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Sunday, 15 July 2018

Call of Cthulhu Chronicles

One of enjoyable things about owning a smartphone or tablet are the opportunities for playing games and reading. Both types of devices are capable of handling both, whether that is downloading and reading Dickens on Kindle or playing a game of Ticket to Ride, for example (other apps, authors, and games are available). Some apps combine both–reading and gaming—just like a gaming format from the 1970s and 1980s did, the ‘solo adventure’ or ‘chose your own adventure’ books. The advantage of the platform means that the story can be presented in an easy to read and navigate fashion, whilst the page flipping and any mechanics can be handled by the app. The result is intuitive and interactive and all but a natural fit for such devices. One company which is going back to that format of the 1970s and 1980s is MetaArcade. In 2017, the publisher teamed up with Flying Buffalo, Inc. to present Tunnels & Trolls Adventures on its RPG platform, enabling gamers to play and replay some of the classic adventures from one of the most prolific publisher of solo fantasy adventures. Now MetaArcade is teaming up with another venerable roleplaying game publisher to bring not more fantasy adventures to its platform, but horror adventures. Specifically, confrontations with cosmic horror!

Together, MetaArcade and Chaosium, Inc. are bringing Lovecraftian investigative horror to your tablet or smartphone with Cthulhu Chronicles. This interactive fiction horror mobile game enables the player to play through Call of Cthulhu adventures—old and new—that provide a narrative-driven, immersive campaign experience. The initial campaign is titled ‘Investigations in Lovecraft Country’ and consists of five stories set in the Jazz Age of the 1920s with a promise of more to come for a total of nine episodes. Some of them, veteran players and Keepers of Call of Cthulhu will recognise, others are new. Some of them are adaptations of existing solo adventures, but given how few of those there actually are for Call of Cthulhu, ‘Investigations in Lovecraft Country’ also includes several classic scenarios which have been adapted for solo play. So in ‘Investigations in Lovecraft Country’, the first scenario, ‘Alone Against the Flames’ is an adaptation of Chaosium, Inc.’s first solo adventure for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, ‘Paper Chase’ is adaptation of the one-on-one scenario published in The Call of Cthulhu Companion in 1983, ‘Edge of Darkness’ is an adaptation of the highly regarded scenario from the Call of Cthulhu, Fifth Edition and Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition rulebooks, and ‘Dead Boarder’ and ‘Eyes of the Law’ are new. They are designed to be played in order, beginning with ‘Alone Against the Flames’, followed by ‘Edge of Darkness’, ‘Dead Boarder’, ‘Eyes of the Law’, ‘Paper Chase’, and so on, forming a campaign which takes the player and their investigator to Arkham and its environs. Once played through, they can be played in any order. The reason to play them again being to explore other lines of enquiry and acquire more clues.

Download Cthulhu Chronicles and what you will be presented with is Lobby with the five initial scenarios, in order and with each looking like the cover of a book. A menu at the top of the screen provides options for the Shop where tickets can be purchased, a ‘How to Play’ which takes you to the publisher’s website, and the Settings. The Shop is important because if you want to play a scenario at your whim, then it needs to be purchased and that requires tickets. A Small Ticket Bundle of ten Tickets costs just $0.99, but purchasing a scenario costs twenty, so the cost of purchasing and being able to play a scenario at your whim is essentially $2. A Large Ticket Bundle of one-hundred-and ten Tickets is sufficient to buy all five of the initial scenarios and will cost just $9.99.

Alternatively, you can use Trials to play for free. These are limited in number, just three per day and they only allow you to play a scenario once per day.

Once you decide upon a scenario, the first thing you will be asked upon opening it is to select a character. There are six to choose from and they include an antiquarian, two police officers, a librarian, a socialite, and a dilettante, with a good mix of genders and ethnic backgrounds for the period. Each character in Cthulhu Chronicles is defined by three attributes—Athleticism, Intelligence, and Appearance. Athleticism combines physical strength, coordination, and overall fitness, and is used for physical actions and combat; Intelligence combines mental acuity, wit, and problem-solving abilities, and is also used for Sanity checks; and Appearance combines physical beauty and the forcefulness of the character’s personality. Each character has one attribute at sixty-five, one at fifty, and one at thirty-five, this varying from one character to another. To represent the effects of the trials and tribulations a character will doubtless suffer, each has an additional pair of attributes—Health and Sanity. The first represents how much physical harm a character will suffer and is the most varied between the six characters, whilst the second how much mental stress a character can suffer after having witnessed the strange and the supernatural. It is always starts at fifty for all characters.

Each character has his or her own page, upon which there is a portrait as well as a memorable quote to bring them to life, a background or Bio, and a piece of equipment, a handgun of some type or another. In general, the make will not matter in an adventure, but it adds a little detail. In addition, a second page lists all of the clues a character has found for each scenario. They range in number between six and eleven for each adventure and enable you to track what you have learned as part of your character’s investigative efforts. To discover them all will require multiple playthroughs and this can be done for each of the six characters.

The adventures themselves follow the structure you would expect for solo adventures. You follow the story, continuing from one page to the next until you are given two or three choices. Select a choice and that will take another branch of the story or scenario, opening up further lines of enquiry. At certain points you will asked to test one of your character’s three attributes—Athleticism, Intelligence, and Appearance—typically when you want to persuade someone in the story, to avoid taking damage, whether physical or mental, to spot a clue, and so on. Then a spinner, divided into two sections, will appear. One section will indicate if you have succeeded, the other if you have failed. The difficulty of the task being checked will determine the size the two sections, the harder the difficulty of the task, the greater the size of the red or fail zone. The consequences of failure may be that a character suffers losses to his Health or Sanity, or simply does not find a clue.

As you progress through a scenario, your character will also discover clues, which will measure the character’s progress in investigating each the scenarios. All this is done to a nicely eerie soundtrack and some decent illustrations. Each of the five initial scenarios takes about ten minutes to play through, though this time will be drop as you flip through pages to get to a branch unexplored… Of course, one of the advantages—or disadvantages—of this form of interactive fiction over the pen and paper ‘choose your own adventure’ books is that you cannot stick your finger into the book at a certain point whilst you go off down another branch of the story. If that leads nowhere useful or your character dies, then you can flip back to the page where your finger is. In Cthulhu Chronicles this option is unavailable…

‘Investigations in Lovecraft Country’ opens with the character wanting to travel to Arkham, with each of the six having a different reason which influences how they become involved in each scenario. ‘Alone Against the Flames’ sees each character travelling from their hometown to Arkham and learning something of the horrors to be found in Lovecraft Country. Once in the university town, it becomes the character’s base of operations and from there they explore events in and around Arkham or go slightly further afield. Although the five scenarios give the ‘Investigations in Lovecraft Country’ campaign a nicely episodic feel, there is the hint towards the end of the five that the story is building towards something much greater and much more of a threat in terms of the Mythos.

As a side note, it should be pointed out that three of the scenarios in ‘Investigations in Lovecraft Country’—‘Alone Against the Flames’, ‘Edge of Darkness’, and ‘Paper Chase’ will appear in the forthcoming Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. So it will be interesting to see if the remaining four scenarios in the campaign will be all new or updated versions of classics from Call of Cthulhu.

There are but two niggles with Cthulhu Chronicles. One that it is not possible to examine any of the characters without actually playing through a scenario—it is not possible click back from character selection. The other is the lack progression in terms of characters. They seem to re-set at the end of each scenario with no continuity, so there is not that sense of investigator progression you have in Call of Cthulhu. That said, Cthulhu Chronicles is not an emulation of Call of Cthulhu and so is not designed to reflects its mechanics.

Currently only available for the iOS platform—with others to be supported soon—what Cthulhu Chronicles does is bring both cosmic horror and Call of Cthulhu to interactive fiction in an easy-to-play and read fashion. Cthulhu Chronicles provides an opportunity for long time devotees to revisit old classics and play new scenarios in a new format, whilst new players can experience the feel and flavour of cosmic horror for the first time—perhaps as taster for what Call of Cthulhu feels like.