Call of the Sea is the first title for Out of the Blue, a new game company working out of Madrid, Spain. It had a limited release at the end of 2020, and went worldwide across all consoles in 2021. For a debut game, Call of the Sea is an impressive achievement, and Out of the Blue have set themselves a pretty high bar to follow.
Billed as a puzzle game with adventure elements, Call of the Sea evokes the head-scratching joys of Myst, Quern or The Talos Principle, and flavors the brew with Lovecraftian elements that take the form of Easter eggs rather than eldritch horrors that have to be engaged. In fact, there is no confrontation at all in the game, you will be utterly alone for the entire experience save for some flashbacks and the occasional glimpsed beastie in the waves. Despite the origins of the story, the game is relatively horror-free, relying instead on an atmosphere thick with dread and some excellent sound design, so this is a recommended outing for the more timid game players among us (myself included).
The story is set in the early 1930s, and you are playing as Norah Everhart, a spirited young woman who is afflicted with a skin condition. However, her beloved husband, Harry, had embarked a while ago on an expedition to a fabled island rumored to harbor a cure. Sadly, all contact with the expedition has been lost, and you start your adventure onboard a ship en route to an island in the South Pacific.
This is your opportunity to learn the controls, as you move around, look at things and interact with objects. It’s a very simple system and involves nothing more complicated than a quick key or button jab to get things going. Very soon you are alone on the white sand shore of a mysterious island and quickly find the signs of an indigenous, sea-worshiping culture, plus evidence of more modern technology. So begins your quest to find Harry and figure out what happened to his expedition.
There are six main chapters, each of them unique in gameplay and biodiversity. From jungle ruins to hidden temples, storm-swept shipwrecks to underwater cities, you never grow tired of your surroundings, and the art style is perfect for the setting. Indeed, the writing and voice acting, predominantly by Cissy Jones as Norah, is spot on, and this is important, as Norah’s narration drives the story.
It seldom grows tiresome, and as her search progresses you suddenly realize you are actually in the throes of a romantic adventure. It is Norah’s undying love for Harry (and vice versa, as evidenced through his letters) that keeps her searching, and their pet name for each other, ‘old pal’, speaks volumes to their connection.
The Mythos elements almost take a back seat to this enduring love, but it is crucial, and a little devastating, for decision making later in the game. As you play, your sense of unease shifts. You are no longer wondering what form of cosmic ghastliness is lurking around the next corner, but rather ‘will I survive long enough to find my soulmate?’ A refreshing change.
Naturally, no point and click adventure is complete without puzzles, and Call of the Sea does not skimp in this department.
There is a pattern to the complexity of the puzzles, with each of the six chapters featuring a sprinkling of tasks that involve a bit of lateral thinking, culminating in a doozy at the end before allowing you into the next area – the ‘boss puzzle’ if you will. The game certainly rewards the more studious players, those of us willing to pick up every scrap of paper, look in every box and peer at every cave painting, as clues and solutions are scattered all around.
Don’t forget to rotate objects too. On my first run-though I neglected to flip over a couple of photographs that had very obvious hints on the back!
The simpler puzzles take several forms, from straightforward code-breaking to symbol matching, lock rotating to finding missing components, but the more challenging puzzles involve a lot more thought. From recreating constellations using black ooze on a stone map, to figuring out how to play an unearthly organ, the harder puzzles are a little hit and miss.
I’ve read criticisms that claim they can be a bit obtuse, but I disagree. The puzzles are certainly achievable if you put the time in and utilize all the hints Out of the Blue provides, but I’ll readily admit that on one occasion I had to resort to an online solution written by a younger person than I, someone with a fresher brain.
This didn’t detract from the experience though, and my pride at being able to solve the others more than made up for my ‘cheat.’
In conclusion, this is a beautiful indie game well worth a few hours of your time. I finished it in six hours, but I’m sure the youth I cribbed that solution off did it in four or something.
I downloaded the game free for PS5 (if you have a subscription), otherwise, at time of writing it costs $19.99 on all consoles and Steam. Get ready to fall in love.
Neil Baker’s last article for us was the film review A Hypnotic 71 Minutes: Last and First Men. He is an author, illustrator, outdoor educator and owner of April Moon Books (AprilMoonBooks.com). His most recent books include the science fiction anthology The Stars at my Door and A Picnic at the Mountains of Madness. He currently lives near Toronto with his family and is officially an old fart.