I’m usually the first to say that puzzle games are completely dependent on the person playing them. Some people can get through a puzzle game in half the time it might take me, for instance, because certain puzzles just click for certain people. Call of the Sea is full of great “eureka!” moments. It features a set of puzzles that seemed like they were going to take some real brain power to solve, but as it turns out I was overthinking almost every single one.
Call of the Sea is a first person adventure puzzle game where you play as Norah, a woman searching for her husband on a strange island that has risen from the ocean. The plot starts off enigmatic and intriguing. Norah has an unnamed disease which causes her skin to break out into strange spots. It’s also killing her, and the only hope she seems to have is on a tropical island full of ruins and mysteries. Norah’s husband takes an expedition to the island only to disappear, which causes Norah to follow him to the island to find her own answers. As Norah, you’ll have to follow in your husband’s footsteps to learn the mystery of the island, Norah’s illness, and even her past.
While story heavy, Call of the Sea is all about puzzles. I always argue that puzzle game difficulty is subjective to the person playing the game, but even so, Call of the Sea seems to be on the easier side in terms of puzzles. Playing Call of the Sea hot off of reviewing Myst for VR, I think I spent a lot of time overthinking solutions that turned out to be simpler than I initially presumed them to be. That’s not a bad thing, but if you’re going into Call of the Sea hoping for brain busters, you won’t really find them here. Call of the Sea’s puzzles are well made, though, with solutions that make sense and can be sussed out with examination of the environment and mechanisms. And while there are a decent variety of puzzles to solve, a lot of them boil down to pressing buttons in the correct order.
One of my pet peeves in puzzle heavy games is slow movement. Some puzzles in Call of the Sea require you to move across large areas, and if a button is pressed out of order then you have to do the whole thing over again. It’s annoying if you’re forced to move at a snail’s pace while making puzzle solving attempts. There are a few sections with annoyingly slow movements, especially those sections that take place underwater. Norah’s slow swim speed is particularly egregious for story reasons I don’t want to spoil. I’m not talking about moving at Quake speeds, but I wouldn’t have felt less immersed if Norah’s run speed was much faster.
One of the things that surprised me the most about Call of the Sea is its graphics and art style: they’re absolutely stunning. Almost every scene makes a good screenshot, and every vista would look at home hanging up in an art gallery. It makes traversing each beautiful section pleasurable instead of just tolerable. The production values are overall pretty high, with good voice acting for the most part. Sometimes it feels like Norah’s responses aren’t quite in-line with what’s on the screen, but this is a rare occurrence.
Call of the Sea is a narrative adventure, with a story that is the main driving force, as well as a major focus. Unfortunately, the story is a bit uneven. At times Call of the Sea goes between Cthulu-esque horror to poignancy through its journey of discovery. Norah must piece together the fate of her husband’s expedition, in a story that strangely (and unintentionally, I’m sure) parallels that of the recently released Amnesia: Rebirth. But even though it dips its toes in horror, Call of the Sea never becomes a full-on horror experience. Without spoiling the plot, I can understand what the narrative was trying to accomplish, but I was ultimately disappointed and not very surprised by the time the credits were rolling. Also, why the hell does her husband and his friends have so many tents and sleeping bags? You come across at least a half dozen of her husband’s campsites, and each one is full of tents, sleeping bags, and equipment left behind.
I liked Call of the Sea. It doesn’t have the most difficult puzzles, but it’s engaging and has a compelling mystery—even if it’s a little predictable, and a tad disappointing at the end. But it’s not about the destination most of the time, and the journey Call of the Sea has in store for you is a very pretty one. If you enjoy mysterious puzzle games, Call of the Sea is a safe bet.
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