Norah knows something is wrong as soon as she walks on the island. Despite its inviting beauty, an eerie atmosphere pervades the air. After all, this is the same place that may have claimed the life of her husband Harry, who never returned from an expedition to find a cure for Norah’s mysterious illness. This time, however, it’s up to Norah to save him. Call of the Sea is the wonderful debut title from Out of the Blue Games and combines an exciting mystery that is combined by solving and researching puzzles in an equally exciting way.
The beautiful presentation of Call of the Sea attracted me from the start. From the lush jungles to breathtaking shipwrecks, this is a beautiful game and many scenes would look like home on a postcard. The old ruins also impressed me in their haunting beauty and in moments when seemingly impossible machines are brought to life.
Norah is more Nancy Drew than Lara Croft, so puzzles take precedence over combat, and they succeed with clever design and strong diversity. What I love most is how you feel about Call of the Sea as both an attentive detective and a problem-solving genius. It takes advantage of its seductive beauty by encouraging players to look at everything around them to spot clues and connect dots. An old mural or hastily drawn sketch can often mean the difference between a quick fix and prolonged head scratching. Examining curious objects and taking notes is part of the fun, and nothing is ever hidden. I’ve always found everything I needed when I was reasonably thorough in my searches. In addition, Norah notes important information in her diary, which greatly reduces the pressure to provide clues about memory.
Puzzles come in many cool shapes and sizes. They can be as simple as rotating totem poles to match a particular pattern, or as laborious as deciphering a dead language. One of the biggest and most impressive challenges was finding the right melody for a huge, old organ. Smaller puzzles often flow into larger ones to form a cohesive whole, and it’s fun to see how puzzles thematically build on each other. Call of the Sea regularly surprised me with its puzzle design, and I always looked forward to seeing what’s next.
The challenges get more complicated the deeper Norah penetrates the island. Most of the puzzles are pretty difficult, but a few feel too dull. One particularly crazy example is the use of symbols to operate a series of locks to open a door. It’s a clever idea on paper, but after exhausting the section of all the notes and visual cues, it felt like the game still wasn’t communicating an important step clearly – like I’m missing a crucial piece of a cool puzzle . I ended up just resorting to a walkthrough and still not sure how the answer makes sense.
However, when things got difficult, the strong narrative pushed me forward. I loved collecting notes with more details about Harry’s expedition and further insight into Norah’s illness. The story takes some dark and surprising twists that culminate in a surprising and mostly satisfactory conclusion. With all the concentration on old tribes, mysticism and death, the lovable connection between Norah and Harry succeeds, even if Norah is the only one who offers insight.
Call of the Sea captivated me from start to finish, making it a trip worth taking. I could have gotten lost on this island and solved puzzles for twice the actual running time (about six hours), but the game spends as much time as it takes to tell its story and test your noggin. This is an island worth getting stranded on.