Not all is well in the city of Oakmont, Mass. Newcomers have been flocking to the city because of haunting visions. Mr. Charles Reed a privative detective just happens to be one of those suffering from the visions. He is brought to Oakmont by Johannes van der Berg to help uncover what is causing the mass hysteria and perhaps help rescue the city before it is too late. Upon arriving to the city things quickly become unhinged and you find yourself trying to help Mr. Throgmorton find out what happened to his son. After returning from an expedition under the sea Albert Throgmorton goes missing in a rather peculiar way. This is where you choose which path to go down setting in motion many twists and turns.
The Sinking City immediately gave off vibes of Call of Cthulhu. I mean they are both in the same realm of H.P Lovecraft and it just so happens that both games appear similar visually. The comparisons do not end there as you are tasked with asking a slew of questions and with each one risking a chance of consequences. Yes you will have to make some difficult choices in this game that will lead to different outcomes. While there are a lot of similarities in the detective work like being able to see the crime scene unfold before you, there are major differences as well.
The Detective Work
Here is what the game is centered around and what you will spend most of your time doing. In each scenario or case you come across you must start somewhere. So naturally you start asking questions that usually leads you to a location. Finding your way around Oakmont isn’t easy either as there are no addresses only street names. Prepare yourself for going from house to house in order to find the right one. Once you arrive to the location it is time to do some dirty work. Not really it’s mainly just looking for clues and deciphering what they mean. In most cases it follows the same formula. Pick up the clues. Examine them and then you will either get to follow the omen that will lead you to something else or you could get the retro cognition which will allow you to see the crime out of order. Piece the crime scene together and learn more about what happened.
If you have gathered enough evidence then you will get a notification that it is time to look into your mind palace and piece together the clues. This is where you will be making decision about the case and ultimately steering the game in its directions. The case could continue which it probably will and then you will need to venture into the casebook and find out where the clues are leading you. Once you have your clue and the location you can pin it on the map. This is very helpful and I suggest utilizing it every chance you get. Traversing the map isn’t always as easy as going from point A to point B. The city is sinking and parts of it are under water. You will need to use a boat at times and this part of the game was actually pretty enjoyable. I tried to take the boat whenever it was possible, sometimes even when it wasn’t needed. High water isn’t the only obstacle however.
There are infested areas that you will be forced to move through but they are very dangerous. You can find good loot in these areas but it’s recommended not to hang out in them for long. If you find all this running around too much for you then you can locate phone booths throughout the map which act as fast travel points. These also come in handy so you should search them out as you will travel across the map a lot. There will be times where you feel you might hit a dead end in the case. This can be because you need to do some research. What research? Yep. There will be cases where you must visit the police station to dig through police reports or visit the hospital to find someone and so on. In each instance you will need to select three different criteria that will ultimately lead you to the answer. There is a lot of trial and error with this one and while it was a cool aspect to the game it also became a little annoying.
Once all investigations have been completed on a certain case you can make a decision. This can be from who do it, who is exactly at fault, this ultimately wasn’t their fault and so on. In the main storyline this will progress the game and lead you to the next case. If it is a side case then it is just done and you can collect your reward. This process quickly becomes a rinse and repeat annoyance. You do get the occasional advance into the story part of the game but it really turns you off of doing the side cases. Yes you do want the rewards from them but at some point you will ask yourself if it’s really worth the hassle. Be prepared to ask a bunch of questions, search every single damn room and move halfway across the map on every single case.
Combat and environment
The combat and your surroundings in The Sinking City have a ton of potential but unfortunately fall flat. Like in many games this one follows the combat wheel and it actually works decent. They keep it simple for the most part but throw in the having to manually reload to trip you up a little. You start off with a pistol and can work your way up to some heavy hitters later in the game. The problem is the combat doesn’t feel all that great. It felt a tad unresponsive and inaccurate. I quickly learned to use the grenades and Molotov’s because the pistols and even the rifle didn’t seem worth the hassle. Craft a bunch of shotgun bullets, which is where you get the most bang for your buck. See what I did there? I know, I know move along already.
The crafting in the game is about as basic as it gets. Pick up items you find throughout and you can craft bullets, med kits and other items with a click of a button. It might have been better just to pick up this stuff seeing how bullets are used as currency in Oakmont anyways. While the combat isn’t stellar the enemies lose their luster pretty quick as well. At first there will be some shock factor as to what in the hell is chasing you down an alley. However after you see the same three enemies on a regular basis it soon becomes okay I can blow them up with this or just run away from them. Or in dire situations you can bash them with your shovel but that will probably lead to death.
There are underwater expeditions that help break up the monotony of tackling each case but not being able to move up the side of a cliff becomes infuriating. It looks cool though and there is a monster down there that you can shoot with a harpoon. It will be the same one in every instance though so don’t get excited. At the end of the day the combat kind of feels like an afterthought and that hurts the experience.
The environment however looks amazing. The people or um…the…well I don’t know what to say. In Oakmont you certainly have some odd looking characters. I don’t want to give away everything here but I did mention that at times I felt like I was playing a game set in the world of The Island of Dr. Moreau. It is creepy as hell and the characters in the game really stand out. This was the best part of the game just discovering new and unique people to talk with. While some you can trust there are those that cannot be trusted just as much. I know that sounds a smidge ridiculous but be warned, not everything or everyone is as they seem in Oakmont.
If the character models are great then the scenery is fantastic. Seeing the old buildings, muddy streets, and trash filled waters is so cool and looks great. The attention to detail and city building is top notch here and it helps take away that “this is a chore,” feeling from running around. It isn’t without problems unfortunately. For most of the game as you run through the city parts of it will not load until you are right there on the spot. That and getting a black screen as you enter a new area at times really ruin the immersion. Seeing white silhouettes of buildings in the distance is not something you want to see in a game that looks this good. Couple this with incredibly long loading screens and you can come to the conclusion that The Sinking City has some performance issues. The map is really big but it’s worth going into areas and discovering things. The Sinking City is full of Easter eggs and just plain odd stuff in general. Go out newcomer and look at all the neat sights and while you’re at it, go back to the hotel and try on some new attire you can get from completing cases.
While The Sinking City follows an eerie path down the H.P Lovecraft hole it uses the same formula of detective games of the past well. Finding clues, piecing them together and discovering truths all seem to fit into a nicely round bubble. There is no room for creativity though as it follows that path for most parts of the game. The rinse and repeat model doesn’t work here and caused plenty of moments of boredom. I wanted to care about the story. I wanted to care about Mr. Charles Reed. I wanted to enjoy these well-crafted characters in a well-crafted world. It had many elements that I love about this genre of games. It was dark, it was mysterious and it was grotesque at times. The characters do all they can to prop this game up and give it life. The scenery and boat rides make it enjoyable. Unfortunately the story falls flat and the performance issues left a sour taste in my mouth and in the end instead of making me want more, it made me want to finish and be done with it.
The Sinking City is a fun game in the beginning that suffers from issues and repetitive gameplay. I really wanted to like this game and I actually did in small doses. I couldn’t recommend picking this game up for the full price. I would pick it up on sale or wait for some of the issues to be patched.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.