Call of the Sea Review

Richard Walker

I can honestly say I've never been tempted by any actual call of the sea – the last time I boarded a boat, it involved eating a bunch of chocolate biscuits, then watching as they all came back up in a bucket. Call of the Sea the video game is mercifully light on boat-based hijinks, instead confining its mysteries to a strange tropical island, steeped in supernatural mythology and tribal folklore. You'll find no biscuity choco-vomit here. What you will find instead, is a boldly drawn first-person puzzling adventure, in which you, as resourceful protagonist, Norah Everhart, follow the trail of your missing husband, Harry.


Where's Harry?!

After a brief prologue, confined to Norah's room aboard a passenger ship bound for Call of the Sea's picturesque island, you'll take a rowing boat to its immaculate golden shoreline, before heading into the depths of a meandering and increasingly dark jungle. Call of the Sea is a pure puzzling adventure, so there's no combat, there's nothing chasing you or trying to kill you – it's just you versus the island, tracking down your heroic hubby, who embarked upon a dangerous expedition, in a bid to find a cure for Norah's terminal disease. It's no great spoiler to say that things haven't quite panned out for poor old Harry, which is fairly obvious given that he's lost deep within the bowels of the island.

Your journey involves retracing Harry's steps across the island, solving all the puzzles he did, picking up the clues he left behind, and unravelling how the expedition went awry. The further you venture towards the heart of the exotic South Pacific island, the more arcane secrets you'll discover, while subterranean stone chambers house ancient mechanisms, bizarre murals, and a seemingly sentient black ooze, the origins of which have Norah flummoxed.

Clearly, there's a lot more to the unnamed island than meets the eye, and it's that sense of the unknown that drives you onward through Call of the Sea, as you grow increasingly eager to get to the truth. It all proves remarkably compelling, and later on, all very Lovecraftian, with surreal sights, dreamlike hallucinations, encroaching madness, hints at something monstrous, and whispered voices emanating from the great beyond, wherever that might be.

It helps, too, that your curiosity is piqued by an array of puzzles. Unfolding across six chapters, Out of the Blue's adventure charts a smooth difficulty curve, starting you gently before wheeling out increasingly complex puzzles with more elements and moving parts to consider – thankfully your notebook offers a place to consult clues, patterns, and helpful diagrams or illustrations, as Norah jots them down. As buttons and switches give way to levers, wires, valves, and other monolithic contraptions built by a lost civilisation, you'll be grateful you have Norah's journal as a resource.

cots_screenshot_l02b_sleep_000_463da1f3-7a67-4d5f-a030-fca662e081cf.jpg

Indeed, the diversity of puzzles that developer Out of the Blue Games has composed almost invariably prove challenging, and all possess a clear logic that ensures they're consistently gratifying. That’s the secret sauce of a good puzzle game – solutions that make you feel clever when you happen upon them: Call of the Sea has this in spades.

There's only one puzzle, late into the game, that seems somewhat obtuse, but then that may be down to my own intellectual shortcomings – suffice it to say, I spent a good 30-40 minutes having my brain twisted into a pretzel on that one. Even when stumbling upon the conclusion, I'm still not quite sure how I arrived there. Still, a single puzzle out of dozens of the things isn’t all that bad – Call of the Sea's conundrums are genuinely smart and well-constructed, nearly without exception.

Set during 1934, Norah's adventure is also grounded in some neat period detail, making it feel like an old Sunday matinee movie, like the kind that inspired the Indiana Jones films (the good ones, not that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull nonsense). As such, it's never anything less than appealing to explore every inch of Call of the Sea's lush environments, painted in an art style comprising distinctive, rich colours and bold shapes – it's a genuinely pretty game, all glittering seascapes, sky blue waterfalls, tangerine sunsets, and verdant tropical foliage.


I swear those fish heads are looking at me.

You can get through Call of the Sea over the course of a weekend, which is in part due to how engaging the narrative is and how involving the puzzles are – you'll want to push on and see it through to its surprising denouement. Norah, voiced by Cissy Jones (best known for her roles as Delilah in Firewatch, as well as roles in Telltale's The Walking Dead and Life is Strange) is a curious character, too, her inner monologue lending ample insight into her love and admiration for Harry, lending a slight sense of urgency to proceedings as she races to find him.

Fantastically compelling for its duration, Call of the Sea is an immensely enjoyable puzzle game that manages to expertly combine engaging brainteasers with narrative, linear exploration, a sense of wonder, and Lovecraftian surrealism, in what is essentially a story about the lengths some will go to for love and companionship. As a developer, Out of the Blue Games' slogan is: “We design puzzles. We tell stories. We love games.” Call of the Sea serves as proof of that concept, delivering on all counts. Though; if you do happen to heed the call of the sea, maybe leave the chocolate biscuits behind.

Call of the Sea

A thoroughly enjoyable first-person adventure brimming with mystery, intrigue and intricate, well-thought-out puzzles, Call of the Sea is a journey into the unknown that proves both rewarding and memorable.

Form widget
80%
Audio
85%

A nice soundtrack that frames Norah's adventure perfectly, while Cissy Jones' performance as the protagonist ensures you remain anchored to the narrative.

Visuals
75%

Call of the Sea's South Pacific island looks beautiful, its lush jungle giving way to vertiginous cliff faces and mountaintops, stormy beaches, and labyrinthine temples. The frame rate can go the tiniest bit choppy at times, however.

Playability
80%

Streamlined controls make Call of Sea an intuitive puzzler where the complexity is confined to the puzzles themselves. There's a button to run, a button to interact, one to consult your handy journal, and that's it.

Delivery
80%

Six chapters equating to about 6 or 7 hours of gameplay, with replay value in the collectibles and secrets you might have missed. It's an entertaining, almost meditative ride while it lasts, and you might even consider a return journey.

Achievements
85%

One for the completists with a secret to track down on every chapter, murals to discover, and notes to scrawl in Norah's journal. There are also achievements for reaching milestone moments and venturing off-piste, which is something we like to do.

Game navigation