Posted by Jon Wahlgren
Let the machine get it
Boo! Did we scare you? No? Well then, there's a pretty good chance Hudson's horror game Calling won't either. Try as it might, the game never really goes beyond that three-letter interjection in its mysterious tale of ghosts and the supernatural. It's not horrible, but there are only so many times you can be snuck up on until you just don't care anymore.
You get the feeling that Hudson threw as many J-horror cliches and Wii features at the wall as they could in the hopes that something would stick. If you’re passingly familiar with movies like The Ring and The Grudge then you’ve seen what Calling has to offer: you’ve got your wet black hair, your blood-soaked ghosts, your creepy dolls, your technology-will-kill-you story elements, it’s all here. It doesn’t do anything really new or ambitious, instead the game settles on retreading old themes and throwing cheap scares your way the whole time.
It’s unfortunate because the first hour or so is quite promising. Hudson did a really nice job of creating a spooky atmosphere up front and maintaining it throughout the rest of the game; it’s dark with some good lighting effects from your flashlight, the sound is well implemented for maximum haunted house effect, the mystery of what’s going on is intriguing enough and the cheap scares are fun. The problem is these things don’t change at all, and by the time the second hour has rolled around you’ve essentially seen everything it’ll throw your way and have become numb to it. You can only walk around so many dark corridors rummaging for keys and diaries with so many ghost faces flashing on the screen until you throw in the towel out of boredom.
If you’re going to push through to the end then it’ll be mostly dependent on how gripping you find the story. It’s interesting enough, certainly no worse than typical J-horror movies, but it doesn’t nearly approach the ambition of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories’ psychology-soaked tale and diverse endings. Speaking of endings, Calling has one of the dumbest false-endings we’ve seen in a while. Around the four hour mark the credits roll, but the game isn’t over. It’s the end of one of the characters’ stories, yes, but it’s only halfway through the overall story. It’d make more sense to split the game up into two selectable, separate but overlapping story lines a la Resident Evil, but instead it comes across as a big "what-the-hell?" moment.
As in Shattered Memories, there’s no real combat. Instead, when a ghost grabs ahold you waggle it off, and “boss fights” consist of being locked in an area for a minute or two and continuing to fend them off until the game decides the fight is over. The main difference between the two is that in Shattered Memories you’re actively trying to figure out how to escape the Nightmare and the enemies add tension to your search, whereas here enemies are just something to endure between phone calls.
On the technical side, Calling is quite sound. The first-person controls work well and the graphics are very clean with nice, if simple, lighting effects. In fact, the art style might be a bit too clean as the ghosts never look gruff enough to instill much dread. As mentioned, the use of sound is probably the best part of the presentation and does the heavy lifting on atmosphere, and mercifully the laughable English voice acting can be switched to the original Japanese (it’s possible this is equally bad, but since this reviewer doesn’t understand Japanese it's hard to tell).
Sometimes things without the most original ideas can still elevate themselves higher than the sum of their parts through tight execution, but unfortunately Calling fails to keep things together for more than an hour. Its cheap scares and repetitive gameplay fail to live up to the promise of that first hour and winds up feeling like you're just going through the motions. If you really like J-horror or haunted house-type things then you might find enjoyment here, but everyone else can just let it ring.