In 2008, Calling was inadvertently unveiled to the public through a series of leaked screens. Fans of titles like Fatal Frame, The Grudge and Siren had a new reason to be excited: A first-person horror game from longtime publisher and developer Hudson Soft was making its way to the Wii console. However, the game was kind of swept under the rug after it was leaked, and little news about it surfaced until last summer, when Hudson officially announced the game was in the works. Fast-forward to January 2010, and we were able to take a look at a preview build for Calling so that we could get a better idea of what it's all about.
The idea behind Calling is fairly simple, and it definitely has a Japanese horror film aesthetic, with imagery that's strikingly similar to movies like "The Eye," "The Grudge," "Pulse" and "The Ring." Expect lots of pale, creepy girls with long, black hair covering their faces. The plot follows two protagonists, but the preview build allowed us to control the male lead, Shinichi Suzutani, for a short while. The idea is that people are stumbling into a mysterious chat room known as The Black Page, wherein there's a countdown timer, and they are sometimes sent into a purgatory-like state from which they'll never return. Not quite alive but not quite dead, these people are stuck in a series of haunted house locations, ranging from basic creepy house setups to the even creepier settings of abandoned hospitals. Both of the main characters end up in this situation, and it's up to the player to guide them out and figure out the mystery of The Black Page.
As the preview build begins, you see a series of text messages on-screen, which is meant to mimic the users of a chat room. Everyone seems to think that The Black Page is really a hoax until the last user enters and everyone's cell or home phone goes crazy. From there, you wake up in the shoes of Shinichi, who finds himself in a bedroom that's not quite his own. Prior to this scene, there's some text detailing the mysterious death of a father who was obsessed with dolls after his daughter's death at age 10, and you realize that you're in a nightmarish version of that person's house.
As the camera takes on a first-person view, Calling gives you hints to get you acclimated to the controls. It's a pretty basic setup to wrap your head around; use the Nunchuk to move your character around and the Wii Remote adjusts the camera by pushing the pointer to the edge of the screen. From there, you're able to explore the small bedroom, which is pretty run-down, with huge patches of missing wallpaper and an overall dirty appearance. There's a small bed present, a nightstand, and a curio in the corner. By moving the Wiimote pointer, you can interact with a few things, such as the drawers on the nightstand and curio. Whenever your cursor is over something with which you can interact, it will turn into a hand icon. To open up the drawers, you hold down the A button and do the appropriate opening movement, usually pushing the Wiimote toward or away from you. Looking around the room doesn't reveal much until you find a cell phone on the nightstand, which brings into play another key gameplay component.
Once you select it, the cell phone becomes part of your inventory. You can use it to make calls to other characters, access an address book, take pictures, and so on. Its use in the preview build is pretty limited, so it isn't exactly revealed how and why it works, but it receives calls … from the realm of the dead. When the cell phone rings for the first time, you'll notice that the sound is focused on the Wiimote speaker, which is meant to mimic the cell phone while using it. The effect is pretty well done, and it's a great use for a little gimmick that gets overlooked by a lot of Wii titles. The first call is pretty mysterious, but it's not the only one that comes in during the course of the preview build.
Once you get that out of the way, the lights go out, which in turn causes your character's Horror Meter to rise. Think of it as your health; it's pretty much the same idea with a different name. As your character becomes more terrified, the meter, which resembles a heart monitor, will accelerate and turn red. When you hit the peak of this effect, the game is over. With the lights out, you're pretty limited in what you can do, as everything you click on simply tells you that it's too dark to see anything. This is pretty much the game's way of telling you that you need to advance, and as you pan around the room, you'll see a door heading out. Grasp the door handle in the same fashion as the nightstand drawers; you'll exit into a long hallway, which is just as dark as the room you left. The game gives you enough light to see a few feet ahead of you, so it'd be pretty hard to get turned around or lost within this segment. As you follow the hallway, you come to an end at another door, but this one seems to be locked. A ghostly voice warns you to stay away from the door, and it's here that you first encounter a spirit.
Calling automatically turns you away from the door, and a ghostly figure of a man reaches out to grab you, and you're locked in a form of limited combat. All the game requires is that you furiously shake the Wiimote back and forth and tap the A button when the prompt appears. If you take too long, your Horror Meter will go into the red, and you'll have to restart the segment. However, breaking away from the ghost only takes seconds if you hit the prompts at the right time, so the difficulty is pretty light. I'm curious to see if this mechanic amps up in intensity or changes in some way over the course of the game.
Once you break free of the ghost, he'll fade away, and now you'll be able to enter through the previous locked door. Inside this room is a study that's filled with random dolls in various stages of completion. You'll finally come across a flashlight, which goes into your inventory and is automatically used, providing a beam of light so you can finally interact with things around you. You'll find a doll that you can pick up and examine, and checking out its foot reveals a name, most likely that of the doll's creator.
Advancing to the end of the room, you come across a set of sliding doors, but as you try to push them back, they get stuck and only allow a small glimpse into the room ahead. Another mechanic of Calling comes into play here, allowing you to move your cursor over the gap in the doors, and peek into the next room, zooming in your view for a better look. You'll see the body of a woman on the floor, and once you select that with the cursor, something falls behind you. The camera quickly whips around, and you'll see doll heads rolling about, and the Horror Meter kicks in once again. You're frozen in place by fear because you're not alone, so you search the surroundings using the Wiimote, which allows you to pan the camera. During this segment, I tried to click on various things, but nothing allowed me to escape until I turned back toward the gap in the door, which led to the first legitimate jump scare of the game: a little dead girl peeking through the door back at me. Her hair begins to creep through the gap, and I finally have control of Suzutani again.
You try to quickly escape the room by holding down the B button to run. I return to the door that I entered from, but now it's stuck. The game prompts me to grasp the door handle but shake the Wiimote, and the door eventually pops open. I run back down the hall that I just came from and quickly return to the beginning room. You get the false idea that you're safe, but then the phone on the nightstand starts ringing. You can try to ignore it, but it'll continue until you pick up. Once you do, a little voice comes through your Wiimote to say, "Gotcha," and then the camera pans away from the first-person view into the third-person perspective, and your character is left to his fate. That's how the preview build ends, which is a good cliffhanger and gives you a reason to check out the game if you're interested in what you've seen up to that point.
Calling seems like an interesting horror adventure, but I'm not sure how effective some of the mechanics are going to be after a few hours. The combat against ghosts doesn't seem very terrifying, so I wonder if the intensity or difficulty level will ramp up as the game progresses. I'm also curious to see how much puzzle-solving the game will throw at you, or if it'll be more of an "on-rails" experience similar to XSeed's The Grudge title, which was basically a haunted house ride. Either way, I was intrigued enough to want to check out the full game when it's released. There were certainly some scares in the preview build, and I think horror fans should be cautiously optimistic about this one.
More articles about Calling