The Sinking City Review – an open-world detective game
The Sinking City is the latest game by Ukrainian develop Frogwares. This small studio has made a name for itself with creating adventure games based on the Sherlock Holmes stories by author Arthur Conan Doyle. Now the studio has created The Sinking City which it describes as an open-world detective game. Featuring non-linear storytelling, a resource scarce economy and combat this game is a incredible increase in scale for the studio
You play as Charles Reed – PI
And as I will describe in detail, The Sinking City is not an easy game to play. Set in the fictional town of Oakmont Massachusetts in the 1920s. You play veteran and private investigator Charles Reed. The player makes his way to the town – that is hard to find on a map – to solve the mystery of the nightmares he is having. Once in the town Charles becomes embroiled in all sorts of disputes.
Oakmont – the sinking city
Oakmont you see is a sinking city – hence the name. It is slowly sinking beneath the waves, its residents fighting for the remaining resources. Oakmont is grimy place filled with dangerous monsters and street thugs. The developer Frogwares has continued their tradition of taking literary inspiration. This time from author H. P. Lovecraft whose horror fiction often involved monsters from the sea, race and forbidden knowledge.
The game is played in third-person viewpoint. It starts of clearly enough, Charles finds his way around Oakmont and helps an eclectic set of characters with their problems. The developers have tried to stay true to the 1920s setting – as such characters behave according to the mores of the time regarding gender, race and religion. The characters also speak in their own local dialect. Oakmont itself is quite an attraction, the city is sinking at different rates and some parts are only accessible by boat
Not an easy game to play
Charles will have to use all the resources that are available to solve the various mysteries. Such resources include the public library but also the local police department – with whom he has a rocky relationship. The Sinking City is not an easy game. The solution to the mystery and each puzzle is quite hard. Finding clues is easy, but how they connect is not obvious. The user is given several tools to aid in their quest. One of them is the mind palace – here clues can be unlocked by combining snippets of information. With the casebook the player has some means to keep their quests organized, otherwise information overload would set in.
As such The Sinking City is a time sink. You cannot breeze through the story and take in just the highlights. Careful attention needs to be placed on dialogue and how past events interconnect. The Sinking City is a challenge to play, but also a delight to experience. I think that explains why it has a below average Metacritic score but good reviews from gaming journalists. Players who are expecting a similar experience to Bioshock Infinite will be disappointed, but those who enjoy a challenge akin to Alien Isolation will feel more at home.
The Sinking City is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Frogwares also announced a Nintendo Switch version set for release later this year. Though I suspect the graphical fidelity will be below par due to the consoles limited hardware.