Title: The Sinking City
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Genre: Action, Adventure
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 27/06/2019
Price: £39.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
The Sinking City is a rare foray away from Sherlock Holmes and into the dark horror world of H.P. Lovecraft from developer Frogwares. Does this adventure in a flooded New England town excite? Read on to find out in this Rapid Review!
The Sinking City casts you as Charles Reed, an ex-US Navy diver turned private detective working out of Boston. After grappling with strange visions and sleepless nights, Charles finds himself on a ship bound for the flooded city of Oakmont Massachusetts. Upon arrival, he’s set on an investigation of strange ruins, horrifying monsters, and political (and criminal) rivalries. It’s a fascinating setting anchored by the themes and mythos of seminal horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft.
It’s important to note that Lovecraft himself was considered to be a virulent, hateful bigot. He was a man plagued by a wide range of phobias, most often centred around hatred of anyone who didn’t look, think, and act like himself. This manifested in ways both overt and subversive in his writing, and any reading of his work should be done with an understanding of both the times and the man that produced it. Interestingly, most modern interpretations of his work tend to iron out the problematic wrinkles that permeate much of his storytelling. Instead of confronting the racism and bigotry present in Lovecraft’s writing, games, films, and other media that discusses and adapts his work tends to focus on the monsters, not the deeper meaning behind them.
The Sinking City, however, tries a different approach. This is a game that attempts to reckon with the awfulness behind these stories and concepts. While it doesn’t always hit the mark, it presents a valiant effort – one that seems earnest and honest in its attempt to separate the good from the bad in this writer’s work.
But before digging into the story, what do you actually DO in the Sinking City?
This is, at its core, an open-world adventure game. Frogwares themselves have been hesitant to use the term “open-world” because of the expectations that come with it. Many people expect an open-world game to contain a map with loads of icons and a compass full of quest markers and shopkeepers. The Sinking City, instead, leaves much of the exploration up to the player, unguided. It also doesn’t focus on populating its world with loads of things to do. Instead, the city of Oakmont functions more as a character than a map full of icons. It’s a space that you move through to get to your next investigation, not a place that you spend hunting for collectables or points of interest.
It’s in the adventure gameplay that this game truly shines too. While locations often follow a simple formula of “fight monsters, hunt for objects, piece together a sequence of events,” working through this process is almost always entertaining. Often, clues also lead to a trip to the library, city hall, hospital, or police station to sift through the archives and narrow down the next location to investigate. It’s fun and really feels like you’re doing detective work.
On the flipside, the combat in the Sinking City often feels mediocre to downright bad. Early on, your weapons feel nearly useless against the monsters infesting the city. This would work well if running away was an option, but because these creatures frequently inhabit the places you’re investigating, running isn’t an option. Instead, you’re required to desperately plink away at them, often resorting to melee attacks to finish the job due to scarce resources. Around the midpoint of the game, combat hits a sweet spot. Your weapons feel powerful enough to cope with enemies, but encounters are still tense and occasionally frightening. Sadly this passes quickly, and combat becomes trivial and simplistic.
Part of the reason for this power curve is the lacklustre role-playing system present in the game. While I found a weird sense of satisfaction from unlocking each skill, these are mostly things like “plus 10% damage,” or “hold three extra rifle rounds.” When paired with the intense power creep of the weapons you unlock as you progress, combat fades away as a real concern.
Other minor gripes with the game come in the form of the occasional visual bug, re-used environments, and some shaky animation work at times.
When combined with the exceptional investigation portions of the gameplay (which make up about 70% of your time spent with the game), the story is truly engaging. Well written characters with great voice acting deliver a tale of intrigue, corruption, violence, and prejudice. While the game shies away from engaging with the real-world racism it claims to, it does touch on interactions between the fish folk of Innsmouth and the humans of Oakmont. Thrown into the mix is Robert Throgmorton, an influential man with features resembling an ape. How all of these characters tie together is fascinating, and the appearance of real hate groups like the KKK lends the story an authenticity that many attempts at this fiction fail to achieve.
Outside of the main story, there are side quests that offer experience, resources, and bits of lore. Some of the writing here is quite good as well, but it’s mostly delivered in the form of notes rather than full-blown conversations.
Either way, this is a game that more than makes up for some of its more mediocre elements with a fantastic story, setting, and suite of detective gameplay. An easy recommendation for fans of adventure games – as long as you can handle some action – and fans of eldritch horror.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase The Sinking City on the Epic Games Store on the following link, https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/product/the-sinking-city/home
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.