In my over 35 years of gaming experience, I’ve seen many games try to encapsulate the feel of H.P Lovecraft and his works, but none have accomplished what developer Frogwares has been able to pull off with THE SINKING CITY. Other games have had elements, or catchy graphics to draw fans in, but when it came to actual gameplay, it was evident pretty quickly that these past games were all filler having very little to do with the Lovecratian lore at all.
Here, Frogwares use the storytelling skills they implemented on earlier SHERLOCK HOLMES detective games (THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER, CRIMES AND PUNISHMENT) to make a totally fleshed-out and inviting gaming experience. With its open-world setting, intriguing writing, and ensemble of “human” characters, THE SINKING CITY is sure to provide Lovecraft fans hours of immersive, mind-tingling and mysterious gameplay.
Taking place during the 1920’s in the fictious town of Oakmont, Massachusetts, the game’s story follows war veteran turned Private Eye Charles W. Reed as he hunts for clues regarding the petrifying visions that have overtaken his waking life. Reed heads to Oakmont to inquire about cure from these visions and quickly finds more there than he’s looking for, instantly becoming embroiled in the mystery of Oakmont’s unrelenting flooding and other curious conundrums.
Arriving at the harbor of Oakmont, Charles W. Reed is thrown into the decaying surroundings that make up the titular sinking city. This flooded burg is fairly spacious and split into many different sections, each with its own undisclosed perils and personalities. The game is unrelenting when it comes to drawing players in to its various storylines. Nefarious, thuggish characters round out the gameplay, each assigning Reed various tasks which only serve to further place stress on his sanity and potentially affecting how elements of the game play out.
Armed with various weapons, investigative materials such as a camera, and a particular set of player-chosen skills (which are in hot commodity, by the way), Reed must be careful to not be prayed upon by unruly residents exploiting him for their dirty deeds. Though Reed’s a pretty competent investigator, his ailment seems to have a supernatural edge to it, and this helps him to see things that others may miss. It’s a refreshing element, and one that gives me even more to like about the mechanics of the game itself.
THE SINKING CITY resembles earlier puzzle-heavy third-person games like RESIDENT EVIL, but it has enough originality to set it apart from the rest of the pack. Players can even walk or swim the entire city, converse with the townsfolk and check out different areas all without the hassle of a time limit. My only advice is to choose wisely, as many family rivalries exist and people may not be exactly what they appear…
So where are the monsters? Well, they’re here in this city, and the residents mostly just do their best to avoid them. Unfortunately, Reed doesn’t have this luxury, and this is where combat gameplay comes into effect. Fighting the game’s supernatural creatures is a necessary evil, but players don’t have to fight all of them. Using weapons like guns to take on these creatures does cause frustration, however, as Frogwares isn’t particularly known for their gunplay. Though combat always feels good, and not like fighting that’s just for the sake of it.
Graphically the game is full of exciting elements, though the Xbox One version looked a little dated, possibly due to the game first being announced in 2016. Players can also occasionally get stuck behind boats or under piers, though these are minor glitches that will likely be fixed in upcoming patches.
Frogwares’ THE SINKING CITY is a very solid offering with intriguing Lovecraft elements that aren’t just for show, and the city of Oakmont is filled to the brim with enough RPG elements, mystery and intrigue to appease both new and seasoned gamers alike. Like the recurring visions that torture Reed’s already crumbling mind, players will find themselves returning again and again to solve the mysteries that lie deep within THE SINKING CITY. A must-have for horror, supernatural, and action-adventure fans.
THE SINKING CITY is available now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.