tale, so I was dying to get to know this one better. That's something I'm glad I did.

As I said, The Wasted land starts off deep in the trenches of the first great war. Britain and Germany (remember, no Nazi's yet) are locked in tight, brutal, combat. Trench warfare was, for the most part, up close and personal- and a horribly bloody affair. If that wasn't bad enough, add in some bizarro stuff that starts to appear via a sect of strange German cultists, and then the high-strangeness really starts.
Pigeons+Coordinates = Boom
The combat situations of WW1 were pretty unique without otherworldly spookiness though. Especially compared to modern warfare, they were a whole other animal and the game does a great job conveying the perils of it's generally close quarters combat. Weaponry ranges from handguns and rifles to bayonets and knives. There's also clouds of deadly Mustard Gas that was the bane of many a soldier out in the field. Walk your men through a cloud of this gunk and you'll start to see their stats fall as it overtakes them.

Special counter options like gas masks are available for some though, as are massively devastating attacks like artillery bombardments. That's quite a sight to see if you're starting to be overwhelmed by the way. You're actually able to kit out your men fairly well and there's a nice stat system in place too. I was quite surprised by the depth.

Graphically, this one is solid if unspectacular and that might actually be the only down point of The Wasted Land. Things don't look bad per say, playing out in a semi-overhead/three quarter view; most everything looks good enough. That said, it's not going to blow you away. Not that it really has to, this isn't meant to be an in your face extravaganza, but if that's something you're looking for, you might be a little disappointed. The audio could have used a little kick in the pants too, while we're on the subject, and the 'theme song' (fitting for the source material) might actually drive you insane. But honestly, I'm picking because there's a lot to like here.

The relatively small levels are very well designed and have some neat elements. I would have liked just a tad more work to have been done on the tertiary details of the game though. Stuff like the effects for the med-kits just seem out of place in a grime-soaked game like this and the look of the inventory screen is definitely lacking. Maybe a little too old school... Once again though, I have to reiterate that none of this gets in the way of the game providing an enjoyable experience and that says something.
This should be familiar to genre fans
Not hurting things at all is the extremely solid gameplay. And with a patch released shortly after launch that added in a bunch of fixes, things have only gotten better. Now, remember that I'm not a strat guy by any means- but I had a great time here. Play control is excessively easy and the nice big screen of the iPad makes navigating and lighting up enemy troops an absolute breeze. Things do trend more to the snug side of the comfort scale when playing on the iPhone, but that's to be expected.

Even if you're not all that into turn-based strategy, I think I can safely say that you'll find a lot to like with The Wasted Land. The Lovecraft universe is loaded with ancient relics, long sleeping gods, and some deeply mystic overtones. Not all that into old H.P's work? That's okay too, because if you're just a general horror dude or even a comic book devotee- you'll more than likely find the fiction crafted here right up your alley.

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is an excellent example of how to do strategy right on the iOS family of devices. This is one 'Call' that you should most definitely answer.

Bottom Line
Reviewed by Jason