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Call Of The Sea

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Out of the Blue
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2020

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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Xbox Series X Review - 'Call of the Sea'

by Chris Barnes on Dec. 23, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Call of the Sea is an otherworldly story-driven, first-person puzzle/adventure game.

Out of the Blue Games, a newly founded studio in Madrid, Spain, is clear about its inspiration in its debut first-person adventure game, Call of the Sea. With environments that delve into otherworldly oddities, there's clear admiration for Lovecraftian lore. The protagonist is voiced by Cissy Jones, the same voice actor known for her outstanding work in 2016's Firewatch, which is another clear inspiration for the developers. Despite some technical pain points and the occasional lackluster puzzle, Call of the Sea is an enchanting adventure title with alluring environments and strong performances that drive the captivating narrative.

Set in the 1930s, Call of the Sea casts the player as the sickly Norah Everheart, a wife in search of her missing husband, who had set out to find a cure for her unknown affliction. You start the game on a boat that nears an island just off the coast of Tahiti, which was the last known location of her missing husband. With little to go on other than a mysterious package and its contents — a key, a strange Polynesian artifact, and a note that requests her presence off the coast of Tahiti — the game's seven-hour journey begins.

The opening chapters have you exploring the lush environments of the island, which has been deemed "cursed" by the locals. Artifacts, primitive huts, and lever-controlled wooden gates populate the island's well-worn paths, but nothing seems out of place from what you'd expect on a long-forgotten island. The normalcy of the island pairs well with the rudimentary puzzles that you've come to expect in the early hours of an adventure game. A drawing on a piece of paper indicates the location of a hidden item that's needed to open a locked gate. Clues etched across signposts hidden throughout the overgrowth help you decipher the position of dials to lower a drawbridge. As you go deeper into the island, the puzzles' evolving complexity stays in stride with the increasingly otherworldly oddities in the game world. The musical notes of a mountain-sized organ must be adjusted to match the phases of the moon. Disjointed lines must align to form celestial bodies.

The game's continual delve toward the obscure and unknown is key to its success. With little in the way of story beyond journal entries and monologues from a lone protagonist, Cissy Jones' performance as Norah keeps the player's attention through the entirety of the game's narrative. While the writing is not without its faults — a person who's stranded on a cursed island with a husband who's gone missing for three months is far too calm about the entire ordeal — it does enough to keep you engaged from start to finish. Just as you're starting to come to grips with the island and events, a new revelation in the story sinks its hooks into you. The tale is paced well, constantly reeling in the player to truths about the island and its connections with Norah's disease.

The puzzles you encounter along the way also straddle the line of complexity to maintain your interest without hampering the pace of the narrative. This isn't the next Portal or The Witness; most puzzles will only trip you up for 5-10 minutes and can easily be solved through sheer observation of the clues scattered around the environment. Piecing together those clues is often fun and satisfying in its own right, but you'll rarely have "Eureka!" moments where you feel like the smartest person on the planet. One puzzle left me stumped for over an hour, but the resulting payoff was anything but celebratory. Instead, my solution felt like a half-baked recipe of sheer luck and perseverance leading to a moment of dumbfounded shrugs when the locked door finally opened. That was an isolated moment and isn't indicative of the rest of the puzzles.

From a visual perspective, Call of the Sea has moments of brilliance due mainly to its strong art direction. While the marketing for the game does a good job of flaunting the Pacific flora and waterfalls, it's the later chapters that lean heavily into the title's Lovecraftian roots that impressed me most. There are moments when a monolithic temple with a large stone doorway leads you into an ominous room with a bloody handprint that serves as the beginning of another scavenger hunt. The puzzle clues hidden throughout these environments are often scattered around. They serve as a tour guide to ensure your eyes pass over each awe-inspiring spectacle hidden throughout the world as you unravel the journal entries to solve the puzzle.

Alas, these carefully crafted scenes are also plagued with a number of technical issues that will hopefully be addressed by the developers. Most notable is the game's head-scratching omission of HDR support. With such bright, colorful environments, I couldn't help but wonder what the game would look like if the gorgeous color palette had been ramped up an extra notch. That's not to say the colors feel flat in Call of the Sea — far from it — but the outstanding vividness of the environments desperately craves the extra pop that HDR can deliver.

In addition, I feel obligated to point out the game's performance issues, particularly on the Series X during the outdoor environments. The later chapters smooth out as you spend more time in enclosed environments, but the constant stuttering and frame drops in the first chapter will surely drive away less tolerant players who are simply looking to try out a Game Pass title to see if it'll grab their attention. Interestingly, a lot of these issues seemed isolated to the Series X version. I spent most of my time playing on Series S, where I experienced much smoother and tolerable performance. There's also a high frequency of texture pop-in and lighting issues in the current build of the game. The developers have already indicated that they're aware of the performance and graphical issues, but it's something worth mentioning for early adopters.

These gripes didn't detract too much from my overall enjoyment of Call of the Sea . With a gripping, well-paced story that isn't afraid to delve into the realm of surreal and weird, Call of the Sea is an adventure title that's sure to please fans of the genre. You won't feel like the next Einstein when completing its puzzles, and the love story won't bring you to tears, but there's something charming about it for that very reason. It's a concise, seven-hour journey that progresses at a steady rate without ever overstaying its welcome.

Score: 7.5/10

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