Review: Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land (iOS)

Call of Cthulu: Wasted Land
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: Red Wasp Games
Publisher: Red Wasp Games
Release Date: 1/30/12

Lovecraft is an author held in high regard among some of the writers for this website, and being a fan of both video games and HP Lovecraft we’ve had the chance to see his work mangled with games such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. The only video games that have come close to capturing the horror of HP Lovecraft’s work is Eternal Darkness or Shadow Hearts. It is always interesting to see how different developers try to tackle the source material and still attempt to make an engaging game, which is why I was glad to take the opportunity to play and review Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land.

At first it looked promising, the menu music set the mood well at least. But once I got into an actual game I realized I couldn’t make anything work. The touch controls were extremely unresponsive to the point I completely gave up on attempting to play the game. A few days later though an update to the game came through, and mercifully fixed this issue. Mostly. In fact if you are one of those that purchased the game before the update I highly recommend updating the game and trying it out again, the difference is night and day.

The game itself can best be described as a strategy turn based game with some role playing elements. It is in fact very reminiscent of the old X-Com games, but set within the Lovecraft universe. So sort of like X-Com: Terror from the Deep but not underwater. The game sets up the story right away, you are part of an army unit in WWI, engaged in tench warfare. There is another battle being fought however, one against a cult trying to bring back the Elder Gods called the Cult of the Awakening. Your unit gets drafted to into fighting these cultists, but as the game goes on the story expands until you are fighting against creatures so horrible that they can drive a man insane.

At first though you are fighting just men. The game progresses smoothly, by initially tasking you to control a unit made up of just four members. Graphically the game has a top down isometric view of the 3D modeled characters and levels. At the bottom of the screen you can turn the view. The levels are all well detailed with varying terrain and objects scattered around that you can take cover behind. There is some repetition in the character models, but that can be expected. At least there are some visual differences between the characters you control that make them fairly easy to tell apart from one another. Everything looks pretty good for an iOS game, and I never encountered any slowdown or the game crashing.

The game plays out by giving you a certain amount of Action Points (AP) per character. Everything a character can do requires action points, from moving to attacking to using med kits or abilities. You touch the character you want to use and then where you want to move them. The game will show you grid boxes to that point and the AP cost it will take to move the character there. If you want the character to perform an action after they’ve moved it is important to take note of how much AP that action will take and if the movement will cost too much AP to do that action.

The remaining AP for each character can be seen in numbers beneath them. If they do not have enough AP to make an attack the numbers will be in red. You can always end a turn without using any AP, this will set the characters on Overwatch mode. Meaning they will automatically attack enemies within sight range, even during the enemies turn. Using AP and Overwatch correctly is an important part of games like this.

During the game you will move members of the unit around to try and complete specific objectives. Most of the game is coming up with a strategy on how to complete the objective. You move your units around, and can attack the enemy, however there is a lot more to it than that. Cover plays a role, effecting the odds of hitting the target and damage it can do. Different weapons have different AP costs, and each character has different stats as to what weapons they excel in. Like in other games of this type you can expend more AP in order to do a more focused attack to increase the chance of hitting a target.

Once you start to face Lovecraftian horrors other stats come into play. Characters have sanity stats that can drain while fighting against monsters until they flip out and go into a frenzy, and then pass out. It is an interesting way of trying to work the essence of the material the game draws from, and something similar is used in different Lovecraft inspired board and RPG games. In order to regain sanity there is a psychologist character that can heal sanity, as well as boosting psychological stats.

With all these stats in play it is important to carefully plan a strategy. Here is where the game sort of falls apart for me, at least as an iPod/Phone game. The game has a deliberately slow, methodical pace to it. While the developers have done a good job of creating a game of this type to run on iOS, they haven’t made any concessions for the difference in demographic. This is not pick up and play friendly, at all. Just taking one turn can take a while, and an entire mission can last 30 minutes or longer. This is not something you would really play in line at the grocery store or while on the toilet.

I played during my commutes to and from work, and while my wife was shopping. This posed another problem. The iPod is not very ergonomically friendly. I didn’t notice this when playing quick games, but man, after spending a lot of time playing in a row with Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land, my wrists hurt. If you play the game on an iPad while at home on the couch, I can see that working well, but games of this type just don’t seem to fit well with the smaller screen versions. The icons are very small on the iPod touch, and there’s so much on the screen that it is easy to accidentally do something other than what you intended. The game does allow you to repeat the last turn, but I really wish it had a repeat last move function, there were times I repeated the whole turn only to touch something wrong against by mistake and have to take the entire turn over again.

With the recent update you can pinch zoom the screen, which helps mitigate some of the issues with touching something incorrect by mistake, but even then the zoomed in part resets immediately after you take an action. Often I’d find myself zooming in on an enemy to attack to make sure I didn’t accidentally attack the guy next to him, attack, then the screen would reset and I’d have to zoom in on the character again, rinse, repeat as needed.

That might sound like I’m down on the controls, but they work well for the most part, and when they don’t it is often the result of trying to play such a complex game on a tiny screen with big fingers. On the iPad I imagine it to be a much better experience.

I’m torn about Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land. One one hand I have complained about how most of the iOS games are too simple and are mostly designed to prey on addictive impulses to get people to purchase additional content. Wasted Land on the other hand is a complete, long, complex game, except if it wasn’t for review purposes I might not have played as much as I did because it just is awkward to play because of the screen size and because if I’m going to sit down and reserve a lot of time to play a methodical strategy game, I’d just play that game on my PC.

If you are a fan of games like X-Com and for the works of HP Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land is a good game with some issues due more to the platform it is on than anything wrong with the game. It is an interesting, challenging game that manages the source material decently. Just take breaks if you are trying to play it on an iPod/iPhone or risk ruining your hands.

The Scores

Story: Decent
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Above Average

Final Score: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary: Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land is a decent strategy RPG set in the Lovecraft Mythos. The slow pace will not be for everyone, and the size of the screen for iPod and iPhone can make some actions difficult, and the complexity of the game makes this a hard game just to pick up and play when you have a minute. Still it’s nice to see that a game of this type can be made for the iPod.

    • Matt Yeager

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