It’s the 1920’s and they’re anything but roaring in the waterlogged city of Oakmont. Not found on any map, Oakmont is hard to reach and even harder to help. The city looks like a victim of the Great War, a decimated town of flooded streets, collapsed buildings and upturned earth. You wouldn’t be hard-pressed to believe that a series of bombs had hit the town, but the truth is far more sinister and deadly. You see Oakmont has a long past with the supernatural and occult, and that past is rearing its head again.
As the damaged private eye, Charles W. Reed, you come to Oakmont on a missing person case, with the hope that you’ll also be able to find answers to the visions that are plaguing you. You’ve barely stepped off the boat and onto the warped Oakmont wharves and your destiny becomes inextricably tied to the future of the city and the world.
Originally released in 2019 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC, The Sinking City from developer Frogwares did a hop, skip and a jump to Switch later that same year and has now slinked onto the PS5 with an upgraded, enhanced edition.
The Sinking City is a Lovecraftian/Cthulhu Mythos game through and through. The developers have opted to kitchen sink many of Lovecraft’s stories into the game though it’s primary influence is very clearly The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Call of Cthulhu. Lurking within the world you’ll find nods to other Lovecraft stories either through easter eggs or sidequests, along with homages to the writers that inspired him and, in turn, were inspired by him. In many ways, The Sinking City is a love letter to horror and weird fiction and to a nihilistic universe that still endures, inspires and terrifies eighty-four years after its creator’s death.
As a private eye, it’s your job to piece together the game’s narrative though exploration and interviews. Speaking to Oakmonts inhabitants will reveal clues for you to follow or grant you new sidequests. Frogwares have opted for a no hands holding approach to The Sinking City. The opening hour gives you a glimpse at how it all works, a tutorial of sorts, and then it’s all on you to find your way around the city. Need to find a specific house? You’ll have to find it on the map yourself. Need to find a specific person or location via a set of clues? Then you will have to search through records with the correct clue to find what you’re looking for. It’s an interesting approach to puzzle-solving that rewards cognitive thinking rather than imaginative problem-solving.
Reed has some psychic abilities of his own, most notable the ability to solve crime scenes through a “detective mode” in which he sees the events of the crime in a series of dioramas and has to put them into the correct order. Clues go into Reed’s Mind Palace, a screen in which you correlate all the relevant evidence, like a pin-up board, to come to a conclusion.
Sinking City usually provides you with choices to make throughout your adventure, both in the main campaign and the sidequests. There is no hard right or wrong here, rather a series of murky greys in which your choices usually are between the lesser of two evils. While the choices you make can be cathartic or enthralling, they don’t affect the games ending or the world to any degree. Which ending you get for the game – of which there are three – comes down to which choice you choose at the end itself. While I’ve noticed a fair number of games have chosen this route recently, it removes any true hard-hitting impact from the choices and also limits the games replayability as there isn’t much incentive to go back and see what difference choosing to throw a thief to the gallows versus a vengeful father would make.
Combat is easily The Sinking City’s weakest element. It’s as basic as third-person shooting can get. You’ll get an assortment of weapons to deal with the nasties that go slime in the night, including explosives, traps, a Tommy Gun, etc. There are no cover options so you’ll have to use the environment to your advantage. Enemies can do some serious damage if they get close enough, especially the larger behemoths, but their AI is also as basic as it gets. I found the most effective way to fight was just to chokepoint them at a door and keep plugging away or lobbing molotovs.
As the city has gone to hell, so has the economy. Bullets and scrap are the only currency and these can be used to craft more ammo and health kits. Initially, resources are scarce but later into the game you’ll be more than fine as caches replenish and you can upgrade Charles to carry more ammo, scrounge more resources or useless during crafting.
Where The Sinking City does shine is in its story and its attempt to make you feel like a gumshoe, even if all the back and forth can get tedious after a while. The writing is strong and will carry you forward to see just where this is all leading. The game’s atmosphere, the sense of depression and despair is wonderfully conveyed through the perpetually rainy and foggy city.
Of course with the game having launched so long ago, the question becomes: what does the jump to PS5 bring with it?
First up we’re looking at a native 4k resolution with a mostly stable 60fps frame rate. I did notice some rare dips and stutters here and there in the game but mostly it ran nice and smooth. A huge change over the PS4 incarnation which suffered from a lot of frame dips especially in the more populated areas. There’s been a nice bump to the visual quality with improved textures and changes to the games lighting system, making it look better than before.
The game wasn’t a visual slouch before and – while it certainly can’t compete with games specifically designed for the system – it looks wonderful. From Charles wonderful dead-eyed stare on the improved character models to the detail on his coat and backpack, The Sinking City looks better than ever.
I did find an odd light bug though that dropped the screen to black as though I’d stepped out of the light radius in that room and there was no ambient light to navigate by. Usually backing up solved the problem but it isn’t something that should be happening. The game’s weapon sounds, feedback and effects were enhanced on the Switch and that has made the jump to this version with better muzzle flare when you fire your weapon of choice.
The game is now entirely autosave dependant, with manual saving and loading having been nixed, which means you have to put a bit more thought into your choices because there’s no manual reloading a point if you weren’t happy or just wanted to see the other outcome.
The real game-changer though is the load times. Thanks to the PS5’s SSD and oomph under the hood, the games load times have been significantly reduced. You’re looking at between 5-7 seconds to load into the game from the main menu with 2-3 seconds for fast travelling or reloading after you’ve been killed. There really is no understating just how much of a difference this makes.
Sadly though, thanks to the ongoing legal issues between Frogwares and publisher Nacon, there is no upgrade path for The Sinking City for PS4 owners of the game.
Frogwares have created a great groundwork with The Sinking City for how I would like to experience my time in Lovecraft Country. While the game didn’t reach the heights I wished it would have, I still enjoyed every moment of it and would gladly return for some form of a sequel, spiritual or otherwise.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC , PlayStation 5, Xbox One
You can purchase this version of the game here for £39.99
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