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The Sinking City Early Access Review

Edited by: Jade Swann

A challenging detective experience with interesting gameplay mechanics that will appeal to horror fans, but is hindered by wonky controls, loading screens, and an empty world.

Veteran developer Frogwares is mostly known for their Sherlock Holmes game series. This title isn’t part of that at all, but it still features several elements that fans of the series will recognize. For one, the player is once again a private investigator that has to shuffle their way through multiple cases… that’s where the similarities end, though, and The Sinking City takes a dive straight off the cliff of sanity.

0 Stars on TripAdvisor

Oakmont, Massachusetts isn’t the most inviting of places at first glance, and that’s before you find out about the rampant crime, bouts of insanity, and nightmarish horrors that run around town. The protagonist is plagued by demons of his own and they all seem to connect to Oakmont. As an outsider, you aren’t popular in town. People will refuse to help or even talk to you sometimes, and as such, your detective work is cut out for you.

Set in the 1920s, Oakmont isn’t your first choice for a holiday, if only because large parts of the city are submerged in water, forcing you to travel by boat… or risk your life by swimming with the sort of tentacle monster you’d rather not meet up close.

All alone in the big bad city

One of the most interesting aspects of The Sinking City is that there is absolutely no hand-holding. After a tutorial that’s more a brief explanation of controls, the player is thrown right in. There are no quest markers except for the ones you place yourself and nobody tells you where to go or what to look at. At different places across the map, there are archives, such as a library, police records, and more — that’s where the protagonist can go in order to look up info he doesn’t have.

Missing a vital clue means backtracking until you come across it. This complete lack of direction is well-executed and adds a nice layer of challenge to the experience, yet can feel frustrating at the same time. An example: at one point, you learn about a “church” with a lot of hints pointing towards the fact that this church is more of a cult. Well, after you find out about this church, you have to go investigate the mansion of a man associated with a different investigation (unrelated to the church in all but one mention that provides no new info about the church), and unless you have done so, you can’t look up that church in the archives.

Such moments aside, the freedom to succeed or fail based on your own deductions feels like a true investigative experience and while it won’t be for everyone, fans of this type of gameplay can’t go wrong here.

Controlling insanity

You have two relevant stats in-game: health and sanity. As you witness supernatural phenomena — and, coincidentally, as you commit murder every now and again — your sanity meter depletes, giving way to quite disturbing visual hallucinations… that attack.

Keeping sanity up is as important as health, possibly even more so. The game doesn’t make this easy, especially given the scarcity of resources. While antipsychotics are easier to come by than bullets, resource management is still key to survival in Oakmont.

The good, the bad, and the… empty?

While The Sinking City delivers an engaging and interesting storyline with plenty of challenge and interesting twists, it isn’t without flaws. The most glaring one is the map. Although there is plenty to do in different regions and exploration is part of the experience, huge parts of the map are entirely empty, without any buildings that can be entered or anything of the sort. Right along with that is the fact that The Sinking City claims to be open-world — it isn’t. Often, when a building is first entered and sometimes every time you visit, a loading screen appears for a few moments, interrupting the flow of the gameplay quite a bit.

Control-wise, there is also room for improvement. While the ability to climb obstacles and hide behind them is well-executed, the walking and running mechanics aren’t great and sometimes it can take a few attempts to get exactly where you’re trying to go. That’s fine when investigating something, but not so much when being chased by bile-vomiting nightmare creatures.

Kiss kiss, bang bang

The dollar has lost value in Oakmont, and the currency is now bullets, and there are precious few of them around. Often, you have to make your own and even that may not be enough, prompting the player to hide rather than to go in gun(s) blazing. Given some of the enemies, this becomes evident very quickly.

Another thing that becomes evident quickly is that the developers really don’t care to help the player in their experience. Fast travel is only possible from specific points to other points that have been visited before, and with a large and often monotonous map, this isn’t exactly fun. Fast travel also comes with more loading screens still, to the point where it sometimes seems like taking the long way would have been faster after all!

Setting the mood

One thing the title cannot be faulted for is its acoustics. The Sinking City does a spectacular job of conveying a creepy and tense atmosphere via the atmospheric sounds in Oakmont. Creaky doors, idle chatter, and scratching sounds in the walls all instill a sense of terror that can’t quite be explained by the Lovecraftian horrors you encounter. It does, however, add to the immersion and  really drives home the horror aspects of the experience, better even than the monsters and occasional massacres or rituals.

5

The Verdict: Fair

The Sinking City is a challenging detective experience with interesting mechanics, but it is plagued by shortcomings, such as its at times wonky controls and the largely empty map that’s quite boring to travel through. Loading screens interrupt what is supposed to be an open world, though there are some things that make up for problems like that — the unguided gameplay and the spectacular sound reel are at the top of that particular list. The Sinking City is a must for fans of explorative horror games and detective games alike, but not for those with little patience or a low tolerance for the macabre!

See About Us to learn how we score

Mel Hawthorne
Written by
Wednesday, 10 July 2019 08:32
Published in Adventure

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Mel is a London-based copywriter that has been writing about video games for a few years now. After growing up in Vienna, Austria she followed her dreams and moved to London. Said dreams took her through a few different jobs (which included working as a web developer, shopkeeper and translator) before she settled on what she really wanted to do – periodically anger video game fans by expressing her opinions on games through various online publications. When she’s not writing about video games, she’s probably playing them... or walking her dog in a park. Since that depends largely on the English weather, Mel has plenty of time to indulge in her favourite games. These include but are not limited to Ark: Survival Evolved, Skyrim, GTA V, and oddly enough, Amnesia: Memories. She loves Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. She thinks Star Trek is way better than Star Wars and isn’t afraid to admit it – Live long and prosper!

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