**Disclaimer: Review Code Provided by Out of the Blue**
May 2020, Xbox gave us a first glimpse of the next generation of gaming. Many people did not take kindly to most games shown, but one game stood out. Call of the Sea, developed by the new Spanish developer Out of the Blue, glowed and separated itself from all other games thanks to it's cartoonish and beautiful artstyle that would give the player an encapsulating mystery about love, mystery, and what lengths ones best friend would go to to save the love of their life. Call of the Sea is Out of the Blue’s debut title, made by veteran developers who’ve worked on games like Gylt, Red Matter, Metroid Samus Returns, and Deadlight; each one wanting to make the best love letter they could to their passions: adventures, puzzles, and story driven games. As one of the first next-gen titles exclusively available on the Xbox platform, I can only say one word after beating the four-ish hour game: Amazing. This game is a must play for all who own an Xbox. Let’s delve into why.
Call of the Sea puts you into the shoes of Norah, a woman who has a mysterious disease and a husband who will go to the ends of the earth to find a cure for her so that they may both live happy, long lives. Taking place in 1934, Norah ventures on an expedition to find her lost husband after receiving a mysterious package containing a photo of her husband, a mysterious key, and an ancient stone knife all postmarked from Tahiti. Upon hitting land on a mysterious island off the coast of the beautiful pacific island, Norah begins her journey to find her husband and his lost expedition. The mysterious island is full of very strange, almost Lovecraftian, phenomena that feel almost horror in nature but are very welcoming. The island is all but deserted save for the remnants of this lost expedition, and this is where one of the best parts of the game’s gameplay begins to show itself.
The game is FULL of puzzles that each build upon the last to finally solve a big mystery of the level, however Norah’s husband is too smart for his own good and has more-or-less already solved them for you. It’s your job to find the pieces of scattered remains of the puzzle solution around each of the 6 areas to find out how to progress. Call of the Sea is first and foremost a narrative exploration game, and Norah is an artist who doesn’t have the best memory. She writes everything she deems important, story-wise or possibly a clue, in her handy notebook. This notebook can be referenced at any time with no penalty to you. As you explore each area, you need to look at everything to find out what you may have to do. The areas are expansive that feel like they organically grow as you complete certain tasks.
For instance, one of the first puzzles you encounter is a door that looks out of place as mentioned by Norah. It is a large wooden structure that is missing a specific stone wheel to help the gate lower. Using the key mentioned, you unlock a lockbox that is near the gate to reveal a simple note with a drawing. An arrow pointing at a stone near flowery wreaths. You must then be observant to find these flowery wreaths and pick out the exact stone. Putting the stone when back where it belongs let you open the door into a much grander area that shows off more and more of this island’s beauty as well as the grander puzzle that you must solve to advance in the game. It’s the wonderfully implemented building block puzzle design in such a beautiful world, each part giving you an “A-ha!” moment, that will keep you hooked.
I want to praise one more thing about these puzzles. There is no wall of difficulty that feels too outlandish. The puzzles ramped up quite well to make everything digestible. In one area, your clues are in one area. In the next, they spread the clues out with some extra steps to unlock certain pieces of the puzzles. In another, there are more puzzles and more clues that build on top of each other, almost like branches of a tree that lead to the trunk of the tree. While late game can be quite challenging, it’s that natural buildup of difficulty coupled with teaching you how to discover new clues really helps make this game stand out in the puzzle game genre.
While exploring, there is much more than just clues to puzzle solutions. Scattered around each area are numerous photographs, letters, notes, and signs that build a tragic tale about what happened to the previous expedition’s crew. While Norah feels welcome on the island, you slowly learn that this beautiful paradise is not welcoming to most visitors. Norah was friends with these people. Finding out their tragic fates make you feel more for her. I truly believe I wouldn’t have been as invested in this game if I didn’t take the time to find a lot of these little nuggets of detail. It takes a lot of your time to find everything, but I can’t recommend enough investing time into discovering the full story. Without it, I promise you that you won’t care as much for the ending especially when a meaningful choice is made. While you get the main gist of the story by solving the puzzles and the hints Harry left around, it all means very little without the weight of everyone’s sacrifices along the way.
I want to touch briefly on the gameplay mechanics as I normally do. There isn’t much to write home about, but they still feel very smooth. The gameplay is akin to a walking simulator. You explore the island by walking (or running) around, interacting with objects. Thankfully, it’s easy to tell if an object is interactable thanks to an eyeball icon that pops up when looking around. After that, you can manipulate things around as necessary to piece pieces together, activate machinery, or even to press buttons. It’s simplistic, but again, it plays into the game’s strong suite. It’s not about having complex controls; it’s about thinking outside the box to use the simple tools available to you to find solutions. My one gripe? Please update how certain items can be interacted with. In some instances, like the menu and certain puzzles, you must highlight an object to interact with it. That’s type of design doesn’t always make sense when you’re scrolling around or working with a circular object and have to hit left/ right to move the cursor around instead of just pointing the left stick in a certain direction to go to said object. This is a very small nit-picky complaint in the grand scheme of things.
Finally, the environment. This island is beautifully designed. I couldn’t stop taking screenshots because of just how well designed everything is. From the underwater scenery, to the waterfalls, to the flora and fauna, this game is breathtaking. It just goes to show that some games prettiness doesn’t need to rely on ultra-realistic graphics. And that’s the beauty of indie games. I’ve played a lot of indie games this year, and many of them have found ways to take not-so-complex artstyle that aren’t taxing to make look like it could be a beautiful art piece that you’d be proud to hang on your wall. Any time I took the time to take in the sights around me, it felt like a moving painting. Please, take the time to look around. Go to down the path less travelled to find the hidden scenic spots. It will be worth it.
Call of the Sea is simply put a breathtaking experience. It is a must play for anyone with an Xbox, and even moreso those who have Xbox Game Pass. It is a beautiful story about love, how far one will go to save those they care about, and finding oneself. Besides the occasional texture pop-in and rare janky controls, Call of the Sea runs extremely well and won’t take you out of this short immersive experience. Finally, the puzzles and solutions are top notch. If this is the masterclass level Out of the Blue strives for with their first game out of the gate, I can’t wait to see what they create next.