April 1, 2010

Review – Calling

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Jamie Love @ 6:07 pm

Despite repeated attempts to lighten my workload and appease attention deficit, I’ve never successfully produced a one sentence review. If I had, I believe Hudson’s horror Wii title, Calling would earn “the not-so-bad game that should have been great but was likely going to be so-so and finally ends up dipping more toward terrible with a fleeting few sparks of creativity worth noting.”

After a short and lagging introduction about a website where people can speak with the dead, known as “the Black Page”, Calling drops players into a darkened room with a first person perspective and plenty of space for optimism about the experience to follow. That first-person Wii perspective is the most ideal setup for a horror game to date, the player forced to sit with more attention and focus than usual while aiming the WiiMote, ripe for the attacks of designers suddenly in possession of a more captive audience.

That controller determined position also forces the idea that playing horror is very different from simply watching it, with the player no longer a passive observer of another person’s misfortunes, challenged to push themselves forward even while knowing the game is out to get them as they move ahead.

The first twenty minutes of Calling seems to grasp the horror / control idea well enough, full of ringing phones meant to make the player jump, stressing out further over the ghostly and threatening voices on the other end. Other points force the player to peak through doorways and openings sure to evoke the wraith of the dead, and the simple act of walking down a hallway always leaves the player’s back exposed and vulnerable to surprises.

That this introduction ended with the main character seemingly being killed left me convinced that I was going to have glowing words for Hudson’s experiment.

A few more hours added to that twenty minutes has done a lot to lessen my enthusiasm however, exposing points where the experience comes off the wheels more than a few times, leaving a game with enough raw potential to deserve a sequel, but also one that is hard to recommend to even the most devoted of the horror set.

The following chapter of the game takes place in an obligatory school setting, the player tasked with tracking down a ringing phone only to have a creepy voice on the other end letting them know that it’s coming to get the phone back. Maybe it was because it was 2 am when I was playing, or maybe it was because I drink an excessive amount of coffee, but that legitimately unnerved me. And as I moved through the hallways the phone continued ringing, the voice on the other end letting me know as it continued getting closer to where I was.

At that point I suspected that none of these characters were going to survive and I was in for a real Japanese horror show treat, but then it all started going wrong. The first setback was the graphic design of the settings, and not because of any inferior Wii-bashing nonsense – designers don’t need HD to frighten and unnerve players.

Instead the problem is that it takes a very short amount of time to get more than a little lost in the repetitive hallways of that school, which come across as a looping series of identical classrooms and bathrooms only differentiated by whatever event triggering moment might be waiting within. The aid for this is a lackluster map, that in all honesty I should have checked closer before getting lost for nearly two hours and feeling a bit like I was playing the original Persona with far less enemy encounters.

Along the way there are plenty of small sounds and flashes that lose any effectiveness the longer I wandered those circular halls like I was lost in purgatory. Occasionally I’d stumble into an event, triggering the game’s main confrontational draw, where ghosts grab the player and force them to shake the WiiMote to free themselves. Word to the wise – when you do this you have only a brief amount of time to keep moving before needing to do it again until you reach whatever checkpoint is going to stop it.

The room I needed to find was the Janitor’s office, where a key to another locked room was waiting inside a safe, for which I needed to figure out the combination, which comes at the player with puzzle ideas from a void and really leaves you grasping for any sense at the idea that the janitor keeps keys in a safe. Every other room in the school was essentially empty save for the odd scrap of paper or a ghostly vision that passes quickly with little fanfare.

And then when I surpassed all of this, the game started unfolding a convoluted story where I can transport to different areas with cellphones and a Mnemonic Abyss is holding several people prisoner. I also ended up reading a lot of text between characters at this point, where as everything until then had been voice worked. And as small a gripe as that might be, it seems to illustrate the game’s disjointed nature.

The biggest problem with Calling is pacing. The game is surely capable of working better if only it could keep the player on track with its events and frights and plot development, but loses its grip along the way so that its impossible to see how someone wouldn’t wander far longer than is needed, which might not be a problem if it didn’t so greatly diffuse the fear factor that sees frustration lessen any potential the game has for frightening people.

The first time a blurry shape moves near you, the instinct is to run without knowing what will happen, but after a few times and tours through that school, I stopped running in the hope of anything new happening only to learn that those flashes of movement presented zero danger. The same lesson applied to the odd noises that occur or quick visions of ghosts throughout the building. With the exception of a very well placed cat, the game seems focused on dissipating the fear its meant to create by leaving the player little else to do but bloody well realize that there is very little to fear.

Eventually all the smaller sights and frights mean nothing, because the game has very specifically marked its moments of confrontation and the rest is just the distance between points. And all of that wears hard on the potential for finding any redemption within the game.

Silent Hill Shattered Memories for instance, succeeded in making nearly inactive portions of the game something more dreadful because of how fearful I became of a pattern, one that made me appreciate the calm and worry that each step forward might throw me back into the nightmare realm. Despite how much optimism I originally had, Calling never manages to find that same means for getting underneath my skin.

Beyond the frustration I kept experiencing while playing the game was the frustration that a better realized game of this nature is exactly what the genre needs more of now – games that can use the very controls that make them playable to enhance the way events are communicated to the player, and sometimes work against the player as well – particularly when your hand twitches at the sight of something and you obscure your own vision.

It also seems terribly important that a better version of a game like this come from a different developer like Hudson, one challenged by the dominance of larger studios and thereby needing to take more interesting risks – there’s at least an attempt to exploit the cellphone idea further, allowing the player to record white noise to actually capture and playback past memories and events.

Much like horror films, high and low budget titles are needed equally, feeding off one another to take the genre further. There’s just an inability to put enough of those type of ideas together and capitalize on the inherent potential, perhaps because the game is too caught up with a narrative and would have done better to present a series of shorter horror stories free to explore varying directions.

A one sentence review would never convey how disappointed I am, because more titles that challenge the way confrontation is dealt with is exactly what the genre needs, but Calling simply doesn’t bring enough to the Wii to offer anything substantial toward that end.

DeveloperHudson Soft
PublisherHudson Soft
System – Nintendo Wii
Release Date – March 9, 2010

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. Ok, what I really need to know is how much is the game worth to you? It was released for $40, but would you recommend it for $19.99? How about for $9.99?

    Comment by EdEN — April 3, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

  2. $2.99 – but again, I hope they try another game in this vein. Or that Nintendo gets some sense and brings Fatal Frame IV over.

    Comment by Jamie Love — April 4, 2010 @ 8:57 am

  3. Did you try Ju-On on Wii as well? Any toughts on that?

    Comment by EdEN — April 4, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  4. I haven’t, and I really should have grabbed a copy by now.

    Comment by Jamie Love — April 5, 2010 @ 11:56 am

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