The Sinking City spawns from the minds at Frogwares, an independent game development studio that has developed many adventure games for all platforms. They are best known for their Sherlock Holmes series. The Sinking City at its core is an investigation/adventure game heavily inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, that features action and horror elements. The game will run you anywhere between 15-30 hours of playtime depending on your style of play. Me, being a completionist, I got through the game in about 26 hours.
The game takes place in the 1920s, during the prohibition. You play as Charles Reed, a war veteran turned private eye who suffers from disturbing visions. These visions lead him to Oakmont, Massachusetts, a city that is suffering from a flood that no one has an explanation for, and brought with it, some aggressive new wildlife. You quickly discover that you are not the only one suffering from these same visions, and set out on a quest to get to the bottom of this “natural disaster”, and put the visions to rest. On your quest you will make many new friends and enemies, based on your choices. You will also have your occasional run-ins with multiple cults and gangs, as you stumble ever closer to the secrets that are hiding deep below the city.
The game is great at teaching you how to play straight off of the boat. The first case you are given puts you in situations where you can get acquainted with the basic controls, combat, and flow of the game, as clunky as they might be, but we will get to that later. You are taught what to look for, how to use your mind’s eye to find hidden secrets, and how to put it all together and come up with conclusions in your mind palace. Ammo is scarce throughout the city, and your melee attack is weak at the start, so you want to try and avoid as much combat as you can until later in the game.
Being a newcomer, none of the locals are going to hold your hand, as you traverse the city. You will need to visit the archives in the local government buildings in order to gain more information on your case, that you can then translate on to your map, so you may progress. The game is rather repetitive when it comes to solving cases around the city, but the real draw lies within the story behind each case.
I didn’t have a problem with the graphic style of the game. I thought it was very fitting for the setting and feeling that the developers were trying to portray. That being said, they weren’t exactly the best looking graphics, and there was still a very consistent rendering issue. As I walked through the streets in multiple areas of the game, I would watch buildings, trees, and sometimes even NPCs just appear out of nowhere. My console of choice is the Xbox One X, and these renders would cause my game to lose frames and become really jumpy. This problem was most prevalent whenever I would enter a building.
Whenever I walked into most buildings, I would get a loading screen shoved in my face and sit there for anywhere between 5-10 seconds while the building was rendered in. I didn’t have a problem with the wait time necessarily, I was more annoyed with the constant pause button being pushed on my game that I had no control over. There was a huge lack of unique NPC models as well. There were multiple instances where I was thrown through a loop after talking to a character that was brand new in the story, but looked just like the last guy I solved a case for.
The Sinking City features multiple conclusions for main and side cases alike. The last level of the game features 3 different endings that you can choose from, providing at the very least, three separate playthroughs of the game, but I do not see anything else that can be accomplished past that.
What It Could Have Done Better
I feel like the game could have been given more depth if there were more uses for bullets as currency. More or less as an immersion tool. I wanted to be able to buy newspapers, or get a drink from the local bar, but alas I could not. The underwater levels could have also been expanded upon. They were more or less, 5 minute segments of going from point “A” to point “B”, and I feel there could have been some cool exploration down there.
The mechanics were clunky and difficult to get used to. Making it more challenging to traverse the map, fight during combat, approach an area stealthily, etc. I found myself getting stuck with the boat quite often, and some enemies were able to hit me through things, or see me even when I was crouched and hidden.
The Sinking City portrays the Cthulhu Mythos very well, and kept me on the edge of my seat with its horror elements. I absolutely loved the story and the way that it was presented. The game-play and story were harshly affected by the clunky mechanics at times, but was not so big a problem that I didn’t enjoy my time playing the game. That being said, it does not feel like a AAA $60 title, and I would recommend waiting for the game to go on sale, but definitely pick it up at some point.