I must be drawn to the cosmic horror side of gaming as I’m getting a strange sense of déjà vu. Creepy monsters, reality fading and a sense that something isn’t quite right with the world. Yep, it’s got to be H.P. Lovecraft. Who can blame the developers for using his work as a basis for a game? His material is a great source of inspiration. I played Call of Cthulhu earlier this year, and having the chance to review another take on this genre, how could I possibly say no? Published by Bigben Interactive and developed by Frogwares, The Sinking City was released on the 27th June for Xbox One, PS4 and PC (Epic Store).
The Sinking City
The game is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and all of it takes place in the fictional town of Oakmont. You play as Charles Reed, a private investigator in the 1920s, whose mind is being slowly eaten by harrowing visions and nightmares. In his attempts to find a cure in which to rid himself of these visions, he finds himself in Oakmont, the epicentre of everything, and that is where you’ll be staying. The city has just been flooded by a supernatural phenomenon, monsters roam the streets, and insanity is tugging at the very fabric of reality, and this is reflected in the inhabitants who live there.
Everything and everyone has been tainted by it, in some form or another. Seaweed and barnacles cover the sides of buildings like papier-mache. Monsters roam the streets in swamped out sections of the city, and the city is on the brink of collapse from within. It is up to you, however, to explore the streets that sprawl over this landscape. There is no hand-holding here. Instead, the developers have gone with the approach of having players deduce all possible clues for themselves. You can visit the local police, newspaper and city hall locations to piece together clues to help further your investigations. To do this, you’ll need to be extra vigilant on the clues you gather from your interviews with the locals. But, they aren’t the only forms of clue finding you have available.
With Reed’s ability to see events unfold in his mind’s eye, or rather Retrocognition, he can see into events that have transpired at crime scenes and the like. With this you’ll be able to deduce a sequence of events in chronological order so that you can cross reference more clues in the “Mind Palace”. Basically, you have multiple clues to sift through, and by combining them together, you’ll find fresh leads in your investigations within the city. I found this to be a nice touch to the game. It made me feel that my vigilance paid off when it came to leaving no stone unturned in my many hours of sleuthing.
On the other hand, whilst playing I felt as though something wasn’t quite right. I don’t mean in the terms of the title lacking charm or charisma. It has that in spades. It just felt a bit too lifeless. What I mean by that is you have this huge open world that you can explore. From the port of Grimhaven Bay all the way to the Northern point of Red Heights, it just felt empty. The streets all look run down with submerged sections, and the lighting is gorgeous. But the NPCs that inhabit these areas are on set paths and rarely talk to you unless scripted to do so, which is a shame as there are plenty of colourful characters to see, from the cultist followers to the homeless vagabonds out on the streets.
The gunplay, although functional, seems clunky at best too. It works in the sense that, yes, you can attack enemies from a third-person perspective, but the action and suspense is short-lived when you fight waves of monsters that get stuck on rails, staircases and bits of scenery. Also, the only form of currency in this game is that of the bullets you have to fend off said monsters. I liked this aspect as it reminded me of the Metro series: item managing at its simplest and most crucial. Do you sacrifice your currency to fend off the monsters, or risk it for a biscuit and go toe-to-toe with the monsters (my advice, use the bullets)?
There is an item-making mechanic with gear you find scattered across the world, so there is that to fall back on. You also have a skill tree to increase your abilities and help you deal with the cosmic threat that surrounds you.
All in all, The Sinking City has charm and flair in every corner of the world. The insanity meter that runs alongside your health needs to be maintained, and if left unchecked, it can have a very real effect on the world around you by distorting your view and making visions appear from nowhere, and shadowy figures pop out of rather surprising locations. That, along with the signs left all over the city where you can play the risk versus reward factor for better gear, are intriguing elements, and I quite liked it. But, when it’s all put together, the sum of its parts don’t quite meld together in a cohesive whole, which is a shame as this game would be a fantastic detective/cosmic sleuthing horror experience if it didn’t try to tick all the boxes to please as many gamers as possible.
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: 27th June 2019