Playing the detective means investigating crimes scenes, carefully wandering around the environment looking for something to interact with, before chasing whichever lead you come across. Sinking City doesn’t hold your hand in this regard, and you’ll have to use resources like the City Hall, Police Station and Library to track down addresses for your suspects and next potential clue. It’s a nice touch that adds a sense of mundanity, and another excuse to explore this otherwise impossible setting. And that hint of normality works well compound the Lovecraftian bizarreness that surrounds the cities and the cases you’ll be working on.
Unfortunately, Sinking City takes a little too much inspiration from Lovecraft. While the author is celebrated for his troubling mythos, he was also a staunch racist. Most Lovecraftian games sidestep his awful opinions when borrowing from his work, but the Sinking City has a different approach. Innsmouthers, residents of one of Lovecraft’s most famous towns, have taken refuge in the city after their home was destroyed, something the residents of Oakmont have issue with.
While it might not be a direct depiction of today’s racism, the overt hatred for what is essentially refugees is a little too close to home, especially given your inability in the games dialogue options to combat it. It’s something that feels more honest to Lovecraft and his views, but also makes it harder to enjoy the experience. And although it is good to remember the good and the bad that comes with creators, perhaps tying it into the game this way wasn’t the best method, as Reed silently condones the views held by some of the Oakmont residents.
But worse things have moved into Oakmont as well. Monsters and beasts crawl up beneath the waves, infecting others and slowly spreading across the city. Reed can dispatch them with a variety of firearms you feel along the way, but be careful, ammo is currency in Oakmont and you don’t want to come short should you need to buy supplies, or bride a witness. The combat is simple, and maybe a little floaty. You’ll probably find yourself dancing around corners firing potshots or doing laps around random obstacles to keep the beasties back, but it’s certainly not a third person shooter by nature.
But while these things might destroy Reed’s body, its the damage to his mind that you really have to be careful with. Lovecraft, and the things that he inspired, were somewhat obsessed by insanity and mental health. So, in Sinking City you’ll have a sanity meter that raises and falls as you stumble across the impossible and the occult. At certain thresholds hallucinations start to take over the screen, either seemingly unrelated images, or terrible scenes and even monsters. Sometimes there imagery beasts can break through into reality, quickly ransacking the crime scene and initiating another fight.
And while the insanity meter might be a little trite, Sinking City does a fantastic job of keeping you on edge. The vision are genuinely unnerving, even if you’ve seen most of them with an hour or so of playing. The ambient noise of the city always sounds a little like something sneaking up behind you and it won’t be long before you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. And if you leave Reed standing still for too long his idle animations are anything but comforting. Writing notes for this review I looked up to see that Reed had drawn is sidearm and was holding it almost calmly to his temple. I didn’t dare wait to see if he would actually pull the trigger, however horrifying his next investigation was, it was better than being left with his own thoughts.
THE VERDICT – 4/5
– Reviewed on PC
The Sinking City has an incredible atmosphere that really grips the darkest parts of your mind. Oakmont feels hostile, unwelcoming and full of secrets, but the game makes it clear that it might cost more than just your life to find out what they are. While it stumbles with its characters and combat, The Sinking City is a great first step into the supernatural detective game.
- An imagaintive location that feels new
- Thoughtful detective puzzles that don’t hold your hand
- Incredible atmosphere that really unnerves
- Combat is a bit flat
- Racism is a bit much
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