I have been drawn to H.P.Lovecraft many times in the past, whether it be one of his amazing short stories, seeing amazing artwork of Cthulhu or noticing that a few game companies over the past few years have been taking his work and turning them into video games. We had Call of Cthulhu which was a survival horror role-playing game back in 2018 and now we have The Sinking City. Being a fan of H.P.Lovecrafts work I was very interested in getting my hands on this game and seeing what Frogwares had to offer in terms of the Lovecraft universe.
The game is set in the 1920s and find you playing the role of Private investigator Charles W. Reed who, after suffering from strange visions finds himself drawn to the fictional city of Oakmont, Massachusetts to investigate the course of these strange visions as well as a mysterious flood that has inundated the city. The game is heavily inspired by H.P.Lovecraft universe and The Sinking City does a good job at capturing this, first of with the dark and horrible setting for the game, it’s characters that are unique, to say the least, and the otherworldly creatures that are now inhabiting Oakmont too. Straight away the game throws you into the deep end with a case as soon as you dock in, you get given the task of trying to find a missing person and unravel the mystery around his disappearance to later discover a shocking truth. It is good to be able to hit the ground running within the first few minutes of the game but you have to discover how to do things yourself, it is very little to no tutorials and you find yourself having the read through the menus to get an understanding on how the game works. For me, I’d have liked some tutorials but maybe that’s what this game was going for in terms of not spoon feeding the player, which you find out as your playing is the case.
The game, once you get your head around it is quite simple. You use your casebook that can be found in the menu screen to select which case you are doing and to get all the information about that case you have, find any new evidence it is displayed in the casebook as well as your mind palace, now the mind palace is where clues are sent for you to piece together to get more of a solid understanding of a case. Evidence can be found around the open world of Oakmont and used to complete cases or further the understanding of one. While exploring you are come across loads of notes and object scattered around the world that will unlock more of the lore and give you more of an in-depth understanding of what’s going on. You’ll find yourself spending a lot of time in the menu screens which isn’t a bad thing but be prepared for lots of reading as this game has tones of it.
When you get assigned a case you find yourself actually being an investigator as you have very little leads to go by and sometimes you have hardly anything, this is where the true wonder of the game comes into play when you have to use all that is provided to further the story and find evidence. Making your own waypoints because you are not given any, finding your own leads because you have only the words of someone else to go by and making decisions that change the outcome for certain cases. Though saying this when you are given vague information it can make the game very annoying and you can find yourself searching for ages to find locations in the game, for example with this one mission, you have to find a diving store and it gives you a base location but then actually finding that location was a mission in itself.
When exploring the world and doing cases you’ll encounter otherworldly creatures, they can be a pain to kill early game but once you get yourself better equipped becomes a lot easier. Killing them will grant you XP, get enough experience and you’ll unlock a knowledge point that you can use to upgrade Charles. By completing side cases you’ll earn more XP which in turn helps you as the game progresses. Make sure while you are in Oakmont that you scavenge everything that you can so that you can make ammo, medical supplies, and explosives/traps. These can be found in numerous places throughout Oakmont and will aid you massively through the story.
When you are given a case, you must use the various tools that the game provides to try and solve it. By using a mixture of your Casebook, Map, Mind’s Eye and Mind palace it makes cracking a case enjoyable but can get repetitive after the first five hours of playing the game. By using Charles Mind’s eye which is a mystical power that he has, you can see images of the past in the form of illusions, omens or tracks that you wouldn’t normally be able to see. Though by using this power you’ll become vulnerable to the creatures and start hallucinating, so you must use it with caution otherwise you’ll be making things harder for yourself. Once you have gathered enough evidence at the scene you can then piece it all together in the right order via Retrocognition which plays out the events of what happened, and you simply have to number them in order. This feature is really cool and makes me feel like it needs my input to solve the case.
The combat in the game is very dull, seeing as Charles is meant to be a war veteran when you get to handling weapons it feels as if you are playing a PlayStation one game like Dino Crisis or Resident Evil. It is very slow paced, and you find yourself having to run miles away from the enemies to turn around and get a better chance at killing them. I know that the main focus with the game is the whole mystery and detective side of things but by adding this mechanic and making it so basic to what is currently on the market in terms of third-person shooter, made me want to avoid combat altogether or just hope that by swinging my spade it will kill enemies before I died.
Graphically the game is nice, it isn’t as glam as most games we see on the PlayStation 4 nowadays, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t pack a punch with its dark setting and horrifying creatures. It is on par with that of Fallout 3 in terms of graphics quality as well as having moments where you speak to numerous characters inhabiting Oakmont with static cutscenes, where you can select different speech options to help unravel the mystery and try to get to the bottom of what’s truly going on in Oakmont.
The Sinking City provides okay dialog from numerous characters that are bearable and does the job It needs to, the creatures sound terrifying when encountering them and look horrifying to say the least. Traveling around Oakmont you get mixed feelings on whether there is an issue with this town due to the people inhabiting it. The whole place is riddled with broken building and decaying structures, not to mention the creatures eating people alive but the townspeople seem more concerned with the “Newcomer” your character, then what’s happening around them. I feel that this drags away from the seriousness of the flood and what’s happening to this town when the townspeople are just going about their lives like nothing is wrong. Ruins the illusions that the environment is trying to set.
Personally, I believe that once you have completed the game there isn’t much of replay value, true there are three different endings however they aren’t that good to warrant playing the game through again just to watch them. They do provide different scenarios to how the game ends but nothing that is gripping and truly breath-taking. If you take your time while playing the game though, you’ll be able to collect everything you need to complete the cases that Charles is assigned. So, in terms of going back to the game once you’ve finished it, I’d have to say there isn’t much of a need to unless you want to trophy grind or collect all evidence for all the cases.
The Sinking City does a good job at capturing H.P.Lovecrafts universe in this game, right from the get-go, but sadly due to lackluster and repetitive gameplay, it falls short of other games that are on the market. Don’t get me wrong I found it enjoyable solving cases and uncovering the mysteries revolving around the flood and Charles visions but when you add in tedious loading screens, graphical bugs where people were just floating in the map and the prehistoric feeling combat it makes the game really dull really fast and become more of a grind while playing it than actually being fun. It’s a solid starting point for a great game I just feel personal that it could do with some improvements so that it can go from a playable game to a brilliant game.
- Developer: Frogwares
- Engine: Unreal Engine
- Publisher: Bigben Interactive
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4