If your loved one was sick, would you go to the ends of the Earth to try to save them?
Norah’s husband Harry would. She’s been sick with a mysterious illness for some time, and determined to find a cure, Harry set out on an expedition to the South Pacific. Except… he didn’t come back. But Norah did receive some mysterious clues as to his whereabouts through the mail. So she sets out after him; the whereabouts of her husband more important than her own illness. And so begins Call of the Sea, a puzzle adventure that has you step into the shoes of Norah as she arrives on the shore of a mysterious and unnamed island.
The first thing you’ll notice about Call of the Sea is just how beautiful it is. There’s an air of realism here, but a colour palette that pops off the screen gives the game a dreamlike quality. When you first arrive on Norah’s mysterious island, you’ll be blown away by just how much detail there is in the foliage that surrounds you. It’s quite a spectacle, and it makes the game’s environments an absolute pleasure to explore.
A first-person exploration game, your progress through Call of the Sea is dependent on solving a series of puzzles. Some are more straightforward than others, but most require a degree of logic and, occasionally, a bit of thinking outside the box. Handily, Norah jots down anything important in her journal, which you can access with the touch of a button. As long as you’ve thoroughly explored an area and interacted with everything you can, you’ll have all the notes you need to solve any puzzle at your fingertips.
Some will undoubtedly leave some players scratching their heads for a while, though, and a built-in hint system wouldn’t go amiss for those tougher moments. Getting stuck for too long can disrupt the flow of the game – though in a post-release world there’ll undoubtedly be a myriad of walkthroughs available online. Still, when you solve a particularly taxing puzzle by yourself, it comes with a great sense of accomplishment.
The island you find yourself on in Call of the Sea is awash with small details to discover. You’ll find documents to read, newspaper clippings, doodles and notes, and recordings, all of which add a great deal of flavour to the game’s narrative. Many of them will include clues for the game’s many puzzles, too. But finding as much as you can does pay off; you uncover the narrative at the same pace as Norah. She’s discovering what happened to her husband’s expedition just as you are. Each document you interact with provides a little more insight into what happened on the island before Norah arrived. And as far-fetched as the story may become, you’ll be invested in it from the start.
Billed as being inspired by Lovecraft’s tales, you should expect an element of the supernatural in Call of the Sea before you begin. It’s hard to imagine where it’ll fit in to start with though, as you arrive on a fairly innocuous island. But this knowledge instils a sense of unease in you from the outset. Is a Cthulhu-like monster going to jump out at you at any given moment? The game certainly leans into darker moments at times, as the sunny weather gives way into a dark and brooding storm, and your idyllic beachfront location gives way to a huge and ominous shipwreck.
Those moments of expected horror never come, though Call of the Sea‘s supernatural elements reveal themselves more in the latter three chapters. It’s probably not what you’d expect, but it’s engrossing all the same. Equally engrossing is the love story between Norah and Harry that underpins the whole experience. Though we only ever see Harry through the notes he leaves for Norah, it’s clear the two have a very strong bond. It’s touching to experience, and helps ground the game’s more fantastical elements in reality.
Playing on PC, I’ve experienced a few glitches with Call of the Sea. On a couple of occasions, I’ve got stuck on a screen when interacting with an object, and I’ve had to switch from using a controller to the keyboard in order to jolt it back to life. On another occasion, I solved a puzzle but the resulting effect didn’t trigger. I had to restart the chapter (thankfully I was only 10 minutes into it) in order to fix it. Hopefully these are early teething problems that will be ironed out with a patch.
If you’re not a huge fan of puzzles, then you might find Call of the Sea‘s gameplay more frustrating than satisfying. But if you enjoy solving logic problems, there’s a lot to love here. The game looks beautiful, and the island you find yourself on, complete with all of its mysteries, begs to be explored. Its few bugs aside, Call of the Sea is a satisfying adventure that will keep you gripped from start to finish.