If I didn’t write news stories, articles and reviews, I would certainly have aspired to a job as a private detective. In The Sinking City, that’s exactly what is expected of you, so I put on my detective hat, took the dusty loupe out of the cupboard and take the controller to figure out if I am experienced enough to do a career switch.
Visions & Nightmares
The Sinking City is a game developed by Frogwares. This studio has already built up quite a bit of experience with the detective genre with their various Sherlock Holmes titles, but The Sinking City is perhaps their biggest project to date. Because of this I was very curious about this game in advance. The story is largely inspired by writer HP Lovecraft and specifically Call of Cthulhu. He, in turn, was inspired by other stories from his colleagues. In any case, it offers a nice foundation for a game like this, that it must mainly have the story. After all, it is the intention that you resolve matters and of course you have to have a good reason for that.
Former diver in the US Army, Charles W. Reed has been a private detective since he’s no longer with the Army. Suffering from visions and nightmares for years, he suddenly receives an invitation from Johannes van der Berg. The letter says that the cause and the solution to his visions can probably be found in the fishing town of Oakmont. Determined to solve his problems, he travels from his hometown of Boston to once idyllic Oakmont. When he arrives, there appears to be little left of it, the city is plagued by “the Flood”, with the result that many people suffer fates like Reed and that holds the inhabitants in its grip. With that, Charles W. Reed is at the start of his biggest case so far.
It Is Not Right There
It soon becomes clear that Oakmont has suffered greatly from the visions and that not everything is what it seems. Certain residents also no longer look like ordinary people and the streets are dominated in certain parts by strange, enemy creatures that Reed has never seen before. Hoping to solve his own problem, our detective on duty during his search encounters many characters who often want to be helped first in exchange for information. There’s also side missions playing in Oakmont, which is divided into seven districts. Unfortunately, these missions are often incredibly easy to do and playing these types of missions is not challenging enough to encourage you. Only the final reward that you collect when completing such a boring mission makes it sometimes worth it.
Ammunition, weapons, and items to craft objects are rather scarce. It’s therefore wise to fully explore every location that you visit and to search for everything that is useful. Crafting in itself is quite simple. In any case, it’s always important to be careful with your things that you have collected. Before you know it, you’ll get through it again and you will face the monsters hiding in Oakmont empty-handed. So every bullet counts. That’s sometimes quite difficult, because due to all events, money has no value in the city and people usually ask for bullets in exchange for information.
Find It Out Yourself, Detective
If you like playing games where everything’s explained for you, then The Sinking City isn’t for you. Apart from a few short explanations about how certain gameplay elements work, you aren’t taken by the hand and you figure it all out yourself. After all, you wanted to play detective, right? Personally, I love that. There are too many games that explain everything in detail. That makes us gamers lazy. It really doesn’t hurt to let the person holding the controller investigate and discover things. As long as the game is put together well, that’s good, and it makes a game more interesting. The Sinking City is doing great on that front because you learn by doing. Where the game does drop is in the field of control. This is because it’s so wooden, feeling very unnatural and constantly noticeable. I also regularly experienced frame drops, especially in the cutscenes.
The most important goal of the game is solving various (murder) cases. As befits a good detective, players must first investigate the crime scene or relevant areas to gather information and evidence. This requires not only looking carefully, but also making use of Charles’ supernatural powers. His visions also ensure that, after having gathered sufficient evidence, he can reconstruct the crime scene. You can’t use this for too long, having consequences for your mental state. If your sanity bar becomes empty, it replenishes itself when not using your powers. You can also create medkits to recover it right away. Handy if you don’t have time to wait. Ultimately, you have to link the right pieces of evidence together to bring a case to a successful conclusion. Sometimes it may mean having to dive into the archives of the newspaper, the hospital, or the municipality to find out certain events.
Frogwares has delivered a nice game with The Sinking City, but has not been able to fully meet my high expectations of the game. Although it works well on certain fronts, it is difficult to look through the frame drops and enormously wooden gameplay. If sorting and resolving issues is one of your favorite past times, then The Sinking City is worth playing, but it’s a shame that this title is a bit stuck. At least the story and the solution of the issues are very well put together.