ReviewsReview: The Sinking City

Review: The Sinking City

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It’s the 1920s, and the world is evolving with technology and new discoveries. Yet, many people are still old-fashioned and like to work traditionally. People have respect for the authorities but are suspicious of private detectives. Too many questions have them on edge, and they’d rather answer with their guns than their words. You get to experience this existence in a grim and dark tale in the world of The Sinking City.

Developed by Frogwares and published by Bigben Interactive, this is a seedy detective game set in a dank world. Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft you experience a typical blend of weird ideas and horror creatures in his Cthulhu Mythos universe. It’s a typical gritty detective drama that firmly sticks with its American writer’s inspiration throughout.

Don’t spend a night in this motel.

The Sinking City tells a tale of new friends and sordid deals.

The Sinking City explores some bizarre and surreal subjects within its 1920s facade. You control a gruff ex-naval diver called Charles Reed. On leaving the forces, he became a private detective. Travelling around America he uses his special powers to solve mysteries, but these abilities have come at a cost. Visions haunt detective Reed and he dreams the same images every night and cannot solve the riddle. This makes him travel to Oakmount, Massachusetts, and this is where the tale begins.

Oakmount is a fictional island on the Eastern Seaboard. A great flood has decimated this once-bustling city, causing carnage and the roads to be partially swamped with water. This disaster brought together two different beings, and the locals hate the Innsmouthers a fishlike people and any newcomers that come to their city. You travel to this wrecked place to meet with Robert Throgmorton a half-man, half-ape being. It is reported that he knows what causes the visions in your head, but your visit hasn’t come at the most convenient of times. Only he can help you, but his knowledge and assistance come at a price. Luckily you have the skills to assist him.

A deeply detailed world full of mystery and jumpscares.

The first thing to strikes you is the level of detail in the surrounding areas. Bustling communities romp around the foggy, eerie streets. An array of buildings and houses form this sprawling metropolis, and the variety is truly breathtaking. You are forced to wander the water lined roads to progress through the many main and side quests you undertake. This was marvellous, to begin with, but as the game wore on it became tedious. So thank goodness for fast travel is all I’m going to say.

As you traverse the grey streets filled with merchants, beggars, and vehicles, you lose yourself in the oppressive atmosphere. You’ll become distracted by the high rising structures to then be scared half to death as monstrous creatures rise from the ground. These jumpscares got me every time, even though I knew they were coming. This was down to the Silent Hill and early Resident Evil elements that have been weaved into the aesthetics. I loved these elements and though it dated the gameplay slightly, it matched the sinister theme and 20s era perfectly.

Don’t allow the insanity to take hold.

Charles Reed: A detective like no other.

The protagonist is no ordinary man, and it wouldn’t be very Lovecraftian if he was. He can understand crime scenes by observing images from the past. He uses his Retrocognition to study items and piece together clues from any crimes he investigates. It was a fantastic way to play with the supernatural and was in keeping with the cosmic thoughts. Yet, like many other clues you are afforded, it’s cryptic in its approach and is extremely confusing to work with.

As you solve each crime, the resulting information is placed in your Mind Palace. Here you work through your findings, connecting the dots and coming up with allegations. Like most of the gameplay, this isn’t a simple yes or no response, instead, your decision impacts whether people live or die, or if you are a good or bad person. It was ingenious, added depth to the story, and made you consider every decision you made.

It was a shame that not all problems were enjoyable to solve. Many of the side quests and the research missions were confusing, with ambiguous cryptic clues to work out. There were many times where I had to guess my way to the answer, as I did not know what was required of me. It was unfortunate as no detective game should require blind guesswork to progress.

One of the many monsters you’ll face.

The Sunken City is disgustingly beautiful. 

No matter the problem solving, drawbacks with the cryptic clues, and other minor indiscretions, the surrounding world is oppressive and beautiful. Its vast and overbearing presence is intimidating and makes you want to explore it further. The variety found in each of the boroughs is fantastic and it ranges from disgusting slums with beggars and burning cars, infestations, and upmarket areas amongst the rubble. The design is truly breathtaking and looks incredible.

This doesn’t mean it’s without fault, as there were some glitches and duplication of NPCs. This was disappointing and took the shine off the final product. I wish the developers had spent some more time adding a range of character models. In its current form, the repetitive nature broke the immersive atmosphere immediately.

If the horrendous beauty of The Sinking City doesn’t capture your imagination, its striking audio and wonderful acting will. The era-specific music was great to hear and instantly transported you to this alternative fantasy horror world. The stunning sound effects helped to fill the void as you traversed vast areas. The screaming of the monsters, the mindless drivel from the NPCs and the environmental noises were all great.

To top it off, though, you are treated to some brilliant acting throughout. Every main character added layers of emotion and drama to the plot and every discussion and cutscene was a pleasure to experience.

Don’t enter the water.

Lethargic and dated combat. 

With the freedom to explore as you like, and many surfaces to climb over, up, and through, it was a good job the control system was simple to understand. Many sub-menus divide up the workload, making it easy to perform the required tasks. Whether you wanted to; make objects in the generous crafting section, scan the map, read through clues, or research in the archives, it was all stored in its own menu. 

It was simple to work through, and the button mapping was straightforward. Yet it was still problematic! Combat was painfully slow and was reminiscent of PlayStation One adventure games. It felt clumsy and underdeveloped and even when Charles was levelled up he was slow and underpowered. I had no expectations that he would become a superhero. It simply felt unrewarding. 

This is one of those detective games where the outcome doesn’t change, but the road to getting there can take many directions. This approach vastly increases the replay value and you’ll return to make alternative choices time and time again. With twenty to thirty hours of gameplay to work through, plenty of quests, and an amazing world to explore, this is great value for money. The moderately sized achievement list is challenging to complete. Those wishing to get them all will have to dedicate time and effort to the cause, increasing their playing time considerably. 

The Sinking City was a pleasant, if not weird, experience. 

I had no prior knowledge of The Sinking City when I started it, and my expectations were low. It’s fair to say I was pleasantly surprised, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, even if it was bloody weird throughout. With a fantastic world to explore, excellent audio, deep and interesting characters, and a strange Lovecraftian inspired tale, this is a must-have game. Yes, it has its problems, but these fade into insignificance when weighed up against the positives. I loved it and recommend you buy it here! Odd visions, an eerie city, and untrusting locals make Oakmount an undesirable but necessary city to visit. Work with Robert Throgmorton, abide by his demands, and unravel the mysterious images in your mind. 

SUMMARY

The Sinking City is a dark Lovecraftian detective tale. You must solve the many crimes, help the inhabitants of Oakmount, and fight insanity to resolve your demons. Can you uncover the mystery that surrounds your haunting visions, or are you cursed to live with them for what remains of your life?

+ Excellent graphics and a vast open-world map.
+ Brilliant audio and wonderful acting.
+ Multiple case outcomes add replay value.
+ Great value for money.
- Traversing the city can become tiresome.
- The combat is slow and feels underpowered.
- The clues are cryptic and lead you to guess your answers.

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I've now found a new home to write my reviews, and get my opinion out to the masses. Still the lead admin for Xboxseriesfans on Facebook and Instagram. I love the gaming world, and writing about it. I can be contacted at [email protected] for gaming reviews.

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