There has been a run on the Lovecraft style of video games as of late, and now we are back with another go with The Sinking City. The latest title to come out of Frogwares to try to transport us into the weird and horrible world that could be on the edge of sanity. Also, a new way to go about giving us all an investigation game that we may or may not have seen in the industry. We had a chance to dive into all of the horrors and Deep Ones out there in The Sinking City and now are here to give you the rundown. Here is our review of the game and if you should be ready for all of the nightmares the game may or may not induce along the way.
In The Sinking City, we hop into the mind of Charles Reed. He is just back from WWI and diving into a career of private investigations. He is also suffering from some pretty horrible visions and wants to find out why. Something that also seems to be going on in the weird place of Oakmont among many other bizarre events. Now he sets out to use his skills to solve all kinds of mysteries, kills some horrible monsters, and try to keep his sanity intact. A tall order for someone that also needs to deal with all of the socially backward and xenophobic denizens of the area.
To start things off, I will be digging into something that will be on both sides of the love/hate coin here for The Sinking City. Right from the start of the game, it is made clear that we will be on our own in the game in terms of figuring things out and how to progress. The main drawback to this was that I found myself constantly lost in what to do or where to go to progress the story. Even when solving clues and placing down markers on the map, it never felt like I was making any progress until I accidentally kicked off a cinematic. Sometimes these felt out of place as I stumbled on them by accident and Charles would make a reference to something else that I did not come across until a later point. When it worked, it worked, but when this system of gameplay did not work, it shined a bright light on it all.
This brings me to my next big issue with The Sinking City; the game tries to focus us all on more of a non-combative style of play as it is an investigation game. Yet time and time again, I would find myself on the main path or side paths and need to take on many enemies in a bit of combat. Not a huge deal as it happens, but at least keep it all a bit tighter than we had here. The targeting system for the firearms worked, but there were so many lengthy animations to do even a quick melee attack that I was always getting killed in the mix while trying to defend myself. Sometimes in situations, the narrative forced me into and not actions of my own. The combat in The Sinking City needs a bit of work, but as it is not the main focus of the game it is mostly something you can bypass. That or use the world to your advantage and keep the enemies locked down behind a box they should be able to get around…
Lastly, in The Sinking City we need to navigate the world without an always-present map on the HUD. Part of the no hands holding aspect of the game. It was a great mechanic, in general, but would rely on the world to offer up better clues and ques for the player to know how to get around. Hopping into the map always seemed to be a loading drag and the map never showed where areas were impassible. In many instances, I would be navigating around and planning my course only to take a right turn and see there was a huge wall blocking a road that was shown to be open on my map. Now I would need to backtrack and plan a whole different path to get to the various archive areas to complete my investigation. If this was a bit more present or the map would truly update as we found more in the world it would have been a bigger payoff. Sadly, it will be sitting in the annoyance side of it all.
If you are looking for a world that truly embraces the setting and lore that Lovecraft placed out there, do know that The Sinking City embraces that with three arms. The world of Oakmont, and the various locations outside, all felt like the belonged in the mindscape I always envisioned. Other titles out there use something similar, but I have yet to experience anything as on point as The Sinking City when it comes to the environment and eerie setting of it all. Even if it was a bit of a pain to move around in, sometimes I would find some amazing locations in my searching that would make me forget that I was hunting down more clues. Given the way the investigation system worked in the game, I was glad to see that it was at least populated with everything that I wanted to keep me engaged while getting frustrated.
To that extent, the character and creature designs of The Sinking City at first felt like there were just a stylized version of things. But as I progressed through, it all made more sense and made me start to wonder if it was truly how things looked or part of the fractured mind of Mr. Reed. The creature design pushed this right over the top as well and fully embraced the lore and feel of the Deep Ones. At least when needed. The rest of the time it was to highlight the horror in The Sinking City and just how mad it could all bring us. I do not want to go into much more as to keep things fresh and exciting for those who will be diving in when the game launches.
Now for the investigation system in The Sinking City. While it deep seems like a bog or was frustrating at times, it was one of the other big highlights of the game. Not having markers or paths to truly follow in the game made me need to step into the shoes of the character and try to figure things out. I would need to read the documents closely to figure out which archive to travel to get more details. I would need to rebuild scenes in the game to try to figure out just what happened. It is where the hands-off approach made the most sense in The Sinking City. Even if I felt like in terms of the game I made the wrong choices, it felt like the conclusion I came to and not something forced as I was the one piecing it all together. This is a true investigation game and not one that just slapped some mechanics on to try to please the fans of the lore.
The Sinking City has some faults in mechanic design and a bit on the technical side. There is no way to not claim that. Thankfully, most of my issues are something that Frogwares can path out along the way. The game truly shines when you realize it is more of an investigation game and not another story in the Lovecraft universe. Even though there is a lot of that in there and presented extremely well in The Sinking City. If you are a fan of that in the slightest, then you are going to fall in love with the game. If you want to have a go at gameplay mechanics that have not been seen in an investigation title in a while, you will be all in. If you are looking to go on a shooting rampage of the Deep Ones, you may want to sit this one out.
I give The Sinking City 13 Mind Space Clues on the Mind Space Clue scale.
The Sinking City — Trailer
The Sinking City was developed by Frogwares and published by Bigben Interactive for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC on June 27th, 2019. A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.