Call of the Sea is a visually stunning first-person puzzle game that is mostly great with a few frustrating and tedious moments.
Earlier this year, Microsoft hosted its Inside Xbox presentation, where it showed off some of the first Xbox Series X games. Among these titles wasCall of the Sea, a first-person puzzle game where players take on the role of Norah, an ill woman whoventures to a mysterious island in search of her missing husband.Call of the Sea's vibrant art style turned some heads at the time of its reveal, and while the final product may not exactly be the killer app the Xbox Series X console needs right now, it's definitely worth a look for Xbox Game Pass subscribers.
Call of the Sea is like a much simpler version ofMyst, with fairerpuzzles and a clearer narrative arc driving the whole thing. Norah is an endearing, likable character who narrates everything as players explore the island, examining objects, jotting down clues, and figuring out how to work all kinds of different contraptions. Along the way, she finds evidence of her husband and his expedition team, piecing together exactly what happened to them, with things getting grislier as the game goes on.
WhileCall of the Sea's narrative tone gets grimmer, visually the game mostly sticks to bright, optimistic colors, with Norah rarely losing her cool and sounding like she is having fun solving the puzzles. Those playing the game will also have fun solvingCall of the Sea's puzzles, as most of them are challenging without being annoying, with logical solutions that players can reach without having to resort to a guide.Call of the Sea's drum puzzle can be frustrating due to how tedious it is and there are a couple of puzzles near the end of the game that will test one's patience, but otherwise the game is much more "doable" than many first-person puzzle games of the past.
Call of the Sea's puzzles are spread across six chapters, along with a short prologue and an epilogue, and so the game is fairly short. Depending on how quickly one figures out the solutions to its various puzzles,Call of the Sea can be completed in a few hours. There is some replay value, though, with secret objects to find and a journal to fill out, with players rewarded for achievements forcompleting these extra tasks.
Those that don't care about achievements may be put off byCall of the Sea's short length, but in this case, it's actually one of the game's strengths. A shorter experience lends itself well to a puzzle game likeCall of the Sea, and is not unlike other great first-person puzzle games like Valve'sPortal. The short length also ensures that the narrative maintains a pace thatkeeps things interesting from the start of the game to its conclusion, as the plot isn't weighed down with padding, instead focused entirely on having players discover one interesting revelation after another.
Call of the Sea is inspired by Lovecraftian stories, though that won't be immediately obvious when players first start the game. The Lovecraftian elements are used sparingly at first, but become clearer asNorah continues exploring the island. Each chapter introduces more fantastical elements, with Norah reacting believably to the increasingly bizarre happenings that she experiences throughout the course of the story.
There's a pervasive creepiness inCall of the Sea, with some small touches that go a long way in achieving this. For instance, if players return to the beach in Chapter 1 where Norah's boat and belongings were, they will find the boat gone, having apparently been dragged back into the ocean by an unseen entity. Other times, players can look out into the sea, and they may see the terrifying outline ofsomething staring back at them.Call of the Sea opts to keep these moments subtle, and they are far more effective for it.
Every one ofCall of the Sea's six chapters has details like this for players to discover, which makes exploring the game world very rewarding. Players will want to spend some time taking in the sights, looking for hidden objects, and admiring the graphics.Call of the Sea runs ata solid 4K resolution and 60 frames per second on Xbox Series X (with some slight chugging at certain parts in the beginning and the end), and is one of the more graphically-impressive games in the early Xbox Series X library.
It helps that there's plenty of visual variety for players to check out as well, with each chapter visually distinct from the next. One chapter will have Norah exploring a sandy beach and the dense jungle surrounding it, whereas another sees her carefully working her way through a massive, damaged ship in the middle of a thunderstorm. There's no wasted space in the game, and it's always fun to see what area Norah will be investigating next.
Call of the Sea's first three chapters are brilliant, with gorgeous locations to explore and an interesting story to unravel. The last few chapters are less fun, with the swimming mechanics that are introduced later in the game slowing things down and rarely having anything interesting for players to find. There's one puzzle in Chapter 4 that represents a random difficulty spike, and even those who breezed through all the previous puzzles will likely find themselves stumped.
Call of the Sea struggles to maintain its momentum as it nears the end of the game in terms of gameplay, but the first few chapters are great and the story at least stays interesting. While its short length may understandably make some hesitant to buy it outright, it's an easy recommendation for Xbox Game Pass subscribers, especially anyone looking for a fresh experience on their Xbox Series X consoles.
Call of the Sea is out now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Game Rant reviewed the game on Xbox Series X.
3.5 star out of 5 (Very Good)
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Dalton Cooper is an editor for Game Rant who has been writing about video games professionally since 2011. Having written thousands of game reviews and articles over the course of his career, Dalton considers himself a video game historian and strives to play as many games as possible. Dalton covers the latest breaking news for Game Rant, as well as writes reviews, guide content, and more.
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