The Sinking City
Developer Frogwares
Publisher Bigben Interactive
Official site thesinkingcity.com
release date June 27, 2019
Genre Adventure, Horror, Survival, Action, RPG

On June 27, 2019, the Ukrainian studio Frogwares released The Sinking City, a noir horror detective with elements of survival and RPG in the open world. The developers of the adventure series about Sherlock Holmes swung at something more.

The Sinking City

The path of The Sinking City to release turned out to be difficult and long. In 2014, publisher Focus Home Interactive commissioned Call of Cthulhu from Frogwares, but handed it over to Cyanide Studio in 2016. You can read what happened with the French developers in our review, and the guys from Frogwares decided to find a publisher and complete their version of the game based on Lovecraft’s work. This is how The Sinking City was born.

The plot of The Sinking City takes the gamer to America in the 1920s. Private detective Charles Reid is plagued by nightmares and visions. To find out the cause of the disease, the hero goes to the city of Oakmont, Massachusetts. Recently there was a flood, after which the inhabitants began to see similar nightmares. A private detective is trying to figure out what is happening and help others get rid of terrible hallucinations.

The Sinking City is a great detective adventure similar to the studio’s past games. And only then it is a horror, action and open world project. And it’s a pity that all the elements of the previous sentence look like unfinished appendages, and not full-fledged companions of an adventure detective. Perhaps the great experience of the studio in this direction and the catastrophic shortage in the rest are affecting. Sometimes just wanting to make a cool open-world game isn’t enough. The guys from Frogwares also missed it.

As a noir detective, The Sinking City looks its best. The local investigation system is close to reality, so the hero has to study crime scenes, collect evidence, restore the course of events and literally move things forward with his own conclusions, comparing facts and drawing conclusions. Here, no one will tell you where to go and where to look for clues — you have to explore everything yourself, digging through the archives and extracting information from witnesses.

And to make it not so difficult, the protagonist Charles Reed was given a couple of unusual skills. The detective knows how to turn on special vision, with which he plunges into a parallel world and finds secret rooms, hidden clues, clues and new mysteries. Another talent allows the hero to see fragments of stories related to the items found. After that, the detective restores the course of events at the crime scene, which means he finds the killer, the thief, the monster, or simply moves the case forward.

The mechanics described above make you feel like a real detective. But over time, they also become boring, because the game takes 20 hours (and this is without taking into account side tasks), and each new investigation forces you to do the same actions: get to the crime scene, collect evidence in the usual way, turn on supervision and find additional information, restore the chain of events, find a new clue in the archive, and again everything is in a circle.

After a couple of three hours, playing the detective gets boring, and the desire to get to the final rests only on the main plot. The main story, although not devoid of holes and absurdities, can attract attention, and makes you dig further in order to uncover all the secrets of the city and its inhabitants, and at the end to meet the horror from Lovecraft’s myths.

This is also helped by difficult tests of the conscience of the protagonist, and with him the gamer. The fact is that in The Sinking City there are no unambiguously good or bad characters, so yesterday’s killer turns out to be the city’s savior, and today’s virtue becomes a moral monster tomorrow. Very often, the fate of such people is trusted to the player, so difficult moral decisions will have to be made constantly.

There is in The Sinking City and survival horror, and action with shooting, and craft, and even pumping. But all this is nothing more than appendages to the basic mechanics mentioned above. This also applies to an open, but empty world. The horror in the game is implemented by the visions of the protagonist and clumsy shooting with limited ammunition, in the spirit of Resident Evil. The more detective Charles Reed encounters the otherworldly and mysterious world of the city, the more and faster his mental stability indicator falls. This characteristic even has its own scale, and crafting medicines and passive skills help restore morale.

As for the shooting mentioned above, it is done poorly and infuriates even at the first skirmishes with enemies. Apparently, all Reed’s skills are limited by mental abilities, because the hero does not know how to shoot at all — the sight constantly trembles, his arm and body twitch, and opponents walk jerkily and stagger. And here it is not clear whether the game intentionally makes shooting and melee attacks so ridiculous and difficult, or the developers simply could not make it sane and decided to mow down almost any horror under the ugly combat system. In any case, the last thing you want to shoot and fight in The Sinking City is. Fortunately, this element can be simplified — the game has separate difficulty levels for investigations and battles. I recommend setting the first to above average, and the second to the easiest, and then it will be as interesting and comfortable to play as possible.

The Sinking City has a simple craft, and all resources are valuable. This is especially true of cartridges, which, in a city cut off from the world, have turned into a local currency. Therefore, at first it is better to save bullets and hammer enemies with a shovel. But after a couple of hours, subject to a relatively careful study of locations, resources cease to be a problem.

The guys from Frogwares did not bother with pumping either. It is, but it is represented only by passive skills. Yes, and most of them are very doubtful. For example, a 10% chance of a critical hit when shooting from a rifle that you take out hardly a couple of times. Better pump health and mental protection.

Annoying is the local open world, which is most likely needed to bloat the game and make it longer. On the one hand, large territories made it possible to scatter many side tasks around the map and diversify the main storyline. But on the other hand, the constant running around the city and moving on a wretched boat through its flooded areas soon begin to tire. Apparently, they tried to fix the situation by adding fast travel points, but there is such a long load between them that sometimes it’s easier to walk.

The city of Oakmont itself is ominous and gloomy. But already in the second hour of the game you understand that this is a dummy and decoration for the plot. The first thing that catches the eye are clichéd houses and flooded areas. Then you notice that the city is almost empty, and you can’t interact with those people that you have. You can only attract the attention of a scripted NPC by shooting him, but you must admit that this is a bad and obviously failed way to start communication.

The picture of The Sinking City is outdated a couple of years ago and still manages to look stylish and atmospheric. And if on PS4 the game looks so-so, then at maximum settings in the PC version everything is more or less pleasant. True, at the same time, the game lags, slows down, twitches, and textures and environmental details are loaded gradually, which is very strange for a 2019 release. The same is true for consoles.

In The Sinking City, people often disappear — that is, a person walks down the street — once he disappeared. Or a character stands next to you in a bar and drinks beer, then you turn away for a second, and he disappears. Opponents behave strangely. Monsters like to get stuck in walls and doors, or move jerkily like they’re doing a slow motion. The Sinking City is made on Unreal Engine 4, so it is in the graphics that you can see that we have a category B game with a clearly limited budget. Although you don’t expect anything more from a detective horror adventure, I’m sure bugs and minor changes will be fixed in the next patches.

There is music in the game and it is normal, but no more. The voice acting of the environment is tolerable, but not varied, and the off-screen ambient soundtracks add atmosphere, but, unfortunately, are not memorable.

If we compare The Sinking City and Call of Cthulhu, then I liked the first one more. Here is an interesting plot, a darker city, a distinct feeling of a close nightmare and hopelessness, and even better picture, more details and a properly presented moral dilemma. But, at the same time, the game has a lot of extra hastily screwed up mechanics and an unnecessary open world. And it also doesn’t look like a novelty of 2019: it often lags, slows down and sins with constantly loading textures.

If you like Lovecraftian mythos and previous Frogwares games, you should buy The Sinking City, but only at a discount. It’s definitely not worth the full price on a PC, and even more so on a PS4. If you are looking for an atmospheric story-driven game with an open world, pumping and action and were led by the official description of the project, then you better look for something else.

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