The Sinking City Review
Do you see it? Something in the shadows, just out of the corner of your eye? Was it really there? Where did it go? Is it behind you? …Developed by Frogwares, The Sinking City is the latest in a long line of Lovecraftian inspired eldritch horror games, yet unlike many of those that came before it this game embraces everything from the grand overarching narrative and Cosmicism that Lovecraft himself believed in down to the minute, fine details of his work. Combining elements of eldritch horror with real investigation skills and survival mechanics, The Sinking City is as formidable a tale as the Great Old Ones in its bare bones, but is it enough to hold the minds of the audience?
Set in the fictional city of Oakmont, Massachusetts, you’ll take on the role of former war veteran turned private investigator Charles Reed as he embarks on a journey to understand the horrible visions that plague his mind. Originally from Boston, Charles heard tales of the people of Oakmont experiencing nightmares similar to his own and disappearing. Traveling to the city which now sits mostly buried in the depths after a long and unexplained storm, he seeks answers to cure his ever-encroaching madness.
No Hand Holding Here
Much like the work of H.P. Lovecraft, the city of Oakmont is riddled with xenophobia and so as a newcomer to the city nobody really wants you around. As soon as your boat arrives in town you’ll begin your first set of missions on the docks as a tutorial to walk you through The Sinking City’s investigation mechanics. Something I greatly appreciate is that the developer has heavily reinforced the idea of this being an investigation game based largely on your own skills as a sleuth. There is no hand-holding as you look for clues at a crime scene or try to figure out where to go next. After investigating a B and E gone bad, the evidence suggested one of the criminals was injured and had a prior record in the area. From there I thought the first thing to do is check the local hospital, but as the doctor had no spare beds he clearly wasn’t there. I then went to the Police-office and flipped through their archives to find the last known residence of his accomplice and I was back on the trail.
There were no markers or hints for me to follow; I simply had to look at the evidence and make a judgment call on how to proceed. I am also a huge fan of recreating crime scenes and exploring the Mind’s Eye mechanic. Before the events of the game, Charles explains he had come into contact with an otherworldly being which gave him the ability to see beyond our reality. This explains his ability to highlight and spot key items as well as relive the memories associated with certain objects. Depending on how you choose to put the evidence together, Charles will come to a variety of conclusions which further shape how the game plays out.
When it comes to combat, The Sinking City has a very ‘Resident Evil’ feel to it. Bullets are scarce and you definitely can’t go in guns blazing. Drawing your weapon and aiming will slow you down significantly so it’s important to know when to use it and when to run – and believe me, fleeing is often times a good option. The rich atmosphere leads to incredibly tense moments – particularly when heading underwater – and the map is utilized in a refreshing way; while key buildings such as the hospital or your hotel are marked, everything else needs to be discovered by you, and all markers are placed by hand for each quest. This makes The Sinking City much more engaging as you need to pay attention to the map, although this can start to bog you down after opening and closing it several times for directions.
Despite all of this, The Sinking City is not flawless. The environment feels creepy, overrun, empty, and broken all at the same time – in a good way. It does a fantastic job of setting up the narrative of a Lovecraftian world and immersing you in that style of horror that feeds on dread, however, this only works when the graphics can keep up. Playing on a PS4, I was sad to see how often the screen would tear or jump. Even running down the street would have numerous hiccups. Environments and objects would blip into existence and textures could take several moments to load, yo-yoing me in and out of this world that hinges on the need for immersion. I found myself appreciating the delivery and tone of the voice actors as they all suited their characters well, but the facial animations didn’t even seem close to matching the conversation at hand. It strikes me as something you might expect from Bethesda – take that for what you will.
While bothersome, these problems can most likely be patched out, but it’s sad that it isn’t already quite up to snuff. The Sinking City is paradoxically teeming with life and things to do while atmospherically making you feel alone and unsafe. The revamped investigation systems rely on your own powers of deduction and the combat is both tense and nerve-wracking. Save for the graphical issues, The Sinking City is heart-pounding, unrelenting, and addictive. Its powers of immersion and fear are not to be overlooked, and fans of eldritch horror, Cthulhu, and things that go bump in the night will definitely be satisfied playing in the dark.
**PS4 Code provided by the publisher**
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The Sinking City Review – Tense and Nerve-Wracking