The Sinking City (PS4) Review
In-depth mystery solving
Strong dedicated theme
Difficult sandbox adventuring
Lovecraftian horror is a unique subgenre created by American author H.P. Lovecraft. It is mainly centered around the fact that life as we know it is a thin veneer of something so alien and abstract that just trying to understand it will drive you insane. The interaction with this unknowable reality is what drives the characters and what generates much of the horror. As well as being responsible for one of geekdom’s greatest villains, Cthuhlu, these tales have inspired many books, comics, and games. Despite lacking the shock and awe of modern horror, The Sinking City seeks to add to this collection.
The Sinking City is a noir detective game with entertaining action and horror elements. It follows navy veteran turned private eye, Charles W. Reed, as he investigates a mass disappearance of people who all seem to have shared the same visions of nightmarish horror. Mr. Reed is also haunted by these visions and hopes that by finding these people, he will uncover answers to his own questions. His sources have taken him to Oakmont, MA. A town that has been ravaged by flooding and whose remoteness and obscureness means that it has never really recovered. It has become so bad that money is no longer used. Instead replaced by barter of useful items, or as one NPC states, “Bullets, Smokes, and Booze.”
The central part of gameplay revolves around solving various cases around the city. For your main cases, this means gathering clues, forming deductions, and then choosing one of multiple plausible solutions. Clue gathering is done in three ways. The first is by finding them at the scene, and bonus exp is granted for finding all of them in an area. The second is by searching the local police and newspaper archives, choosing three search criteria with a previous clue to discover things like names and addresses. The third is the most interesting, which is using your second sight to view past instances either as guided events or psychometric readings of objects. However, this is a Lovecraftian theme, and using your psychic abilities too much will reduce a sanity meter, causing the screen to distort and strange images to appear.
As strong as the detective aspect of this game is the action-adventure aspect is somewhat lacking. Monsters are roaming Oakmont, creepy mutated creatures called Wyldbeasts. Looking similar to creatures from Half-Life or Resident Evil, they attack on-sight with a speed and strength that you really can’t match. However, this becomes quickly frustrating as almost all of your side cases require you to defeat hordes of these creatures. There is also a pseudo leveling system where every 1000 exp gathered grants you a knowledge point. These points can be used to buy extra abilities such as more health, better accuracy, and increased item capacity. Unfortunately, experience is awarded in small amounts, and the abilities don’t improve your chances. The last piece is the inventory system. As you explore, you will find items to use, and will also gain the ability to craft more of them. Materials to create these items are found by searching specially marked cabinets and crates, but it’s limited by how much you can carry. The frustrating point of this system is there is no way to guarantee the items you need and a barter system means there is no market to purchase them. All three elements allow for a fun sandbox style gameplay but lack polish to make it enjoyable
Thematically the Lovecraftian horror genre is well represented. The creators have done a lot to try to capture both the crazy and hopelessness that are hallmarks of this genre. Everything feels decayed and rotten with even the affluent institutions showing standing water and damage. Weather is either rain or fog with the sun only occasionally breaking through the clouds. NPC’s are dressed in a variety of styles everything from hobo gangster to flapper occultist. However, it feels like the developers are asking too much of the game engine, with several technical faults that shouldn’t be there. First is there an issue with depth of field, as you walk around NPC’s will suddenly appear around you because you have moved faster than the game can render them. Second, there is a long pause when opening the map as if the game is struggling to load it. Finally, the weather elements will sometimes appear indoors for no reason. However several of these issues can probably be addressed in a day one patch.
At the end of the day, The Sinking City set out to provide a unique experience, and it did. While there are frustrating elements, there have been far worse offenders, and few have matched its mystery aspect. While Reed while never be a Sherlock, Spade, or Tracey his story is interesting and attention-grabbing. The Sinking City is worth playing if you are looking for something different and challenging.