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Xbox Game Pass' Call of the Sea subverts horror conventions

Xbox Game Pass' Call of the Sea subverts horror conventions

Horror isn't always obvious

When we think of the horror genre, we picture thundery nights, the occasional flash illuminating a dark house as a frightened person jumps at every shadow, never once noticing that the danger is behind them. In reality, horror can occur at any time, in any setting, with some of the best horrors turning generic conventions on their head for optimum scares.

One game that doesn’t scream horror is Xbox Game PassCall of the Sea, a Lovecraftian-inspired tale that challenges you to think outside the box in more ways than one. It presents itself as a pleasant puzzle adventure, the vibrant colours helping to deceive you into thinking all is safe… Then the tension builds, and the horrors unfold. No, it isn’t a classic horror experience, but it is horror nonetheless.

Check out the Call of the Sea launch trailer if you haven't already!

Don’t forget, people wouldn’t initially think Dredge a horror game, yet it allows us to explore the sea and find love in “a hopeless plaice” through the art of the chilling, the unnatural, and the unexplained.

By utilising vibrance as a key component, as well as hand-drawn-style artistry, Out of Blue crafted a clever deception; false security held players tightly as they started their journey, the danger seemingly one of fraught emotions rather than the supernatural. It’s only once you’ve tread carelessly, never really looking over your shoulder that it becomes apparent that caution was the preferred approach. But it’s too late. You’re now gripped in a discovery that’ll shake you to your core, leaving the lead protagonist between a rock and a hard place as she tries to find her missing husband.

In truth, the premise of Call of the Sea is horrific in and of itself: Norah (the lead character) is struggling with a strange disease, devoid of a cure, her husband lost on an untraversed island. No, we don’t get screaming jump scares that shake you to your core, but your stomach will tighten in knots when you find unnerving photographic evidence of experiments gone wrong. Or when you’re confronted by writhing black goo that responds to your touch.

It’s the type of horror that has your nerves on edge, your ears straining for the slightest noise, but you don’t actually feel fear. Subtly is a mighty weapon, one which Call of the Sea wields with such knowledge it almost feels criminal how skilfully the story is painted before our eyes. Yet, while the devs embrace colours in a kaleidoscope of hues, those tones darken as the story progresses, emphasising the emergence of horror; it oozes out like the ooze in-game.

Notwithstanding, generic conventions are still inverted, the lights of the water, the whimsy of Norah’s newfound aquatic form, the sorrowful ending lit by the light of a warming fire – those are signifiers not traditionally placed in a horror setting. Whenever the developers give us a small window into the true horror underneath the surface, they pull the shutters down and leave you reeling as you try to understand what’s happening. We’re disturbed, not just by Norah’s ultimate discovery, but also by our own confusion as we try to find our feet within a game that never gives you a chance to rest on your laurels.

Arguably, this is my love note to Call of the Sea. Few video games take the grotesque beauty of Lovecraftian lore and weave it into something that’s so visually appealing.

Featured Image Credit: Microsoft

Topics: Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, Free Games