At the Xbox Series X Showcase earlier this year, a game really popped out like a big wet fish. It was the call of the sea. I’ve never heard of it, and I’ve never heard of a developer. But among all the other blockbusters, it stood out. And once I saw it, I couldn’t help thinking.
It was partly set: a vintage 1930s expedition to a dazzling tropical island whose colors burned brighter than life. The literal red sun burned the sand, and the literal green shined brightly from the pool. It was an exaggeration of paradise cartoons.
But it was also a tone. This was a non-violent and eerie game about a lonely woman on a voyage to find a husband whose expedition did not return from the island. An island that seems to be calling her. Who was she, Nora Everhart, and what happened to her husband? And what was waiting for her there?
The outlook was magical. I know now that I played Call of the Sea.
I was surprised at how many adventure games Call of the Sea was. The game is divided into chapters, each played in a self-contained area of the island, where you can’t leave until you solve some of the major puzzles. Since this is a game, these puzzles are often, but not always, focused on opening some sort of door.
To solve the puzzle, you need to comb the area to get clues until you have everything you need to tackle the difficult problem at hand. The clues can take many forms, but usually a significant number are collected from the debris left by her husband’s expedition. You always seem to be one step behind him. So you sniff through photos, letters, notes and drawings for something that can tell you how his team has progressed.
There is one important tool to help with all this. It’s a journal. It serves both as a place for Nora to record events and as a quick reference dump for clues. It’s incredibly convenient. Nora not only automatically records the important clues you find, but also details them and provides the sparks you need to solve the puzzle.
The puzzle itself is usually centered around some sort of contradiction. Often invented by her husband to overcome the island’s hurdles. Therefore, solving a puzzle involves both understanding how the husband’s contradiction works and understanding the puzzle that the husband was trying to solve. It can put a strain on your work. There is always enough space left for your brain to leap between clues and answers.
Sometimes the answer is clear, sometimes it is more ambiguous. It’s a little embarrassing to say that it took about four hours, if not a little more, to solve the two puzzles together. Both were in the same chapter, but in different areas. I had everything I needed to solve the puzzle, but no matter how much I looked at it, I couldn’t find the answer. It’s a bit like playing a magic eye puzzle. Stare, stare, stare, hoping that something will magically happen. If that happens, it will be obvious, but if not, it’s just noise that can’t be penetrated. In one of the puzzles, understanding magically came true, but in the other it didn’t. I still don’t know why the door opened just by turning the dial, but I’m glad I did.
In that case, frustration can occur. However, it should be pointed out that these two specific puzzles were outliers and none of the other puzzles so confused me. However, frustration creates a fluffy uplifting feeling as you pass through. And to be honest, in a puzzle-only gated game, I would like it this way. Yes, that leads to walking around the area wondering if you missed something, but I can’t think of a better area to walk around. And your thoroughness, you give time for the story and for a deeper understanding of the environment around you.
The template will eventually become thinner. How the environment changes and you may see the puzzles in it, but they are all summarized in putting things in the right order to unlock some sort of door. I think Out of the Blue has done everything possible with the systems available in the game. Just because there aren’t that many elements here, the resulting effect is a kind of fatigue and a diminished expectation of what’s to come. ‘It’s pretty certain what will happen. Especially if you spend a lot of time solving puzzles in advance.
This is something that games like Uncharted (a very similar kind of game) can avoid by mixing combat and traversal. In this way, Uncharted can shoot out of the puzzle, move to the monkey, and give each component time to refresh and breathe. Not the same here.
But that puts a strain on the core, but I’m glad that the sea call doesn’t do those other things. The lack of combat calms everything down and makes contextual significance with the person you are in the call of the sea. Similarly, traversal. Why is this woman, who used a cane and slept with a mysterious illness all her life, now swinging like a monkey?
Call of the Sea isn’t as dazzling with cash and working hours as Uncharted, and you can’t build the exact same scene. And you don’t have to take a closer look to see where the compromises have been made or to hear them (which is trivial, but if the beautiful scores are played by live musicians rather than music programs. (I’m glad) Cissy Jones brings a little class to Norah Everhart’s voice. By the way, I’m not saying it’s not beautiful. It’s a kaleidoscope of color and vibrancy, and seeing the island open in front of you will almost certainly bring out some surprises in an increasingly miraculous way.
But instead, the call of the sea is different and dazzling. Larger games are by no means so strange. Larger games never tell the story of love and self-discovery in this way, and do it without resorting to violence. And it’s hard to say that, but we talk about women. That’s what made Call of the Sea stand out in the Xbox Series X showcase, and that’s why it stands out today.