No Refunds: “Call of the Sea”

After exactly two hours and one minute, I was in need of a break on a particularly frustrating puzzle in Chapter 3, but this Myst-like first-person puzzler (with hints of Polynesia and Lovecraft) has me curious for more.

I want to drown Norah Everhart, the adventurous protagonist of Call of the Sea. Over these next few hours, she just won’t shut up, providing dulling context for each item she stumbles across. For a game that provides very little signposting for where or what its enigmas are, there’s a lot of talking, which separates this from better first-person puzzlers that know when to get out of the way.

The one place where Norah’s chattiness works is in the context of the various puzzles scattered across the island. She industriously copies down all of the relevant clues into her journal, using a (poorly designed) foresight to put them in the most helpful layout, regardless of when they’re found. To wit, if she starts sketching totem orientations, she’ll put the first one you find in the right spot, even if that means leaving weird blank spaces on the page.

This doesn’t mechanically make sense, but it is convenient, especially given how tenuous some connections are. Additionally, since each of the first three chapters gets larger in scope–a jungle trail, a campsite at the base of a temple, a beached ship and the surrounding cliffs–it’s nice to be able to see that a clue is clearly missing. (You’re also free to solve without the journal if you want a “pure” experience, but considering that many old adventure games were designed to get you to call a pay-per-minute help line, it’s nice to have some built-in help.)

My love-hate relationship with Call of the Sea persisted throughout these opening chapters: Norah moves too slowly, even while sprinting (and especially climbing ladders), and objects can be difficult to interact with, especially with a controller. All the aforementioned ‘splaining she does. And yet, drowning her out, there are some nice, albeit familiar, details about an insanity gradually washing over the crew, and the design of these ancient devices, especially a massive organic organ powered by valves chiseled into tidepools, is quite Myst-like, in the best possible sense. The cartoonish palette also does a nice job of evoking a pulpy comic from the ’30s: bright and colorful, but with hints of danger.

I’m not feeling the same compulsion that Norah has to dive back into Call of the Sea, and I’m not satisfied by how inexact some of the puzzles are, like one that involves slightly tweaking the placement of differently sized blobs on a lens. But I do enjoy the overall environment, so I’ll be back, eventually.

  • Developer: Out of the Blue
  • Publisher: Raw Fury
  • Platform: PC* (Currently on Xbox Game Pass)
  • Release Date: December 8, 2020

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