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Call of the Sea Review

Call of the Sea

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Release: / 2020/December 8
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Out of the Blue
Genre: XBox One ReviewsXbox Series X Reviews
PEGI: 7+
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Puzzles! Romance! Adventure! If Call of the Sea was a story from the 1930s, its advertising would speak entirely in exclamation points – and it’d almost live up to them.

It’s filled with brainteasers designed to fairly but frequently trip you up, all on one of the most beautiful islands in gaming. It boasts next-gen features like raytracing, but doesn’t feel the need to overdo them or stray into the dangerous territory of gimmicky. The story is as deep or as shallow as you’d like for the most part, and the small cast of characters is interesting but not overbearing.

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Like so many successful smaller titles, what really stands out for Call of the Sea is its atmosphere. Sometimes frightful, other times goofy – it beautifully captures the time and place it chooses as its setting.

Beach games

You play as Norah, a mysteriously diseased woman who packs up her finest clothing, silkiest scarves and heaviest chests to travel half way across the world in search of her husband, Harry. He went off to find a cure for her disease, which is a bit of a laugh considering she soon finds herself jogging quite happily through a tropical jungle.

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Joking aside, the set-up is done very well. Norah gains strength the more she explores and the more interested she becomes in the island’s history. This makes you more interested in the island’s history. The story is delivered almost entirely through collectables, and through dialogue from Norah. That sense of isolation is played very nicely too.

The game feels a bit like a walking simulator, although that’s a cunning ruse. It’s a puzzle game through and through. Puzzles aren’t paticularly tricky – you shouldn’t expect Discworld levels of tomfoolery. Instead, you’re given everything you need to crack every single part of the story. Granted, you have to examine things, explore a little bit – but you’re never forced to make a leap of logic.

With some careful sleuthing and a decent brainwave, you might race your way through Call of the Sea, although it’s just as likely you’ll find yourself stumbling here and there. Luckily there’s a run button, but even that’s sometimes a little bit too slow.

I admit I found myself struggling occasionally. I did what I always used to do with this genre: walked from one end of the location to the other, clicking on everything, hoping any item surprises me and does something new. The deeper you get into the island, the more puzzly it becomes.

Out of the Ocean, Into the Walking Sim

At about six hours long, Call of the Sea feels the right length. Any longer and the puzzles would have felt a little bit repetitive. Yes, it ture that some parts of the game are more fun than other. One puzzle at the end asks you to recreate shapes to open doors using a series of pedastals with buttons, and it ended up far more trial and error than I’d have liked.

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Aside from that, it’s not a major issue. Most clues get written down in a notepad, so you know what’s important. It’s figuring out why it’s important, and how you use it, that’s the challenge.

Luckily, exploring is a joy. It feels so good to read clues, and to hear Norah’s thoughts on her surroundings. She’s interesting enough to hold your attention as a character, and not just because you want to find out what happens next.

The island holds a lot of secrets, but her life and the lives of Harry and his expedition are just as interesting.

The puzzles, collectables and story offer a welcome break from the walking and vice versa. This is a beautiful game, but it doesn’t cruise on looks alone. But who am I kidding? It’s gorgeous. More on that later.

The story, which borrows quite liberally from Lovecraft, walks an interesting line between light and dark, supernatural and natural. It’s a very human story told through the lens of giant musical instruments, rock elevators and magic portals. At its heart its a love story, something which is very pulp fiction, but which doesn’t usually go a long way in video games. It’s nice to see something with that element handled so well.

Graphics and Sound

A big part of that is because of the character design and the excellent voice work from Cissy Jones and Yuri Lowenthal. The whole game is beautifully designed and, although I don’t have the technical knowledge to point it out with any certainty, I’m excited to see how this raytracing tech plays out over the next seven years.

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Things like lights through fog took on an otherworldly quality that I’ve never really seen before. Was it entirely due to raytracing or just nice art design? I don’t know, but I’m impressed.

Lush green jungles look fuller than in previous games, thanks to what I guess is draw distance on the Series X. The whole thing is just really, really nice.

That niceness did cause a few framerate drops early on, but a new patch seems to have fixed the problem. I haven’t done any extensive tests, so mileage may vary.

Music is impressive, and there’s a 30s style song written specifically for this game. The “original” version is brilliant, but a version sung by the cast sounds so heavily edited with autotune that it took me completely out of it. There are a few other annoying instances on the sound front: an odd occasion where voice lines might double up on one another. But that’s about it.

Call of the Sea Review – Conclusion

An incredible six hours of adventure, intrigue and puzzles. Call of the Sea offers a little hint at some future tech, but mostly comes out on top thanks to heart, soul and artistic talent.

There are a few less-than-interesting sections, and I spotted a few audio problems as I played, but 99 per cent of my time with Norah was an absolute joy.

Call of the Sea is perfect for Gamepass, offering up a unique setting, great gameplay and beautiful visuals in a genre that perhaps wouldn’t have stood a chance against Cyberpunk and pals. But whether you have Gamepass or not, this is a game worth checking out.

 

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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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