- Developer: Frogwares
- Publisher: Frogwares
- Release Date: 12/09/2019
- Price: $49.99/ £44.99
- Review code provided by Frogwares
Fear of the Unknown
Have you ever caught yourself staring at nothing? Eyes fixed on a point that shouldn’t necessarily draw your attention. What if the reason you are staring at nothing is because the nothing-ness is staring back? Lovecraftian horror is known for fear of the unknown or fear of something beyond our own understanding. The Sinking City by Frogwares sets out to tell a tale of grandiose proportions featuring elements inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Is it a true eldritch horror or will it drive the player into the mountains of madness?
The Sinking City places Charles Reed, a private eye from Boston in the now flooded city of Oakmont. Oakmont is not found on many maps and it took quite some effort for Charlie to find his way here. Immediately upon arrival, things get weird. An aristocrat’s son is missing, and the police are dumbfounded. You offer your services as you hope that this man will be able to enlighten you about the oddities that drove you to Oakmont to begin with. The story escalates and over a 20 or so hour period, you learn the twisted tale of Oakmont and why so many newcomers are drawn to it.
The story of Sinking City is written very well, and if the game was focused solely on narrative, I would have only positive things to say. Charles Reed’s tale will have him encounter a wide range of odd and quirky individuals that are all fully voiced. From the Throgmortons to the Carpenters and everyone in-between, the cast is about as varied as you can get. The story culminates with the player making a choice on how the game should end, and thankfully you can save beforehand to experience all three outcomes. In true Lovecraftian fashion, the endings can be interpreted as bleak, leaving the player truly feeling hopeless.
Kay be Praised
The gameplay of Sinking City feels a bit disjointed at times. One piece of the game has you playing the role of a detective, searching for clues, asking questions and making deductions based on everything you have encountered. This aspect of the game is spot on. Using Reed’s “mind’s eye” allows the player to see things that normal detectives would miss. This feature adds depth to the investigation as you can literally see events from the past unfold. Also just being able to interact with key witnesses with fully voiced dialog adds a bit more believability to the game.
Another aspect of the game that doesn’t quite mesh is exploration in the open world. I felt that while the world was very intriguing, it seemed dead and barren, but not in an intended way. NPCs were very few and far between, which at first had me believing this was in the original design for the game. It is more of a technical limitation now, as I did a comparison between the Switch version and the PC version which enlightened me that more characters were projected to be on screen. However, some aspects must be cut to get games working on the Switch, I understand this. Yet, having a game as large as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the system and its towns are very lively, makes me wonder.
Another aspect of the exploration that felt off was the fact that it occasionally felt painful to constantly move back and forth between points of interest. There are fast travel points, but this could be a struggle to get to one or find one near your next destination. Lastly, the combat in Sinking City feels unresponsive. I understand that survival horror games don’t make combat a walk in the park, yet I found myself dreading fights, not because they were hard, but because they were not very fun. The designs of the monsters themselves are well done, however, their AI is lazy and 9/10 can be bested by running around tables or into different rooms.
Although the above ground exploration was not my favorite, I have to give credit to the diving sections. The underwater areas felt tense and gave small glimpses to the giant creatures that were always just out of reach. Speaking of these behemoths, if you focus on them too long, your sanity meter will start to drain. Certain enemies or events in the game will cause your sanity to slip, which will distort the camera, cause noises to occur, or make enemies suddenly appear. I would compare it to Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube, but not as intense.
The Daughter of the Dreamer
The character design for this game is interesting to say the least. Charles Reed looks normal, while many of the other cast of characters, including the purposely odd Innsmouthers, look peculiar. At times when NPCs would talk, you could see the inside of their mouths and it didn’t look like everything was jiving right in there. Its hard to explain without seeing it sadly. Other characters just looked dead eyed or without emotion, which is a shame as the voice actors did a stand-up job making every line seem like it had a purpose.
As previously stated, I really enjoyed the monster designs as they captured the idea of eldritch horror. I wish there was a bit more enemy variety as there were only around six main enemy types, with two boss encounters. If this game were to get a sequel, or if Frogwares were to create another game with this mythos, I would love to see them create even more abstract and other worldly creations.
The soundscape to this Lovecraftian world was always dingy, dark and brought elements of pulp into the foreground. It was a mix of low ambience, piano, and very minute sections of slow seedy jazz. I felt the sound design overall fit the atmosphere of the world and along with the voice acting, were both high notes to the overall experience.
On the Edge of the Abyss
While exploring the flooded streets of Oakmont, I never experienced any game ending glitches, but there were many moments where my character would clip into a solid object. One hilarious example involved exploring a shipwreck, only to fall into the boat. My torso was sticking out of the up-ended ship like I was attached to it. Other notable mentions include a NPC standing in a bench, only to magically sit on it correctly after a few moments of awkwardly standing in the middle of it. One frustrating bit happened when exploring the waterways in a small boat. It was a normal occurrence to see other boats moving up and down the rivers that were once streets, but I had a boat appear directly in front of me, out of thin air and it may have been the scariest surprise of the whole game.
The Sinking City is not a bad game by any means. It was genuinely fun, but it is a 100% mixed bag. There were many great ideas in this game, but the combat was shoehorned into a story heavy detective game. If the combat were to be removed or revamped, I think the overall experience would be improved greatly. The story was the highlight of the game and it was ultimately what kept me coming back to see the fate of Charles Reed and Oakmont.
- Fully Voiced Characters
- Interesting Investigations
- Compelling Story
- Barren World
- Glitches & Clipping
The Sinking City is a game in which the story compels you to finish, even when certain aspects of the gameplay can be a hindrance.