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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Lose your sanity (and time) with The Wasted Land

by Ken Newquist / April 8, 2012
  • Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land
  • by Red Wasp Designs
  • Platform: iOS (iPhone, iPad universal app)
  • $4.99
  • Web site

Red Wasp Designs' The Wasted Land takes Call of Cthulhu to the iPad and iPhone, transforming RPG horror into a turn-based squad game that seeks to prevent a German mythos cult from unleashing an army of undead during World War I.

The game unfolds in the No Man's Land between the Allied and German fronts during The Great War. A team of British soldiers, led by the mystic scholar Brightmeer discover that someone is re-animating the dead. It's a classic Call of Cthulhu storyline, ripped form the pages of H.P. Lovecraft's own "Herbert West: Reanimator", with classic CoC rules.

Yes, even though this is an iPad game, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is based on Chaosium's take on the tried-and-true Basic Role-Playing Game mechanics. Characters have the standard attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Power, Sanity) as well percentile-based skills such as Rifles, Psychotherapy, Healing and the ever-present Mythos Lore. There are also the obligatory sanity-draining spells, some of which rob enemies of their actions, others which burn them using eldritch fire.

Of course there's a limit to this. The Wasted Land is a squad-based, isometric game (not unlike the old Baldur's Gate games, though without the deep, branching role-playing story). As such, while characters can be badly injured, incapacitated, and driven temporarily insane, they can be brought back from the brink using healing kits and a little field head shrinking. As such, it's not nearly as lethal as the RPG tends to be (it would be a very, very short game if it was) but long-time CoC fans will surely appreciate its Chaosium DNA.

As for the game itself, it plays well. Players control up to five characters -- the good Doctor Brightmeer, a psychotherapist, and three British Army soldiers. Each has their own reserve of action points that can be spent on shooting, healing other characters, casting spells, or moving. There's a nice assortment of weapons, including pistols, rifles, arcane spells, and even carrier-pigeon summoned artillery strikes.

The levels alternate between crater-pocked or trench riddled surface levels broken up by the occasional foray into the gothic undergrounds of European churches. The levels can be fairly linear -- some maps only allow for one or two paths to the objective -- but I enjoyed battling my way through the zombies, cultists, flying polyps and Cthuloid monsters. The audio effects of the gunshots, artillery barrages and such are adequate, but I had hoped for some sort of atmospheric soundtrack to augment the spot-on visuals.

The BRP skill system works well in the game. Just like in Call of Cthulhu, success using a skill can cause you to automatically improve it during the game. If not, then you can spend experience points to up necessary skills between missions. I loved how customizeable my characters were, from my artillary man who was a crack shot with an elephant gun to the melee monster who could layout monsters with a single blow from a trench shovel.

It took me a little while to get used to the game's touch mechanics -- you need to select a character, then hold and select an enemy in order to fire on them. When moving equipment between characters, you need to select equipment slots on each character, then hold down on the item you want to transfer. It's easy enough to do once you get used to it but it did take some adjusting too. An earlier version of the game used a "double tap" to select enemies, but apparently that was problematic.

Something else that took getting used to was the game's lack of auto-orientation. The game doesn't spin to match whatever the iPad currently thinks is "up" the way that other apps do. It's not a big thing, as I can always rotate the device itself, but I have found that I inevitably seem to be holding the iPad "upside down" when ever I run the game.

There are a few additions I'd like to see. One would be the ability to save a game; while you can quite and resume your current mission at any time, there's no way to save a mission and then return to it at a later date. This means that if you make a bad decision early on (e.g. I accidentally sold my heavy machine gun, and then forgot to buy one one subsequent missions, leading to an underpowered, pistol-oriented team in the final battle) there's no way to undo it save to restart the entire campaign. Similarly I'd like to be able to restart a mission by returning to the loadout menu -- where I choose weapons, first aid kits, etc. -- rather than to the actual beginning of the mission. If I made a mistake, such as not getting enough first aid kits, there's no way to undo that. These things aren't deal breakers, but being able to save the game would be a huge improvement.

The Wasted Land is a universal app, meaning it will run on the iPhone or iPad, and you only have to purchase it once. This was great to see, and something I wish more game companies would do (*cough* Fantasy Flight Games).

The Wasted Land is an excellent way to get your Call of Cthulhu fix on the go. While it doesn't have the deep role-playing backstory of a game like Baldur's Gate, it's mystically-enhanced squad combat is a hell of a lot of fun to play.