Sinking Island places the player into the role of Jack Norm, and investigator sent to figure out the causes surrounding the death of a billionaire on his personal island. Taking several pages from other works of designer B. Sokal’s games, Sinking Island is a clever point and click adventure that is well written and absorbing, but sadly seems to miss revelations that have happened to the genre in the last five years.
The first thing that is clear when playing Sinking Island is the similarities between the graphics style of this and BioShock. Both look to have been inspired by the mid-twentieth century art-deco type building design, as well as the outfits that the people wear. The strange thing about Sinking Island, though, is the way that everything attempts to fit into the 1950’s feeling but then people start bringing out cell phones and using laptops. This makes for a rather jarring feeling the first time that it happens as the game doesn’t ever seem to be clear on when it takes place.
Another problem that arises with the graphics is that they aren’t adjustable, ever. The advantage of this is that Sinking Island seems to be able to play on any computer that can run windows XP. The disadvantage is the game ends up looking terrible on any other computer that is fairly competent. The widescreen support offered simply adjusts the aspect ratio to have two giant bars at the left and right of the screen to make the game look less squished. There are no other options to turn up the graphics to a higher screen resolution at all, meaning that the entire game is forced to look bland at best.
While the game makes it pretty clear very quickly that Walter Jones, the billionaire, was murdered it does manage to streamline the entire process of figuring out how and why through a small PDA type device Jack caries around. Interestingly enough this device allows the player to input all of the currently gathered clues and spit out a result. This thankfully means that conclusions on certain leads, such as footprints or fingerprints matches, can be figured out in one shot from the first suspect interviewed and no one must be asked afterwards about it. This also means that, as is so often the case, when the last person asked turns out to be the correct one there is a ton of evidence that kicks around in the inventory, unsorted, for some time and must be surfed through each instance a new clue is needed.
This makes it seem rather odd that the game would go through all of the trouble of streamlining the investigation process only to make the player walk the through several different, large, slow loading, screens just to interview another person. Often enough the game will passingly inform the player where to go next and they get to watch the excitement as Jack saunters across screen after screen, or the exhilaration as he walks up another set of stairs. This ends up making the game feel slow and old as most of the screens that the character walks through never have anything more than background on them.
This old and dated feeling continues when interviewing someone on the island as their mouths never actually move during any of the dialog, all of which is spoken. It seems peculiar that while all of the characters gesture and have facial expressions, none of them ever bother to move a single lip in the game, ever. None of this is helped by the range of performance that is given during the course of the game either. Some of the dialog exchanged feels laughably bad at times, but it never seems to ever excel past forgettable.
This isn’t to comment on how terrible Jack’s dialog can be asking questions either. Several times it seems like instead of asking about items or ideas he simply is giving away clues and leads, at times even to possible suspects. The game does seem to make continuing to ask the wrong question to people rather amusing as several times Jack even seems annoyed that he bothered to bring it up.
Even though the game suffers from several of the dated concepts used repeatedly in the game it does manage to be held together by the amazing story that is told. The events that surround the death of Walter Jones are remarkable and stirring enough to stay motivated until the very end just to see what else could possibly happen or be revealed next.
It should also be noted that this is not a game for people that are casually interested in point and click adventures either. Clues are scattered through the entire island and can be easily overlooked if every screen isn’t thoroughly searched, and every character is spoken to repeatedly. The game does seem to acknowledge this with the increased difficulty that is available at the start of the game. Called Race Mode this makes all of the characters in the game lives their lives as they normally would and puts a time limit to figuring out sections of the game. For those that are very serious about adventure games this is an interesting bonus.
Throughout all of Sinking Island’s faults it still does manage to be interesting throughout the course of the game. This isn’t to say that people who aren’t diehard fans of B. Sokal should rush out and buy it though. For those not familiar with the Sokal’s previous games Sinking Island can probably be skipped. But for those that are willing to overlook the faults and truly enjoy the process of figuring out just what is going on in Sinking Island it is reasonably priced enough to warrant trying out.