REVIEW : Call of the Sea (XBOX Series X)
Bubbles in profusion in front of the eyes, colourful fish that swim carefree on the most crystalline seabed with the coral reef that stands out marvellously on our left and we, as if nothing had happened, swim gracefully, breathing deeply. As if we were at home, as if everything were perfect, every gear perfectly fitted into the most successful of mechanisms. A mechanism, yes, but not that of nature, not that of “things exactly as they should be” but the decidedly more subtle and destined to jam with the first rays of dawn that mercilessly hinder him and mercilessly block him once and for all.
It’s a new day for us, it’s a new day for Norah. The mechanism of the dream is destined to make room for the much less perfect everyday life and a journey to an unknown destination in search of the beloved Harry.
“Most of the stories written by Lovecraft or inspired by his works are inexorable and incessant descents into madness but Call of the Sea wants to be a very different creature. In case you want to make a parallelism with the Lovecraftian archetypes, we could say that Call of the Sea is, on the contrary, an ascent towards reason, towards awareness.
In the approximately 7 hours it took us to meet the credits, and an end that was anything but obvious, we never felt the proverbial shivers down our spine nor the too often abused jumpscare that promptly gave way to the one who knew turn out to be a splendid love letter to adventure video games with more than a wink even to point and click historians.
The narration is so fundamental but it certainly does not have the task of supporting the cabin alone thanks to gameplay that harmoniously combines the ambitions of pure exploration adventure with those puzzles. Basing its success on a game structure that manages to wisely marry the desire to move far and wide to understand what happened to Harry and his expedition with the search for information on the mysteries of an island linked to an unknown civilization and with mysterious customs.
Within a journey worthy of the best adventurer and discoverer of the unknown and the surreal, all in all linear, a chapter structure has been grafted, consisting of several connected areas that often host more or less important puzzles that intertwine with each other. We collect information and details about the story that are transformed into clues or key objects capable of revealing the functioning of mysterious devices or of directing us to that little secret that will make us shout the much desired “Eureka”.
Call of the Sea is an extremely intelligent title that does not deny a rather demanding and reflective nature but at the same time decides to impose some rules that for better or for worse limit a complexity that in classic point and click adventures could be at least partly indigestible. and too crazy.
The developers keep trial and error at bay, the random solution and the too absurd one to marry lateral thinking, instinct but above all deduction and careful exploration. A different screen icon based on the situation makes us understand that we have encountered a point of interest and with the simple press of a button, Norah collects, uses, rotates, begins to reflect and often takes notes in his diary, an invaluable source of clues more or less explicit, of notes but also reflections and purely narrative considerations that give further depth to the production of Out of the Blue.
Because the very well-thought-out gameplay that relies heavily on the crucial combo exploration and deduction alone would most likely not have guaranteed the excellent quality demonstrated by Call of the Sea. It is the context and the outline that make the difference and make every situation fully enjoyable and never banal.
Hearing our Norah’s reflections and discoveries take shape thanks to the splendid voice of Cissy Jones that many have come to know in Firewatch’s Delilah is priceless and the same goes for the increasingly obsessed letters of Harry by Yuri Lowenthal, the voice of the Peter Parker from Insomniac Games’ much-loved Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Another note can be done, on balance, on the gameplay side where, although intelligent, very successful and rather varied, the proposal in the field of puzzles as mentioned offers little really “unique” in terms of mechanics. In many respects, we then clash with the stakes of an environmental interaction very guided towards precise objects and elements and with a certain underlying rigidity both for the possibilities of the protagonist and for the more physical aspect of objects and solutions of potential puzzles. The presence of a single “correct answer” for the puzzles and a single type of use for the objects streamlines the gameplay without simplifying it excessively but inevitably limits and removes that pinch of experimentation that would have given an extra touch.
The debut work of the excellent Madrid Out of the Blue Games team outlines a studio that has benefited greatly from the experience of highly skilled industry veterans. Adventure but not an action, Lovecraft but not horror, puzzle game but not excessively bizarre or overly complex, a narrative that also knows how to touch the right emotional chords without leading to the walking simulator, indie but visually splendid.