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February 2019

The Sinking City

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Developer: Frogwares
Release Date: March 21, 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Sinking City'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 10, 2018 @ 2:00 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.

The Sinking City is set in the fictional town of Oakmont, Montana, during the 1920s. A disaster has left the city flooded, with only a few segments left above the water. Life continues more or less as normal in this sleepy, disaster-struck town — and that should be an indication that something is very wrong. This is no mere flooded city, and glimpses of bizarre undersea life are everywhere. Players take the role of a Mr. Reed, a private detective investigating the city. His goal is to discover the truth about the eerie surroundings of the slowly sinking city.

A major factor in The Sinking City is a de-emphasis on "hand-holding" mechanics. The developers want the game to be one where exploration feels natural, and the player's decisions aren't guided by the invisible hand of a yellow quest marker but by paying attention to clues in the speech or surroundings. We're told that this isn't a game with the requisite happy endings. After all, Lovecraftian mythos aren't exactly known for their smiles and cheer. The player's decisions will have a major impact on how various quests play out, and paying attention will be key.

The quest shown off in the E3 2018 demo has us taking a job from a woman who's looking for her missing husband. After demanding payment (or not) from the potential widow, our protagonist sets out to track him down at the last location he was found. What he finds instead is a terrible mess seemingly left behind from a cult ritual, including a mysterious symbol on the wall. From here, things can change quite a bit.

We're told a few of the options available. Players can go to the library and do some research into the cult, hoping to find more information. They can also visit the local fish market and poke around, or anything else that fits their investigative mind. There isn't a simple solution to the quest. "Solving" the quest using the obvious clues is actually a trap, revealing that the woman who hired you was luring you into a ritual sacrifice. To come out ahead, you have to solve the case you're given but also find the hidden clues that show the true danger.

There's more obvious danger in the game than just the mysterious workings of the evil cultists. Oakmont is a city where reality is flimsy and mysterious things roam the streets. You might run into some of these things while exploring. Lovecraftian creatures can be fought, but it's not an easy task. Ammo is limited, the creatures are dangerous, and their mere presence can sap the sanity from your character. The Sinking City is not a shooter, so you can kill stuff, but it's going to involve a resource cost. Finding other ways to get the info you need will be the key to success.

We're told that sanity (and lack of sanity) will play a big part in the game, though the specifics are still being decided. The world will have segments where you get a glimpse of the unreality beneath the façade, and it can influence things. Being insane is not a good thing, but being a tad crazy may offer you glimpses into a different world that can be useful for gathering clues. Of course, it could also lead you to the nuthouse, so avoiding this is critical.

All in all, The Sinking City has a ton of potential. What little we saw of the game combined the mystery-solving of a Sherlock Holmes game with the surreal Lovecraftian  mythos in a way that brings out the strengths of both. The distinctive setting and interesting gameplay offer a ton of potential for one of the best Lovecraft-inspired games to date. Hopefully, The Sinking City will live up to its legacy when it hits March 21 for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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