Inverse Game Reviews

Call of the Sea is the first must-play game for Xbox Series X

Inverse Score: 8/10

Forget about Cyberpunk 2077.

Xbox Series X owners shouldn’t miss the beautiful, Lovecraft-inspired puzzle game Call of the Sea, now available on Game Pass. Set on a remote South Pacific island in the 1930s, the game follows a woman named Norah searching for her husband Harry, who disappeared while hunting down the cure to a mysterious supernatural disease. Call of the Sea embraces a distinctive 1930’s pulp aesthetic, with colorful visuals making it one of the most impressive-looking Series X exclusives yet.

Released just days before CD Projekt Red's spectacular disaster, Call of the Sea got drowned out. Despite that, Game Pass subscribers — and puzzle fans in particular — should give this distinctive indie a shot.

Pulp Fiction

While the game begins as a lighthearted and pulpy romantic adventure, over time the tone grows more unsettling as Lovecraftian elements emerge. Call of the Sea never goes full-on horror, but keeps the suspense at a low boil as the mystery unravels. Norah constantly thinks aloud, revealing intriguing information about her and her husband. Notes and images scattered throughout the island also help explain the expedition gone awry.

Norah sees how other members of Harry’s expedition lose their minds in classic Lovecraftian fashion, succumbing to a mysterious black goo before dying. You always feel you’re just a few steps behind finally discovering some big secret. As a strong female protagonist, Norah also defies the author's less appealing tropes in refreshing ways, coming off as self-assured rather than teetering on the brink of hysteria.

Voice actor Cissy Jones, who played Delilah in Firewatch, adds delightful depth to what is mostly a one-woman show. Norah sounds like she’s straight out of the 1930s without pouring it on too thick. Spider-Man’s Yuri Lowenthal also delivers a memorable performance in his brief stints as Harry.

Even when its puzzles get extremely tough, Call of the Sea’s engrossing narrative motivates you to find the solution so you can progress and learn more — and to venture towards the next stunning vista.

A Tropical Paradise

Developer Out of the Blue opted for style and color over realism in Call of the Sea’s visuals, and the result is remarkably endearing on next-generation consoles. Playing on Xbox Series X at a 4K resolution with high-dynamic range and ray-tracing support to improve the lighting, Call of the Sea is utterly gorgeous.

Environments are surprisingly varied and intricate. While some areas fall into the tropical aesthetic you’d expect, the game does switch things up with rougher beaches with large basalt rocks or sprawling underground caves players explore as the game progresses.

So far, Xbox Series X has had solid exclusives like Gears Tactics and The Falconeer, but none of the new games will impress players because of their visuals. Though it’s also available on Xbox One, seeing Call of the Sea was one of the first Series X games to truly impress with its next-generation aesthetics.

Call of the Sea's world is beautifully realized with the help of 4K and ray-tracing support on Xbox Series X. Out of the Blue, Raw Fury

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Each chapter of Call of the Sea feels like a giant escape room to unravel nestled in an utterly gorgeous environment. As you uncover new lore and objects, puzzle solutions become clearer, though Norah also writes important notes down in her journal for players to reference.

After some proper sleuthing, players can satisfyingly connect the dots using the clues they’ve gathered, solving nearly every major puzzle in one fell swoop. Call of the Sea plays out more like Myst, rather than a quicker, mechanics-based puzzle game like Portal or Superhot.

Call of the Sea’s puzzles go for quality over quantity, but that also means that puzzles demand a substantial amount of time and attention. For the most part, the puzzles are a joy to complete and thoroughly satisfying. That said, the main puzzle of Chapter 3 — which has players juggling radio frequencies, piano notes, tide levels, and a giant organ — stops the game dead in its tracks. It’s just too confusing to be fun to solve.

Norah’s incredibly slow movement speed, even when you’re holding the “run” button, is another of the game’s few shortcomings. This mechanic is likely to ensure that players take the time to absorb the beautiful visuals and puzzle clues. While this is okay as you first explore an area, it becomes frustrating if you need to retrace your steps and pads the game’s already short 5 to 6-hour runtime.

While it wasn’t a flawless adventure, Call of the Sea has engaging puzzles, fantastic visuals, and a Lovecraftian story about love and sanity that make it unlike any other game from 2020. If you’re looking for a new game that takes advantage of what your next-generation system can do, this is an engrossing puzzle game that’s too beautiful to pass up. 8/10

Call of the Sea is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)
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