It’s a Japanese first-person survival horror game in which you use the Wii-mote as a flashlight, swing your arms to fight off ghosts, and spend most of your time searching the area for various items. Yes, it’s very similar to Ju-On: The Grudge; there’s even a scene where long, dark hair starts coming out of the wall.
Unfortunately, Hudson Soft does an even worse job with this concept than Ju-On’s developer, feelplus, did. Ju-On featured some great, frightening imagery with ties to a classic horror tale, and the gameplay, while far from compelling, did what it had to do: it moved the player from one scare to the next. Calling, by contrast, isn’t scary in the least, features a terrible story, and forces the player to sit through hours of tedium just to complete the game. There is no reason for anyone to go through this.
The plot here is a bizarre mash-up of teen-horror clichés. Things get started on a website; on this website is a number that keeps increasing (remember Untraceable?). This number supposedly indicates the number of people who have disappeared after visiting. There’s also a chat room that lures in victims (remember Strangeland?). Once the victims have been brought into an alternate reality where the dead and living coexist, cell phones start to play an important role (remember One Missed Call?). It turns out that by calling various numbers, players can teleport. To the tale’s credit, it’s nice to have a horror story in which cell phones work for a change.
Through a series of episodes, you play as various people who are trying to escape this alternate reality, starting in a large school building. The challenges are quite simple: working your way through the dark hallways and rooms, you find the items you need and trigger a series of cutscenes that explain the plot to you. Periodically, a ghost attacks you, at which point you frantically swing your Wii-mote and hammer the A button. Ghost attacks increase your fear meter, and when the meter fills all the way, it’s game over.
So what’s the problem? It’s hard to know where to start, but the biggest issue is that, a few genuinely creepy images aside, the scares aren’t too scary. When the various ghosts grab you, it can be mildly startling, but it’s more irritating than anything, and the game never builds up enough tension and anticipation for you to feel truly engrossed. Also, while the developers had the clever idea of making you use the Wii-mote like a cell phone, which allows ghosts to talk to you through the controller’s tiny speakers, the writing and voice-acting are so awful that it’s easier to laugh than to feel freaked out. Maybe the dialogue was bad in the original, or maybe the translators did a poor job of making the language flow naturally, or maybe the actors make the lines sound worse than they really are. We suspect it’s all three. Whatever the case, there’s nothing at all convincing about the interactions between the characters you play and the supernatural beings they encounter.
The controls are a disaster as well. The basics are straightforward enough: the Nunchuk walks, the pointer strafes and turns, C crouches, A interacts, and Z runs. There’s even a Resident Evil-style instant 180-degree turn. The problem is that interacting with your environment is a pain. Looking around doesn’t feel nearly as natural as it does in, say, Metroid Prime 3. To open a drawer or door, you have to point at it, hit A to go to a search menu, then grab the handle and flick your wrist. When you’re done, for some reason, it briefly becomes even harder to look where you want to (especially if what you were searching was a locker). Sometimes, to proceed, you have to interact with an object in ways that aren’t obvious; you may have to look through a small crack or hole in a door, for example. Some of the levels are big enough that you can wander aimlessly for quite some time before figuring things out.
This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it were a small part of the game, but it’s practically the whole game. Whereas Ju-On took you on a ride from one scare to another and stopped after a couple hours, Calling takes roughly the same amount of material and drags the experience out, primarily by making you roam around opening things in search of phone numbers. There are few genuinely interesting puzzles; instead, you simply walk from item to item, loading time to loading time, and cutscene to cutscene, your eyes glazing over as the gameplay wears thin and the plot becomes increasingly ridiculous.
Depending on how often you get stuck (and whether you resort to the official Hudson walkthrough that’s available online when you do), the ten episodes take somewhere around an hour each, but it feels like a lot more. If you follow the walkthrough the entire time, things will go much more quickly, but that defeats the purpose of an exploration-heavy game like this. Also, in the unlikely event you don’t have anything better to do, you can replay the game to unlock various bonuses.
The sound and graphics are rather threadbare. Good horror movies manipulate the viewer with sound effects, but the crazed cackles and sparse orchestration on offer here never make you tense. Similarly, great graphics can make a setting look haunted, even on last-generation hardware (remember Resident Evil 4, anyone?), but aside from a few of the better-done locations, Calling looks far blander than it should.
It’s tough to pull off a survival horror game that doesn’t feature much combat, but that’s no excuse for making navigation a chore and boring us to death. Wii owners who love pointing their flashlights around in the dark should stick with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, or visit their local cemeteries after midnight.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
There are a few spooky areas, but overall this isn’t a great-looking game. 2.3 Control
Looking around doesn’t quite feel natural, and the exploration moves take too long to execute. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds don’t do much to add to the scares, but aside from the voice acting, they’re not notably bad, either. 2.3
The bottom line is that it’s just too boring.
2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.