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The Sinking City Review (PS4)

You are Charles Reed, a PI from Boston arriving in the remote town of Oakmont. Reed has come to find a cure for his nightmares and visions but instead finds a city in ruin after a massive flood. Now he must make his way through the various conspiracies racking the sinking city.
The Sinking City Review (PS4)

The Sinking City Review (PS4)

Introduction

The Sinking City is an action-adventure/horror game with heavy inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Developed by Ukranian studio Frogwares, The Sinking City is one of the most peculiar games to release in recent years, simultaneously being an absolute mess and a fun experience at the same time. The big question is if the latter manages to outweigh the former.

The Sinking City is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $59.99

Story

The story, as mentioned above, takes inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and works as an allegory for those very writings. There are some great moments that will stick with the player after playing. But in between those there is writing ranging from bland to kind of stupid.

The game takes place in the fictional town of Oakmont, MA, right after the area is hit with a massive flood. What parts of the city not under water are in chaos. It also becomes apparent the town wasn’t in particularly good shape before the flood.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Meet Charles Reed

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Meet Charles Reed

The player takes control of Charles Reed, a former U.S. Navy diver and current private eye from Boston. Reed suffers from nightmares and hallucinations after being shipwrecked during the war and comes to Oakmont to cure himself. Almost as soon as he walks off the boat he becomes involved with the various conspiracies gripping the city.

The story and writing of The Sinking City have points where it really shines, but this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get great passages like a piece describing a man slicing himself to bits and sending it down the pipes to join voices he hears from them. Bits like this are properly disturbing and keep in the spirit of its Lovecraftian inspirations.

The Sinking City takes inspiration from Lovecraft stories such as "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family"

The Sinking City Review (PS4): The Sinking City takes inspiration from Lovecraft stories such as “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”

But these great bits also make the bland ones stand out, the latter being more numerous. For every piece of writing that fits the spirit of Lovecraft, there are another 3 or 4 that read like bad fan-fiction. While taking inspiration from the original works isn’t a bad thing, The Sinking City at times borrows too much.

The game’s plot also suffers from lack of focus. The main questline alone seems to introduce a new faction or concept from mission-to-mission, never being expanded upon. This makes it fairly hard to care about what’s going on moment-to-moment, as characters just drop from the story.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Don't let the game fool you, this happens regardless of which Carpenter you help

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Don’t let the game fool you, this happens regardless of which Carpenter you help

The game also has the issue of presenting the player with choices that ultimately don’t actually matter. The only thing changing is some dialogue and what trophy you unlock. This makes it hard to get invested in making these choices, as they don’t really matter.

The game’s atmosphere is actually pretty on point for its source material. There aren’t a lot of things in the game that will make you jump out of your seat in terror. Instead, it goes for a constant sense of discomfort, making the player feel like there is always something inherently wrong with the city.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): I know where I'm going to vacation at

The Sinking City Review (PS4): I know where I’m going to vacation at

Mind you, the overall plot is, at the very least, what keeps the player invested until the end. It’s just frustrating to see so many issues come up to hurt the experience. Ultimately the plot of the game isn’t anything that’s going to change your life, but you won’t be bored playing it either.

Gameplay

Gameplay wise, Sinking City is a bit more skewed than the story aspects of the game. There are some good mechanics involving investigating and solving mysteries, but they are outnumbered by the various other gameplay issues. In particular, the combat of the game is pretty miserable.

The combat seems to revolve around conserving resources and trying to be as efficient as possible in dispatching the enemies you fight. You scavenge around the ruined city, collecting and crafting what you need to fend off the various monsters throughout the environment.  On paper, it seems solid enough, but in practice, it borders on disastrous.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Monster variety is a bit low as well

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Monster variety is a bit low as well

One of any issues with the combat include the main enemies you fight throughout the game called Wylebeasts. These enemies jerk around the map or sponge up bullets. The enemies aren’t so much challenging as they are annoying, and you’ll be fighting quite a few of them.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): The map is a bit hard to navigate

The Sinking City Review (PS4): The map is a bit hard to navigate

The resource mechanics are also really easy to exploit, with containers reloading when you walk out of a building. This means the player just runs in and out until they are fully stocked up. Most of your ammo is used up in a single fight, so you need to grind these resources a lot.

There are also problems with trying to navigate the game map. The player has to go into the map and place markers, and while this is neat the first few times, you’ll be sick of it by the end. Even when you manage to find where you need to place the marker, actually finding where you need to go is still a pain.

There is also just a load of smaller problems as well. The player will often get stuck on level geometry, and the actual control scheme is awkward to use, among other things. On their own they are manageable, but all combined they start to wear on your patience.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Reed using his "totally not detective vision" vision

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Reed using his “totally not detective vision” vision

That isn’t to say there aren’t some good points to the gameplay as well. The actual investigation mechanics work fairly well, having the player collect evidence and piece things together. Searching various archives to find suspects and locations gives a real detective feel, though it can get a bit repetitive.

The only weak part of this is actually talking to other characters for information. There isn’t really much to branch off of in thee dialogues, and anything not pertaining to the task at hand is generally just exposition. What options there are usually boil down to “do what this guy says,” or “kill him.”

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Searching archives uses just enough critical thinking to be interesting

The Sinking City Review (PS4): Searching archives uses just enough critical thinking to be interesting

The best parts of the gameplay involve investigating and following clues to your next goal, though it gets repetitive near the end. Whenever the game tries to deviate from this, primarily with the combat, it goes downhill fast. For most people who play through the game will do so because they want to see how the story plays out.

Graphics and Sound

Visually, the game has a nice aesthetic with the whole sunken city thing going on. The problem is that as you keep playing, you realize that upon closer inspection everything kind of looks the same. Several assets and room layouts are reused over and over again.

For actual graphical quality, to say the game looks dated is about as nice as I could get. Many portions of the game, character models in particular, wouldn’t look out of place in the early-to-mid PS3 era. Some of the visual effects they use just wind up reinforcing this as well.

The Sinking City Review (PS4): On the surface the game has a neat ascetic

The Sinking City Review (PS4): On the surface, the game has a neat ascetic

This wouldn’t be the worst issue in the world, but the game also has a lot of performance issues. The framerate is super choppy and frequently suffers from slowdown. There is also what is, quite frankly, an unforgivable amount of loading screens in the game.

Sound-wise, there isn’t a lot to say. I never really noticed the music of the game, and while this means there wasn’t anything particularly bad about it, it also means there wasn’t anything particularly good. I will compliment the game for not overusing sharp sound cues to try and get a jump scare.

Summary
The Sinking City is a really hard game to recommend. On a technical level, it's a mess, having issues with both performance and gameplay mechanics. And while there is a decent enough atmosphere to it, the main plot leaves something to be desired.Yet at the same time, I also can't completely write the game off. I certainly enjoyed it more than I did playing last year's Call of Cthulhu, though this is objectively a worse game. It has the same kind pf appeal as games like Deadly Premonition.As it is, if your the kind of person who either likes really weird games or Cthulu stuff, The Sinking City may be for you. Even then though, I would recommend waiting for a price drop, as at $60 the game is a bit much for the number of technical issues. If you're into a more standard experience, you may want to look somewhere else.
Good
  • Good atmosphere
  • Flooded city makes for an interesting enviroment
  • Some story highlights
Bad
  • Poor gameplay mechanics
  • Bad performance
  • Lack of memorable characters
5.5
Average

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