That sinking feeling.
The Sinking City review

Frogware's The Sinking City is perhaps the best love letter to Lovecraft that we have seen in quite some time, but that may not be saying much. This most direct competition to The Sinking City was 2018's Call of Cthulhu, which really failed to capitalize on any single gameplay aspect. The Sinking City, on the other hand, at least manages to excel in one or two key areas, even if it barely stays afloat in others.

The city of Oakmont is the main location for The Sinking City. The first thing you see upon arrival is dreariness. Well, that and a dead Octopus. It really does a nice job at setting the tone for the rest of the game. To those curious, The Sinking City is more than just a cheeky title. It is an apt description for the town itself as much of the city has started to be swallowed up by rising sea levels.

The best way to describe Oakmont is to take what you see in your mind when you read the word "putrid." Great, now apply that visual image to an entire seaside town and you have a great idea of what is in store for you. Buildings are rotting before your very eyes. The townsfolk are mutated and often disfigured in some way. The more dangerous, enemy filled areas in Oakmont are infested with creatures even more mutated. The Sinking City is meant to fill you with a feeling of unease and, for the most part, it succeeds in its mission.

The Sinking City screenshot

Players assume the role of Charles Reed, a private investigator that served in the U.S. Navy during World War I. Reed is invited out to Oakmont and hired by the head of one of Oakmont's many families, Robert Throgmorton. Tasked with trying to discover the source of the town's perpetual flooding, Reed soon discovers there is more at play than initially thought. He discovers that he is not the only one having extreme nightmares. In fact, he soon discovers that the nightmares he is having are shared with many of the townsfolk.

The previous offerings from developer Frogwares include a number of Sherlock Holmes titles. The focus of those games involves solving a number of crimes by investigating persons and places, solving puzzles, piecing together clues, and coming to conclusions that may not always be "correct." In short, Frogwares seems to have the investigative gameplay style down to a science at this point and their high quality in this field really shines in The Sinking City.

Make no mistake about it; Frogwares is not known for holding your hand in their games and The Sinking City is no exception. It is up to you to see how seemingly unrelated clues fit together. The ties linking together clues and pieces of information may end up looking like a mangled spider web in some of the later missions.

Despite this, most of the cases in The Sinking City do follow a similar structure. You will begin with a little hint about where to start your investigation. From there, you will set out to discover this location, often times being a place you have not yet been to on the map. Once at the desired location, you will start to gather further clues by conducting a series of interviews with those who are at each location. For those who need map markers telling you where you need to go, this one is not for you. For those of you who hate engaging in conversations with NPCs, and actually reading the conversations carefully, this one is not for you.

The Sinking City screenshot

Once at a crime scene, the game does hold your hand ever so slightly. You are given a number of key points at a scene that you can investigate at your discretion. These specific points may have objects that you can look at in finer detail. Once the evidence is compiled, Reed will often try to piece together the series of events leading up to, and including, the crime that took place at each scene. This is accomplished by seeing a number of visual echoes representing past events. These echoes replay key moments in time from when the crime took place. It is up to you, as Reed, to put the echoes together into a cohesive timeline that accurately explains what happened.

Progress in the game is made by investigating and solving a series of smaller mysteries. As you work more cases in Oakmont, more of the city will become open for you to explore. Reed soon discovers that there is a lot more going on in Oakmont than previously thought. There are two main rivals in the game. One of these groups is more like "normal" humans, while the others, Innsmouthers, are part fish. Cases lead Reed to discover plenty of lore as it relates to cults, various Gods, and more. The game does a great job at making the player want to keep learning more about the town and its Cthulhu Mythos roots.

While the investigation side of The Sinking City is a strong point working in the game's favor, there are a number of unfortunate shortcomings. One of the most obvious is the fact that animations are less than great. The Sinking City also features a number of combat sequences against enemies with almost brain-dead A.I.

The Sinking City screenshot

At the very least, the non-human enemies are more interesting to look at as you pelt them with round after round. Speaking of ammo, if you run out of it, you can simply pause the game to create more. Being able to pause everything and come back with full ammo really takes a lot away from the already trivial combat. If Frogwares made it so that ammo took time to craft while in the heat of a battle and made it so that players were vulnerable while crafting ammo, it could have gone a long way to making some of the fights a bit more tense and, as a result, perhaps a bit more fun.

Ignoring the issues with the combat A.I., or the fact that you can make more ammo from the safety of a pause menu, there is another flaw to The Sinking City's combat: The guns feel and sound weak. I know it is a cliché to say that weapons feel like peashooters, but that is the most appropriate comparison to make here. Even the grenades lack any sort of meat to them.

Unfortunately, most of the cases in The Sinking City have a combat sequence included. Even with that, combat plays a very small role in the game. The bulk of the game is all about those investigations, discovering clues, and solving cases. I can imagine Frogwares either wanted to experiment with their formula or attempt to draw in a larger audience. While these segments do add a bit of variety to the game, I would hope that they go refine and revise their approach to combat if they want to try another mixed-genre game in the future.

The Sinking City is a full priced title at $59.99 (USD) for the bog standard edition. However, there is a lot of game here. The main story may take most players around 10-15 hours to complete. Once you add in a fair bit of exploration and side-quests, you are looking at a game that can potentially last you for a good 30 hours or more.

The Sinking City screenshot

In many ways, The Sinking City reminded me of Vampyr, a game that I quite enjoyed despite it being a little on the janky side at times. Both games feature dark, foreboding environments to explore. Both games even feature main characters with the last name of Reed (technically it was Reid in Vampyr). Both games also seem to struggle when it comes to combat, which pales when compared to each titles' other gameplay focuses. Moreover, just like Vampyr, The Sinking City feels like an ambitious title that just happens to stumble in some key areas.

The Sinking City manages to be one of the best Lovecraft games I have played. No, it is not a perfect game by any means, but it is an extremely fun and engaging title. When you strip away the grievances I have with the unsatisfying combat and poor animations you are left with a fun and engaging title. Frogwaves really nailed it when it comes to investigating weird occurrences, creepy locations, and eldritch horrors. My hope is that we see a follow-up Lovecraft game from the team at some point that includes better combat.

4 out of 5 stars

Additional Information
  • The Sinking City - Developed by Frogwares, Published by Bigben Interactive
  • Game was reviewed on - PC (also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

Purchase Options
Standard Edition starting at $59.99 (USD).There is also a physical release starting at $59.99 for each platform, and a digital Necronomicon Edition starting at $74.99.

Additional Images
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