Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land summons up a scary good time

H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has been undergoing a well-deserved resurgence in popularity lately. While books, films, toys, board, and video games have all seen the big guy’s tentacles appear, iOS devices have been largely neglected… until now, that is. After a lot of build-up, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land arrived on the App Store last week and was immediately called out for some pretty big issues thanks to major bugs. Red Wasp Design has since then released an update which has done a lot to help the game ascend to its full glory.

The plot feels like it could’ve been pulled straight out of one of Lovecraft’s stories. Things start in the middle of World War I France, where the British soldiers are pinned down by the “Cult of the Awakened.” Thankfully, Professor Brightmeer from America arrives with his team of investigators to help sort things out. You’re literally dropped into the middle of a nasty trench battle with the express goal of fighting off the invading soldiers and their cultist allies. From there, you have to figure out just what’s going on and (hopefully) prevent the world from being taken over by the Great Old Ones and their minions.

 The Wasted Land

The Wasted Land is a turn-based strategy game with some RPG elements. Your squad members each have a certain number of action points per turn, which are used up by things like attacks, special skills, and movement. Making an attack depends on how many action points you want to use up: You can make a wild shot, which uses fewer points, or you can take aim and sacrifice said points for an increased chance at success.

Different weapons take different amounts of action points to use, too. That means the investigator armed with a pistol can make more attacks than, say, the dude who happens to be lugging around a rifle. Leveling up, too, is rather unique, since you characters gain experience by making successful attacks with the weapon they happen to be using.

Not surprisingly — since, after all, this is game that involves a lot of trench warfare —there’s a fairly complicated cover system in place. As is the case with real life, elevation and cover can be integral to ensuring your team’s victory over the forces of evil.

 The Wasted Land

Honestly, the core gameplay is a lot of fun. The battles are really tough even on the “normal” difficulty setting. That means if you just run in with your guns blazing, things will go somewhere terrible rather quickly. Instead, you need to play things smart. Also, each level is actually rather lengthy, but it has a progressive series of objectives that are all fit together in a narratively satisfying way.

The game’s production values are outstanding, by the way. Visually, the environments are great: They’re dark, brooding, and full of shadows that can obfuscate threats until it’s too late. The character models also look excellent — they seem a bit reminiscent of those used in the old Silent Storm games, albeit a little more detailed. The soundtrack, too, is really impressive. The abstract music tends to lurk beneath the other chilling sound effects, and both combine to further the game’s eerie and sinister tone. All of this deserves some special appreciation. When a strategy game manages to creep you out, that’s pretty darn impressive.

The first version of the game was likely to randomly crash on you (and occasionally lose your saved games) at inopportune times, freeze up, or not register you touch. Those weren’t the only problems, but they were the most noticeable within a few minutes of gameplay. These problems were evident on both an iPhone 4 and a first-gen iPad, but the recent update seems to have fixed all these issues — now, gameplay is much smoother and didn’t crash at all during a recent playthrough. If you picked it up at launch and put it down because of these problems, we implore you to pick it up again.

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land manages to get a lot of things right, like the story, style, and basic gameplay mechanics, though the game’s high amount of difficulty will probably turn off some players. Now that Red Wasp Design has released an update, this is arguably one of the best turn-based strategy titles on the App Store. Fans of horror and turn-based strategy alike, consider this one a must buy.