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Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land Packs Action with Wonky Controls

01-30-2012, 11:46 PM
Joined: Feb 2009
Location: San Francisco, California
Posts: 5,305
Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land Packs Action with Wonky Controls

Role playing (RPG)/turn-based (TBS) games have seemingly found a home on the iOS platform with a number of significantly terrific games for players of all skill levels. And, gamers have yet another strategy game to indulge in with Red Wasp Design’s Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (you should definitely read his stuff if you haven’t), CoC could aptly also be compared to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a game that has a good side with deep content and great atmosphere, yet struggles with its dark temperamental controls and less than stellar UI. And while the game is universal, let’s make this clear: don’t even think about CoC unless you’re playing on an iPad.

Let’s start with the good…the game features nine levels presented in 3D and set in the filthy trenches of World War One. The storyline focuses on a team of investigators including Capt. Hill, Sapper Brown, and Professor Brightmeer on the hunt to uncover the inhuman conspiracy behind the war which lead them to the Wasted Land. Visually, there is a decidedly old school feel to the game complemented with a mood of dread and doom with every scene. Parts of the story are presented in cut scenes and text boxes with a creepy soundtrack as a backdrop. In terms of storylines and how it’s told, CoC is one of the better ones you’ll find in the genre.

The story is further strengthened in the degree of resource materials that players can access in the form of Game Guides. The devs did a really nice job here simply because there is so much content. The Game Guides include the Field Manual, Unit Guide, Grimoire (spells), Weapons, Armor and Equipment. Within these manuals, players can get an overview of the game, see an overview of the different units, and view the various capabilities and items available. Along with a basic training tutorial, the game has two modes of difficulty: normal and hard. Normal is quite challenging with missions that should take a while. Also, CoC has GameCenter support with a fair amount of achievements mostly for completing missions.

As is typical with an TBS/RPG game, characters uplevel their skills as they attack enemies, secure items and complete missions. Strategically speaking, the game is about planning and in general, players have the option to move, support or attack. In regards to support, there is a first aid function available either as a first aid station or via other supporting units. Tactically speaking, attacks include the use of weapons or spells. Each investigator and enemy has a profile that covers everything Action Points (AP), Hit Points (HP) and Sanity (SAN). APs are the cost to move, and the farther a unit is moved, the more Action Points it costs. HPs measure the health of a unit. SAN is the mental capability of a unit which diminishes when a horror is witnessed or when the unit unleashes a spell. This only begins to scratch the surface because there is a lot more.

The action-packed environments are rather rich in how they’re designed. From the trenches to pits and hidden areas, players will have to deal with poisonous gas, crazed cultists and inhuman beings. The nice part of CoC is how that affects a player’s planning. Depending on the type of weapon, distance and terrain, damage can either be limited or extensive. A nice addition is the Overwatch function one of a player’s units with enough APs will attack if they spot movement during an enemy’s turn. Besides the different terrains that impact APs, players discover a variety of different challenges where being outnumbered by the enemy is the least of your problems. Visually, damage done to units is graphically represented with blood and some minor screaming, which is well done. Overall, combat is both enjoyably realistic and rather deep when it comes to all the strategy and tactics behind it all.

On to the not so good…content often separates great games from good ones. The other is UI especially in the case of the TBS/RPG genre, since this impacts not only the user experience but the overall immersion with the game. While content is a major strength of CoC, UI is decidedly mediocre at best with the experience varying greatly depending on the type of device.

The CoC HUD primarily incorporates a vertical layout displaying unit strengths and health, capabilities and weapons. Once an action is requested, a horizontal display appears at the bottom of the screen asking for confirmation. While this type of layout is intuitively set up so that players have a minimal learning curve, it is undoubtedly clunky. Also while there isn’t a zoom function (CoC needs this), counterclockwise buttons have been added to allow players use to change and rotate views. In practice, this seems like a less elegant approach and instead of using buttons to rotate views of the battlefield, swipe, drag and pinch/zoom functions may have been a better choice. In general, it just feels like performing certain actions requires more clicks that what should be needed.

On the iPad, the buttons are usable, but even then, they feel packed together. But, a likely issue especially for iPhone/iPod Touch users is the size of the buttons, which are small. Even with average-sized fingers, tapping buttons with accuracy can be difficult, albeit not impossible. In some ways, the devs probably would’ve done themselves a favor by making this is an iPad only release. Right now, it feels like the iPad UI was basically shrunk down for the iPhone/Touch without accounting for the reduced screen size.

If small buttons aren’t enough of an issue, then the lack of responsiveness may well be regardless of the device although this issue again probably will be more pronounced with iPhone/Touch users. The task of selecting a specific unit requires tapping on the unit, tapping on the battlefield to highlight available spots, and tapping on desired spot to move the unit. From moving from location to location to forging attacks, taps and double taps are a core function of CoC. Unfortunately, taps frustratingly do not register accurately, and players can often find themselves tapping to no avail. Even on the iPad, touch responses occasionally lagged or simply didn’t register. Engaging in battle can also be just as problematic since that involves tapping on a specific unit and then double tapping on the proposed target.

CoC is a welcome addition with its atmospheric environments and heavy content. The less than elegant HUD interface does a fairly good job of helping to reinforce the old school feel of the game and provides an atmospherically, visually immersive environment. Where CoC stumbles is with unresponsive controls which puts it a notch below the many offerings in the genre. That’s not to say that CoC isn’t a worthwhile purchase with its unique storyline because the content is one of the most in-depth in the genre.

Albie Meter: 3.5 Stars (immersive environment with deep content; character development is a key cornerstone of the game; old school feel along with combat visuals that are realistic; mediocre UI designed for iPad users and not ideal for iPhone/Touch devices; occasional lag and non-responsive touch responses that should be addressed in a future update)

Last edited by Big Albie; 01-31-2012 at 02:56 AM.