When it was originally announced that two new games from the H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos were on the way, I was as pumped as anyone. The second of these titles, The Sinking City, delivers on the detective game play players want while constructing an engrossing narrative in a world that really feels alive.
The Sinking City lets players control Charles Reed, a World War I navy man-turned private eye in Boston. Plagued by nightmares and horrifying visions, he sets off for Oakmont, Massachusetts in search of help. The island has been plagued by flooding and an invasion of horrifying monsters which Reed must deal with.
The story plays out in a series of cases which Reed is tasked with solving. Depending on the evidence players find, Reed can come to different conclusions, with the player needing to make choices regarding action regularly. Players look at and consider evidence before deciding where on the map to head next in order to further the investigation. The result is an engrossing tale where the player really feels like a detective, and it works surprisingly well.
The other great thing about The Sinking City is the amount of Lovecraft lore it throws at the player. Innsmouth gets referenced, along with a bunch of other great additions.
The Sinking City employs a great system for making the player really feel like Reed during the course of the game and investigations.
The game is presented by way of a third-person camera. The player moves through the world looking for clues based on the current case they are working on. Cases function as quests, and there are a number of main and side cases for players to pursue.
Following the first mission, the entire island opens up to the player. You will eventually travel to all corners as you look for clues about what is really going on in Oakmont. As Reed collects clues, they get placed into the Mind Palace, where he can put them together and reach conclusions. The ultimate goal of each case is to resolve one piece of the larger case and decide where to go next. The detective game play is consistently compelling, and it never got old to look at current clues and correctly discern where I had to go next for the next piece of the puzzle.
While that was terrific, the weakest part of the game play is undoubtedly the combat. Players can craft a number of different items, including ammunition and healing supplies from items they find throughout the world. Actual combat however, is generally flavorless and a big barrier to the more fun activity of picking apart a scene and deciding who is at fault. The gunplay is competent, but I genuinely cannot imagine someone wanting for more gunplay than is present.
Remember too, that the island of Oakmont is flooded. As a result, the player uses a tiny boat to navigate a number of the streets. This is really cool thematically, but unfortunately, gets old rather quickly. Luckily, players open up quick travel options early on and can get around the long commutes.
Finishing cases is always satisfying though. There is a strong balance between accessibility and difficulty in the cases as the game progresses.
For the most part, The Sinking City looks and sounds great.
Character models are well-done and the sound effects come across nicely. The biggest most consistent problem I noticed during my playthrough were the frequent frame stutters and frame drops. These in no way ruined my experience, but on the base PS4, it was definitely obvious that performance was not perfect by any definition.
Regardless of any frame drops, the game looks sharp and it is always neat to see the monsters from Lovecraft presented in new ways. If the game could be patched to remove some stutters and such, many of my concerns would be alleviated.
The Sinking City is an excellent stab at a detective game set in H.P. Lovecraft’s world. Each time I sat down to play, I had a tough time tearing myself away from the game. An excellent narrative carries the game past any technological hiccups that might come up, and the detective gameplay is truly top-notch.
Review copy provided by Bigben Interactive
The Sinking City
Release date: June 27th, 2019
Platform(s): PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
MSRP: $59.99 USD