Many games have an appreciation of Cthulu and the devilish imagination of Lovecraft.
With the likes of Achtung, Call of Cthulu and now The Sinking City, it also seems like the obsession isn’t going away anytime soon.
A big difference between Frogwares’ latest and the rest, however, is they are openly aware that the driving forces behind the worlds he created aren’t entirely appropriate in 2019. They haven’t shied away from that – disclaiming at the beginning the content isn’t representative of their values – but still maintain much of it for some semblance of authenticity.
Lovecraft’s bigotry and racism is called out in a big way here.
From the opening moments, you can see this is going to be a murky, twisted, dark and disturbing world.
Indescribable entities tear you to shreds with powerful arms. Visions of flailing octopi plague your dreams and there’s murder at seemingly every corner.
The Sinking City gets its tone and atmosphere just right, and even the voice acting accompanies the uncomfortable nature of the game world very well. The dulcet tones and guttural cries are, at times, haunting.
But the game soon starts to feel quite rough. Eventually, it becomes obvious that it probably should have spent more time in the oven.
Before I continue, I should stress that I spent most of my time on the Xbox One version of the game. The PC version is smoother, but still a far cry from the desired quality.
Rather than adding a loading screen, the game stutters and stammers when you move into different rooms. At times, it even ceases up completely and forces a hard reboot.
Some lines of dialogue skip over each other, there’s frame rate issues and a struggle to cope with the game’s surprisingly expansive open world, and never fall in the water. By the time you find a way out, you’ll be consumed by whatever’s lurking underneath the surface because you’ll keep getting stuck and lost.
The Sinking City is frustrating and it certainly isn’t helped by its ropey combat and action sequences. You’re often tasked with doing things that your character rarely acts like it should be able to do.
The shooting mechanics also feel like a bit of an afterthought with the aim taking too long to move and adjust and the enemies you’re put up against far too nimble and overpowered. The balance of play is definitely not in your favour and it soon feels like you’re playing a Souls-lite rather than a good old fashioned action mystery.
To make matters worse, bullets feel far too scarce in a world that demands them.
The Sinking City feels pretty overwhelming from the off once you’re given a bunch of clues to find hidden secrets and treasures scattered all over the map. The interesting thing the game does is make you mark them on the map yourself based on the clues you’ve read. You’re often forced to make a best guess and are guided by street directions in each district.
It’s a cool idea but when you’re doing about 8-10 in one go, it all starts to feel a bit adminny and monotonous. A perfect example of how the game’s flow and pacing just feels off.
It also doesn’t help that a lot of the side stuff can be quite boring, seeing you investigate similar ruins, wander around samey houses and skirt around familiar waters to find what you’re looking for.
Acclimatise yourself, and get through that initial grind, however, and The Sinking City actually opens up and offers a surprisingly deep, even enjoyable story.
It’s not going to be one you immediately connect with and honestly, there are games that have done most of what TSC does much better, but what’s here can keep you entertained for thirty plus hours. It even has multiple endings.
Frogwares have made better games than this, though. Their Sherlock Holmes titles are real pleasures of mine and so I come into The Sinking City just a little bit disappointed. I wanted to like it more than I did but I often found myself grimacing, grumbling, and groaning as I made my way around this grimy old world.
Power past the faults, though, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that The Sinking City is gradually winning you over.
The Sinking City is now available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Review code kindly provided by the developer
Tested on Xbox One and PC