Developer – Frogwares
Publisher – Bigben Interactive
Release date – June 27th, 2019
Platforms – PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Reviewed on – PC
Review code provided – Yes
The fictional world of Oakmont, Massachusetts is a secluded fishing town, very opposed to newcomers and making sure it stays well hidden from the outside world. This all combined with a mysterious flood that has put half the town underwater makes for quite the mysterious place. To make matters worse, conspiracies and cults are common place for residents. This is the setting for The Sinking City, a Lovecraftian detective horror game. You play as a man named Charles Reed. Charles is an ex-navy sailor from the first world war turned private eye who is a newcomer to Oakmont. You arrive with stories of strange visions that can only be described as utter horror. Your job is to get answers, so you’ve left the big city of Boston and come here, believing that you’ll get answers. You’re hired to find an expedition, as a member is believed to have the answer to the visions.
From the start of the game, you can tell that the artists at developer Frogwares were hard at work designing the world and characters. The scenery and each of the characters is designed in quite a distinct way that helps set the tone. A lot of the characters are dressed in more dark colors to represent the dark tone, and the world reflects that which can prove to set the tone well. Even the music matches this, giving off that dark tone while also being quite reflective of how the music was at that time. This all weaves well together with the few cutscenes present. These offer some jaw dropping scenery that make the strange visions take shape.
In terms of gameplay, I found that the detective side of things was definitely one of the game’s strongest (if not the strongest) mechanics that really makes it stand out. You go through the crime scenes, picking out bits and pieces that help build the bigger picture of what really occurred. You then go through a dimensional portal which lets you view what really happened at the crime scene. It really kept me engaged and wanting to find out the next piece of the puzzle in the grander story. The resource management aspect (despite not my favorite game mechanic) was definitely a nice touch to the game and made me have to think differently during each encounter.
The cases (main missions) played out well for the first half of the game. They featured some really cool challenges to face and intriguing places to explore. Some of the cases would have choices for you to deduce near the conclusion. This often had you in a moral dilemma deciding right from wrong. There weren’t many where I didn’t take a minute or two in between dialogue to decide what action I should take. Needless to say, the choices presented to you were very well crafted.
Through those cases, there were a lot of themes that connected to real life. There’s one group in the game called the Innsmouthers who are humans but have fish like characteristics. They’re heavily seen as lower by the other characters of society, and I think they went into this perfectly. They even explored the idea of the KKK being in the game which is an extent I wasn’t expecting. While obviously the idea is horrifying considering history, it’s nice to have that connection to real life. That combined with all the other connections (and seclusion factor) makes you think about the idea of a real life scenario like this.
The game on the surface really is something to be appreciated and had me into it from the get-go. Unfortunately, diving deeper really does expose the prominent issues with the game as a whole. Traversing through the open world, the atmosphere really begins to lose its uniqueness and feel repetitive. The color palette chosen doesn’t help this either, with discolored fog making the already similar structures look identical. With so much potential in front of Frogwares, I’m surprised they ignored that opportunity.
They do appear to have tried to remedy this, with some areas having their own distinct architecture along with fast travel. That style change though only takes its true effect in two areas with one being the size of two. It feels that more work should have been done to really set each location apart, along with toning down of the fog’s saturation. As for fast travel, you can only go between certain points which adds on to the troubles of walking. Free fast travel to any of the aforementioned locations would’ve gone a long way.
When it came to missions, I found that the first half felt great and varied. Later on this kind of variance wasn’t really kept and started to make the game feel much slower. It was a loop of finding a person dead or alive, and discovering why or doing them a favor (minus the final case). It’s quite a shame too, because I found myself invested in the story prior to that point.
As far as mechanics go, I found that a lot of them (excluding the aforementioned ones) weren’t used to the effect I had been hoping for. There should be many uses for your camera to capture evidence, but it was only used one time. Along with that, the insanity meter very rarely caused much concern for me. Having the camera come into play more often would’ve made the detective aspect outstanding. That, combined with the insanity meter being more effective would’ve helped a lot.
Overall, The Sinking City is an awesome looking game with a lot of potential. That, combined with an awesome detective mechanic really gives a lot to go off of. Unfortunately though, the game is hindered by a dull open world, repetitive missions, and under-utilized mechanics. If you can pass through it’s poor qualities though, there are some truly great moments to be had. The Sinking City is available tomorrow on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $59.99.