Call Of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land iOS Review
War is hell, as the old saying goes. It’s probably not helpful then when the dead start popping out of their graves and Cthulhu and his non-Euclidean mates decide to get involved. Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land presents you with challenge of fighting through the trenches of France whilst fending off all manner of insanity inducing creatures.
The narrative of the game tells the story of an American professor of the occult, Professor Brightmeer, travelling to wartime France to assist Captain Hill in taking down an occult group known as the Cult of the Awakened. Things quickly go from bad to worse as you find yourself battling all manner of tentacle beasties from the beyond. The plot is conveyed via dialogue between the characters during the missions, meaning you read quite a lot of text throughout the game. There are some quite clever sections where dream sequences are actually played out as levels, but even those have swathes of dialogue. It would have been nice to see a few cut scenes, even if they were just static art work with some voiced dialogue.
TWL is a turn based strategy game, much in the style of XCom and its ilk. You take control of a team of soldiers, each with individual specialisations. Some of your team are more skilled with heavy weapons, like machine guns, whereas others might be better with handguns and first aid. At the end of each level, you get a bevy of experience points you can divide between the squad, allowing you to further specialise your squad.
You also get the opportunity to purchase new equipment, such as different guns and body armour, with money received based on your performance in the mission. The roleplaying element allows you to tailor the game to your play style, allowing a variety of tactics throughout the game. You can opt to specialise your characters, assigning characters roles as medic or heavy weapons, or have a versatile jack of all trades team. The choice is yours.
The missions themselves play out in a simple format. Each team member has a set number of action points, and every move the character makes costs a certain number of points. The characters move on a grid based system, with movement over certain terrain costing more points. You can fire from the hip for a set number of action points, or spend more to increase your odds of hitting the enemy. Often this leads to difficult situations. Do you move your characters out of danger, or throw all their available points into an attack which may (or may not) kill your enemy? It’s a tried and tested system which works well for the most part.
The graphical style of the game is good for what it is. The top down perspective offers a limited view of the characters, but, at least from what you can see, each is distinct enough to allow you to recognise who you are selecting. The maps all feature a limited spectrum of land textures, although that’s more of a limitation imposed by the setting of wartime France than lack of effort on the part of the developers. The edge of the map tend to be obfuscated by shadow, allowing new enemies to fade in as if from nowhere, which fits thematically if nothing else.
There are really two major things that get in the way of TWL from being a solid iOS game. For the most part, it’s a well-designed, well-built game. The controls, however, can be absolutely dreadful at times, ranging from inaccurate to downright non-responsive. Many of the buttons you need to press are tiny, and you can often end up pressing the wrong thing.
Selecting characters on the battlefield is sometimes impossible. Many a time did I send one of my troops marching across the battlefield when trying to select another soldier. It’s pretty clear to see the cause of this. TWL is a universal app, meaning it can be played on iPods and iPads, and it was evidentially designed with the latter in mind. It doesn’t render the game unplayable, but does cause enough frustration to be annoying.
Secondly, TWL is hard. It’s not just tricky at points; the game is genuinely unforgiving. TWL has no qualms about presenting you with an unwinnable situation because you made some poor choices on the equipment selection screen. Enemies pour in thick and fast from multiple angles. A single turn can wipe out half your squad. All of this is fine. Video games can be difficult sometimes - that’s allowed. It’s just a shame that the difficulty here is so prohibitive. The vast majority of gamers will be put off by the feeling of sheer helplessness brought on by your early defeats.
Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land takes a genre that hasn’t received much love in recent years and revamps it for modern devices whilst keeping the original gameplay intact. It’s such a shame then that the game’s few flaws stifle the enjoyment of what could otherwise be a new classic iOS game.