Review: The Sinking City

Something Ancient is Stirring

PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

Developer: Frogwares

Publisher: Bigben Interactive

Genre : Horror, Third Person

Platforms : PC, Xbox One, PS4

Rating : M for Mature

Price : $59.99

 

The rain falls in sheets in Oakmont. Madness roams the streets in Oakmont. Something ancient stirs in Oakmont. The detective, third person game The Sinking City throws the player into the cosmic horror-filled world similar to H.P. Lovecraft while playing with the players’ grasp on reality. The game is not an adaptation of a work by Lovecraft, but The Sinking City remains faithful to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. H.P Lovecraft created the well known world of Arkham, Massachusetts as well as many other fictional towns in the New England area. The Sinking City is set in the fictional city of Oakmont, Massachusetts. Lovecraft wrote about beings known as the Ancient Ones who were old gods who slept beneath the earth intruding our world by spreading madness and terror, and a big part of the mythos is the dreaded return of these horrible beings. Something ancient stirs in the city of Oakmont, spreading madness and terror.

Content Guide

Any world inspired by H.P. Lovecraft is filled with murder, madness, and brutality towards others. The mature themes in The Sinking City are all relevant to the story line, and make the game more immersive without being too gruesome. I would not recommend this game to anyone under the age of eighteen.

Violence:

The Sinking City contains a lot of  violence. The player must defend against the human residents of Oakmont and the grotesque beasts that have invaded the town. When the player shoots or attacks an enemy with a melee weapon, there is a flash of red mist. The corpses of the monsters dissolve after a few minutes, but there are many corpses of dead sea creatures that have been washed into the town by the flooding. The subject of violence also comes up in many of the conversations that the player has with characters in Oakmont, and NPCs will often threaten violence against the player or other NPCs. 

Spirituality:

The NPCs in The Sinking City don’t believe in God. Many of the residents of Oakmont will make reference to a deity named Kai. Other residents worship some other deity similar to an Ancient One referred to in Lovecraft’s stories. People can wield magic in The Sinking City; the player can use a second sight to see into past events and other characters can teleport or erect walls by chanting. 

Part of Church of Kai

Mental Health:

The most disturbing part of The Sinking City is its portrayal of mental health disorders. The player must keep track of a sanity bar, which will go down if the player uses the second sight ability to long or if the player looks at horrific or grotesque things. The game masterfully created a sense of unease in me when I let the sanity level get to low. Ghostly visions would play over the top of the images on screen. Some of the images depict the main character hanging himself. There are also times when the sanity level gets low enough that the main character will put his gun up to his head as if to shoot himself, but will slowly lower it. The depictions of suicide may not be suitable to all players.

Charles’ terrifying dreams

Sexuality:

There is minimum sexual content in The Sinking City. I only found one instance, when a woman propositioned herself to me in exchange for bullets, which is the currency of the game.

Review

I love a good mystery; and I remember many wonderful hours spent trying to find a gal named Carmen when I was younger. The Sinking City’s dark atmosphere and unnerving story create the perfect detective mystery game. The Sinking City takes place in the years after the first World War in the flooded town of Oakmont, Massachusetts. Private Eye Charles Reed arrives in Oakmont, seeking an answer to the strange and terrifying dreams that he has been having. Right from the start, the game establishes Charles Reed’s desperation in seeking answers to the madness of his dreams. The terrifying monsters and unnatural landscapes that Charles dreams cause him to seek relief through anti-psychotics. 

Boating through town

Once Charles arrives in Oakmont, the game wants the player to feel isolated by introducing a closed community. Not only is Oakmont closed to outsiders, the town suffers from an unnatural flood which has devastated the town and cut it off from the mainland. The flood waters make travel around the city hard at first, leaving the player with the only options being walking and using a boat to get around. Boating around felt good most of the time, though there were some problems transitioning from one area of town to the other, which I will address later. In each section of the town, phone booths become fast travel spots. I found that each section of Oakmont had unique characters which added to the overall personality of the town. 

The player unfortunately doesn’t get a chance to become familiar with the town in the beginning as an investigation in thrust upon them. Charles Reed possesses a unique investigative ability of a second sight which allows him to see things that others cannot. The second sight comes with a cost though that eats away at Charles’ sanity the longer he uses his ability. Another aspect of the second sight allows Charles to recreate events in the recent past. The player finds different sections of the event, then must piece the event back together in the right order before the whole event is retold. 

Charles’ second sight plays a small role in the whole investigation system in The Sinking City. Players may use the case book menu to collect all the clues from a scene. The clues lead the player to other locations or people, but the clues don’t point the player right at the next clue—they merely give the player a direction or hint. There are archives of police records, old newspaper articles, and city records that the player can view in order to decipher clues. I really enjoyed The Sinking City’s investigations because they were so in-depth. I often would pour over the map of the city, placing clue markers to aid in following the trail of clues. I had to deduce where the clues were leading me. I also frequently visited an archive or interviewed someone in order to find the next clue, and the game never felt like it was leading me along. 

Devil’s Reef Hotel

Since the town of Oakmont is isolated from the rest of the world, The Sinking City becomes partly a survival game. Charles needs to scavenge supplies in order to make the things he’s going to need to survive. He will need first aid supplies to keep up his health, and anti-psychotics in order to keep his sanity. Exposure to gruesome deaths or terrifying monsters will eat away at Charles’ sanity meter. The lower the meter is, the more distorted life becomes for him. The game makes the player feel this effect by distorting the screen through changing the perspective and the colors. One effect makes the screen look like an older movie with fuzzy lines and spots. I found it very creepy and fitting for a Lovecraftian horror game.  

Unfortunately, combat in The Sinking City feels wooden and stiff. Charles can either shoot guns or use melee attacks, but in either case, he feels planted to the floor. Charles moves very slowly when the player aims with a gun, and when I used melee attacks to save on ammo, flailing is pretty useless unless the monster is right in front of him. I never knew quite where melee attacks were aimed. Again, I found that he was slow moving while using melee attacks and the monsters moved a lot quicker. The focus of The Sinking City is not on combat. The tutorial even recommends that players run away from combat if they get in over their heads. 

What holds back the potential of the game is the graphics and transitions. The problem is when I hit transitions between sections of the city. There were times when I’d skim along in the boat and suddenly enter a large area of gray tiles. The game continued playing, but I was moving through empty gray tiles for a few minutes before the game would catch up. A similar thing happened to the NPCs in the city. I would walk into a new neighborhood which appeared empty, but a minute later, NPCs would suddenly appear. I saw more than one NPC fall through the ground when they appeared. I also noticed a strange flicker on the edge of the screen during the close-up conversation shots. I couldn’t tell if it was Charles moving, or if it was a problem with the rendering. Either way, it was visible enough to be annoying. 

Cultists

The Sinking City brings a lot of great mystery and Lovecraftian horror elements together really well. I enjoyed the chance to be a detective trying to piece together clues. The atmosphere of Oakmont felt alive and unique while also being dark and gloomy. The game suffers with lackluster graphics, but it doesn’t break the game. The Sinking City is a great detective, horror game with more emphasis on deduction than pulpy action.

Code generously provided by Homerun PR.

The Bottom Line

The Sinking City brings together Lovecraftian horror with detective gameplay into a solid horror mystery game.

 

7.5

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E.L. Wilson

I am a follower of Christ, a loving husband, and a Geek Dad. Colorado is my home where I live with my family and write for Geeks Under Grace. I also have my own writing projects at https://kingoncaleyblog.wordpress.com. Video games have been my passion and my hobby for many years, and I have followed the video game industry since my first issue of Nintendo Power in 1985. I steaming every Sunday afternoon with my kids at https://www.twitch.tv/tinraven.

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