Stepping onto Call of the Sea's gorgeous and mysterious island for the first time, I'm grateful to know I won't get the crap scared out of me. We've just run through October's spooky Halloween gauntlet, and Amnesia: Rebirth (opens in new tab) and Phasmophobia (opens in new tab) are still fresh in my mind, so I've had my fill of horror for a bit. I'm down for some intrigue, some mystery, and even some unsettling sights, but I'm happy that Call of the Sea, while inspired by Lovecraft, isn't a horror game.
I've got my hands on the prologue of Call of the Sea (opens in new tab), the first-person adventure from developer Out of the Blue and publisher Raw Fury. I'm playing Norah, a woman stricken with a mysterious illness who is searching for her husband, Harry. Like any upstanding '30s spouse, he undertook an expedition to a tropical island in the South Pacific in hopes of researching a cure for Norah's sickness. And as often happens when someone takes a boat to a mysterious island, Harry never returned, so now Norah is retracing his steps hoping to find out what happened to him and his crew. Islands: not even once.
I like Norah immediately. First, she's voiced by Cissy Jones, who put in one of my favorite acting performances of all time as Delilah in 2016's Firewatch, and more recently had a small role in Half-Life: Alyx. Jones is great here, narrating Norah's thoughts about her past and her current observations of the mysterious island, delivering her lines with an enjoyable touch of the famed transatlantic accent (if you've seen films from the 1920s and 30s, you'll recognize it).
But another reason I like Norah is that she draws the things she sees in a sketchbook, a bit like Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption 2. I won't spoil anything here, but the prologue contains a puzzle, a surprisingly big and complex one that I wouldn't have expected so early on in an adventure game.
The puzzle's solution requires a lot of exploring and the examination of various objects and artifacts scattered around the island, including some of Harry's own notes. While it's easy to grasp what actions the puzzle wants you to take, piecing together the solution is still very tricky. Thankfully, Norah draws the various scattered aspects of the puzzle in her book, and while you're standing there fiddling with the mechanisms of a mysterious obelisk blocking your path, you can hold up Norah's journal right in front of your face to make sure you're doing things correctly.
Thanks, Norah! I shudder to think of how poor and useless my own notepad sketches would have looked.
Searching for puzzle pieces takes you around the island, nicely blending the hunt for puzzles clues with the discovery of other items, like photos and journal entries, that gives you more insight into Norah's past. And having solved the puzzle, the prologue gets straight up bizarre—if you've seen the original announcement trailer (opens in new tab), you no doubt noticed that Norah undergoes a bit of an interesting transformation.
The prologue is pretty brief, but detailed enough that I get a sense of Norah's character and the beginning of her unusual journey. The island, built in the Unreal Engine, is lush, beautiful, and intriguing, as you can see in the trailer above, and the 1930s vibe gives it an enjoyable, almost playful noir detective feel despite the tropical setting and supernatural themes.
As we learned earlier today, Call of the Sea will release on December 8 (opens in new tab), and I'm looking forward to continuing Norah's story then.