World War One is an incredibly controversial and under-used setting for videogames. The laborious trench warfare and horrific attrition between static armies just doesn't translate into fun - rather, it's a miserable and thought provoking part of our history that's best remembered with respect and regret.
Throw in Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, however, and you've got a rich and exciting tableau for tactical action. The Wasted Land is one of the few Lovecraft-themed games to adopt a serious tone rather than pop culture parody, and it pays off.
Call Of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land throws players into a secret battle between that takes place during the relatively blissful ignorance of the Great War. Only a few people really know the one great universal truth: that humanity is constantly at threat from an uncaring pantheon of Elder Gods represented on Earth by the great demon priest Cthulhu. MI47, a government branch dedicated to investigating the otherworldly horrors, dispatch a special agent to the trenches in order to combat an insane cult with ambitions to advance the end of days.
What this boils down to is isometric turn-based combat at its finest... and its most beardy.
After learning the ropes, you'll be provided with small teams of operatives who have to take down a limited number of enemy forces and secure objectives. Each unit packs a limited number of action points that can be used to move, fire weapons or deploy items, and learning how best to position your varied team becomes paramount once overwatch mechanics (the ability to automatically shoot at enemies during their own turn) come into play.
Multiple weapons and intriguing mechanics keep the action fresh and exciting. Riflemen can hunker down and dominate the high ground, pistoleers need to set up ambushes and more esoteric abilities can be used to summon artillery strikes or otherworldy magic. Sanity, however, is at a premium - and witnessing inhuman horrors from beyond the pale or tapping into spells can debilitate units beyond strategic usefulness. The ever-present threat of gas is another authentic feature, meaning that you'll have to equip units with masks or plan your movements carefully to avoid a lungful of Chlorine.
However, there's a massive learning curve to contend with and a steep challenge even on the normal difficulty setting. The Wasted Land is uncompromising, nuanced and incredibly tough; a satisfyingly meaty endeavour that favours genre veterans rather than casual players. Frustration is bound to set in unless you're au fait with unforgiving strategy games.
The touchscreen controls work exceptionally well on iPad, but it's worth noting that the virtual icons and GUI becomes incredibly cluttered when playing on a mobile handset. Be sure to pick this one up on a tablet if you have the choice. Visually, though, we have no complaints since the chunky art style and capable graphics are optimised for whichever platform you deign to use.
Finally, it's worth noting that the story, setting and Cthulhu mythos are handled with the greatest of respect - both for the authentic vision of World War One and Lovecraft's beloved horror writing. If you know what ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn means, be sure to visit The Wasted Land as soon as possible.
- Nuanced and cerebral strategy
- Excellent storyline and respectful treatment of the source material
- Not for casual players
- Cluttered GUI on iPhone
Summary: Call Of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is a meaty, tough and satisfying strategy game that makes brilliant use of Lovecraft's grand works. Cthulhu Fhtagn!
Developer: Red Wasp Design
Compatibility: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.Requires iOS 4.2 or later.
Price: £2.99 - App Store