THE SINKING CITY (NINTENDO SWITCH RELEASE)
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on September 12, 2019
Oakmont, Massachussets. During the roaring 1920's, this once beautiful city is afflicted by a strange phenomenon; a flood of almost biblical proportions that turns half of the city's streets into wide rivers. Join private eye and war veteran Charles W. Reed as he tries to get to the bottom of this mysterious flood, as well as the origin of his own troubles...
Yes, fellow detectives, let's all put on our thinking cap and visit Oakmont in a detective game by Ukrainian independent developer, Frogwares. You may know this studio from some of their previous titles, most notably their last two Sherlock Holmes games. This year, although it is also a detective game, Frogwares has something slightly different in store for us! Something eerie, something beautiful... something more than slightly damp! It's time to play The Sinking City!
In The Sinking City, players take the role of a private investigator with a keen sense and wit, as well as a thoroughly incomplete collection of hazy memories from his past. He is also haunted by strange and disturbing visions, ever since he spend time on an American warship, the Cyclops. To unravel the mystery behind these visions, Charles travels to Oakmont, Massachusetts, but he's in for a watery surprise. Now, Oakmont used to be a bustling and beautiful town, but due to a mysterious flood, its streets are now drenched, its once majestic buildings ravaged and its inhabitants must do what they can to survive. It's up to you to unravel the dark mysteries that seep through every street, alley and building and, at the same time, hopefully discover what is causing you to have these terrible visions.
To give you a feel of what it's like to be a real detective, The Sinking City does not shower you in hints or tell you exactly where to go. There's no hand-holding whatsoever during the course of this game. You're left to your own devices and will have to use your brains to figure out where to go or what to do next. During your investigation, you will have to talk to people, investigate crime scenes, find clues, examine the available evidence and use all that to determine where you should go next. You can go practically everywhere in the city and this presents somewhat of a problem. The city is kind of huge, so keeping track of who or what is where can be difficult. Luckily, you can place custom markers on your map to keep track of your ongoing cases and interesting locations.
Reaching these locations also presents a challenge. Some areas can be traversed on foot, but due to the flood, some areas have to be reached by boat. "Why not just swim?", I hear you ask. Well, you could, but that would not be the wisest of decisions, but we'll come back to that later. You know what? Why wait; let's come back to that right now! Apart from the obvious dangers mankind itself poses, Oakmont is also infested by monsters. Monsters?! Yes, monsters. You see, the developers have been heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and you will see a certain Cthulhu vibe seeping through practically every proverbial inch of the game. And when you say Cthulhu, you say monsters or, as they are called in the Sinking City, Wylebeasts.
Now, being a detective, you will need to do a lot of. well. detecting! To this end, you get given cases by many people all across Oakmont. It's up to you to investigate the crime scenes and piece the clues together, arriving at a decision and accusing the guilty party or parties. Luckily, Charles has a few tricks up his sleeves to make this quite a bit easier. Every scrap of evidence of a case is stored in your casebook, so you can re-examine it at your leisure. To piece clues together, Frogwares incorporated a fan favorite from the Sherlock Holmes games: the Mind Palace. It is here that the clues you gathered can be combined and theories get formed and tested.
Even a world class detective can't know everything, and because Charles is new to Oakmont and its history, he can look up information about just about everything that has to do with the city and its goings-on in the various institutions around town. These archives contain a vast treasure of information, available to everyone who knows what they are looking for, so make sure to check them out! When a certain crime scene refuses to give up its bloody secrets, Charles can call upon a mysterious ability called Retrocognition. This ability allows Charles to look into the past and see multiple scenes of what has transpired in that particular location. After finding all the available scenes, you'll just have to put them in order, after which you'll uncover the truth about what happened.
Solving crimes and hunting for clues is all good and well, but you're not the only one doing the hunting here; The Wylebeasts, vile creatures from H.P. Lovecraft's nightmares, are on the prowl and will attack you if they get the chance. To deal with these Wylebeasts, The Sinking City features a bit of good old-fashioned gunplay. Bullets are scarce however, so if you can avoid getting into a scrap with a monster, you probably should, especially since the current currency in Oakmont is bullets. You see, since the flood, little to nothing comes into the city, making money a bit outdated. Instead, people are always looking for ways to defend themselves and bullets do make a good argument for leaving their owner alone, wouldn't you agree?
Because The Sinking City is inspired by Cthulhu stories, insanity will also play a huge part in the proceedings. You see, while any type of enemy is always bad for your health, the monsters that creep through the abandoned buildings and narrow alleys of Oakmont are also dangerous for your mental health. Stay in the vicinity of said monsters too long and your sanity will also begin to crumble. This is shown by a blue/green bar, located in the bottom left corner of your screen, next to your health bar. Incorporating insanity gives the entire experience an even more dark and foreboding edge. The blurred past of the investigator will become more and more clear as you proceed through the game, as will the cause of the mysterious events that unfold within the city limits of Oakmont...
The Sinking City is a nice looking game. And while it may not be the best looking game ever, both the environments and characters are lovingly crafted and fit the theme of the game perfectly. The grim atmosphere that permeates every street, alley and building of Oakmont gives the game a really cool feel, although it might be a bit too grey at times for some people. I personally like the grimness of the games environments, so no problem there! Because the game does not tell you where to go or what to do, The Sinking City presents a decent challenge. The crime scenes themselves pose somewhat less of a challenge, especially if you remember to use your Retrocognition skill.
Overall, The Sinking City is a nice game that, if you're into all things Cthulhu, will keep you busy for quite a few hours. I don't think it is a game for every gamer out there but, then again, what game is? If you're looking for a detective game filled with a cool story, a mysterious atmosphere, grim surroundings and nightmarish monsters, look no further; The Sinking City might just be the game you need!