The Sinking City

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NACON
Developer: Frogwares
Release Date: June 27, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'The Sinking City'

by Fran Soto on June 26, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Sinking City is a game of investigation and mystery taking place in a fictional open world inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Buy The Sinking City

The Sinking City is a thoughtfully crafted Lovecraftian noir-thriller that prioritizes narrative and world-building for a cosmic experience. Developer Frogwares brings us a chilling title steeped in mystery. Impeccable detective mechanics are at its heart as we follow protagonist Charles Reed on an investigation to uncover dark truths. The Sinking City features an intriguing cast of characters, spot-on aesthetics, and enough content to keep players busy for quite some time. This copious amount of quality content makes up for The Sinking City's blemishes if players can look past its flaws and see its heart.

Charles Reed is a private investigator from Boston who finds himself on the trail of mass disappearances all convalescing on the unknown island of Oakmont, Massachusetts. Reed learns that mass hysteria has broken out and caused people to migrate to the town of Oakmont, which attracts these people and keeps them there. He has also been prone to visions that are possibly linked to the hysteria. Reed isn't the only one to take interest in these happenings, though. Upon his arrival in Oakmont, he's greeted by a mystery benefactor. The city has suffered greatly due to a massive flood that has sunken the city, but Oakmont doesn't appear on maps and consequently isn't eligible to receive any aid. To make matters worse, expeditions to locate the source of the city's madness may have awakened something ancient and primal. It's a dystopian situation where money has lost its value and vicious creatures roam parts of the city.

The Sinking City sinks its claws into you from the start. A dark and gritty atmosphere adds to the world-building and Oakmont's pathetic situation. Memorable characters are key to the narrative in a city that's plagued by madness and the supernatural. The acting is believable and immersive to create even more of a hook. Reed is a former Navy man with a stoic personality and quippy one-liners. His characterization (and everyone else's) plays to the time period of the 1920s. We learn that Reed suffered a shipwreck from which he gained supernatural powers, which allow him to "see what others miss." His powers become key mechanics throughout the game, as we're able to spiritually reconstruct crime scenes and dispel illusions. Being vigilant is key, since clues can be hidden. This vigilance is especially helpful for scavenging resources.

Because Oakmont has no use for money, resources are the main source of capital and are difficult to come by. This forces players to highly consider their play style since these items are scare. The Sinking City utilizes a pretty standard loadout for third-person shooters. We have a radial wheel that allows us to equip or use items. We can craft standard items like bullets, med kits, and traps in our inventory.

While combat is possible in the title, it unfortunately falls flat against the rest of its content. Combat is very basic third-person. We have skill trees that allow us to upgrade health and loadout capability, but this doesn't create much combat depth. Our enemies are supernatural creatures that arrived with the flood and have the ability to feint and dodge our attacks, whereas Reed is stiff with his movements and tracking. There's no dodge mechanic and no cover mechanic (you can crouch, but that isn't the same), so nothing in Reed's arsenal feels balanced against our enemies.

Combat feels almost like an afterthought with its slow mechanics. This is especially disappointing in the quarantine zones across the map. These zones feature high-level enemies with the best rewards and secrets, but since combat isn't as fleshed out as it should be, my main method for dealing with these zones is to run and hide, with the occasional use of bear traps to stun enemies. It's possible to go through the game without entering these zones, but you'd miss out on some of the best loot around. Take caution, as staring into the face of a cosmic enemy causes our sanity meter to lower, making these areas highly dangerous. It adds an extra layer to the world-building and The Sinking City's impressive map layout.

Additionally, it was a wonderful idea for Frogwares to add sliding difficulties to both combat and sleuthing mechanics. Easy mode combat with the hardest difficulty for detective work felt like the best combination. This leads us to a main point about The Sinking City: It's a stellar detective game, and it doesn't need much combat to make it exciting or interesting. The story itself carries the game, and Secrets and unlockable content encourage players to explore the city. Side-quests feature branching options for more depth. Even the main quest offers side-quests with resources as rewards. The carefully crafted thriller does an amazing job of executing the Lovecraftian style by providing cosmic horror and ambiance. The use of a sanity meter drives home the feeling of insignificance in the genre. The mechanic is immersive, as it hits the player with disorienting effects and can even create hostile visions that deal damage if we aren't careful about our sanity.

Playing in Super Sleuth mode was incredibly satisfying because The Sinking City is an excellent puzzle as a whole. Where the lower difficulties may provide clues and hints about what to do next, this difficulty does not hold your hand. We must collect evidence and piece it together ourselves. Sometimes this means having to go to one of the game's many different archives to do research on a piece of evidence. Perhaps we need to track down someone before we can move onto the next piece. Collecting evidence is only half of the work, as we must draw upon facts and make deductions to solve the crime. Once facts have been established, they can be interpreted a couple of different ways that impact the story. The multiple dialogue options and playthroughs create so much replayability that it'll be a title to hang onto for a while. There is so much detail to the detective work that it feels satisfying enough for any hardcore puzzler.

The Sinking City is a love letter to Lovecraft by providing us with memorable atmosphere, cosmic chills and some amazing investigative mechanics. Everything from the world-building to the story itself is steeped in the genre's trademarks. Protean gelatinous substances are on almost every surface, citizens turn to the occult, a detached protagonist has something to prove. It all comes together to create an intricate piece of work. There is so much to enjoy about the title that one can overlook the various combat blunders and need of day-one patches. Having received early access to the title for this review, The Sinking City has some optimization bugs to work out, but that doesn't impact the quality of the title (in the digital age, everything gets a day-one patch anyway). Despite these shortcomings, the title is a must-play for fans of detective thrillers, puzzle-solving, and cosmic horror. Dive into The Sinking City and welcome our Cthulhu overlords with open arms.

Score: 7.9/10

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