A perpetual fog obscures my vision, obscures too the derelict town before me. Broken and shattered, with muck coloured water turning most of the city into a decrepit Venice while a constant rain pelts down - the coastal town of Oakmont, Massachusetts looks like a victim of both the Great War and the Depression. If I’m here to save this city, then I’m afraid I’m too late. Oakmont, mostly sunken beneath danger infested waters, looks well past saving.
I button up my coat, pull my hat harder down on my head and trudge forward through the dirt and blood. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
The Sinking City is the latest detective-themed game from Frogwares, the developers behind a number of Sherlock Holmes games since 2002, including one in which Sherlock Holmes confronted the Cthulhu Mythos, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. Now, Frogwares have combined their Sherlock Holmes style of sleuthing with the Cthulhu Mythos for this original Lovecraft-country open world adventure romp.
Make no mistake, The Sinking City is Cthulhu Mythos through and through. Multi-dimension beings stalk the shattered homes and vacant, sinking abodes that litter the city. The Sinking City throws many adaptations of Lovecraft’s seminal Cthulhu Mythos tales into the game, along with some less, well-known stories.
The Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth are the driving adaptations behind the stories narrative, but lesser known stories such as Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn And His Family, take centre stage as well. Beyond that, the game is chock full of easter eggs for other classic Lovecraft, and his contemporaries, Mythos stories and characters.
As Private Investigator Charles W. Reed, a veteran of the Great War, you make your way to Oakmont searching for people who have disappeared from across the country while trying to find the source of the terrible visions you are having. Fresh off the boat, you’re dumped into the broken cities class and race wars, hatred for outsiders and murders - both mortal and supernatural - that the local constabulary are either ill-equipped or no longer care to deal with.
At first glance, The Sinking City is overwhelming in its no hand holding approach to gameplay. Oakmont is quite large to explore and what connections you’re supposed to make in the cases aren’t spelled out for you. Once you’ve completed the games first hour, which acts as a tutorial, you’re mostly left to your own devices to figure the clues out and where you have to go next.
Much has been said about Frogwares desire to make you use the old grey matter to work through the game, but it seems some concessions have been made to gaming convenience by giving gamers six difficulty settings; three for the detective work and three for the combat. Combat speaks for itself when it comes to encounters, dealing with enemy damage but the detective difficulty settings are a little nebulous. On easy you’re given more hints on when you’ve discovered all the evidence in a location and when you have to make case connections to further the plot, while medium and hard simply remove the notifications at various levels. Either way, you still have to make the connections yourself and find your own way around the city.
The truth is that, the detective side of the game, which is completely enthralling, isn’t really all that hard to work out. Everything works logically, with all the hints you need to take you around Oakmont given to you in the clues you hear or the conversations you have. Need to find a criminal who has no address but does have a history of similar crimes? Then search the police archives until you find the addresses for known associates, and so on. The system tests you’re cognitive thinking abilities more than forcing you to figure out obscure puzzles to open a door locked with mistletoe.
Reed has his own psychic abilities, which help when solving cases. Visiting crime scenes can let you see visions of the past, setting up a diorama of images you have to solve in the correct order of events. These “detective mode” moments are cool, but far too easy. Clues are logged in your casebook and when you have enough you can visit Reed’s Mind Palace, a screen where you put the major clues together to form your conclusions. This is where it gets even more interesting as, while it’s difficult to find the wrong culprit, you can, however, come to the wrong conclusion behind the crimes driving force.
Like Dontnods’s Vampyr, nothing is ever so black and white...
Watching an NPC proclaim “Goodbye and thanks for all the fish!” just before blowing his brains out was both unsettling and morbidly humorous.
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PC, PS4, Xbox One
27 June 2019
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