The Sinking City has been on my radar for quite some time now. As a fan of the Cthulhu mythos and a fan of horror games in general (dont let my game history fool you it is one of my dirty little gaming secrets) I was very pumped to play this game. However when I saw the developer was most known for their Sherlock Holmes game series which I have tried on Steam and been mostly unimpressed I lowered my expectations to something around what I might expect from Vampyre which came out not too long ago and was what the industry may call a "Double A" game. Something that is full of some good ideas and interesting concepts but lacks the full polish of a AAA game. Still even with the lowered expectations who boy I was not really prepared for what lay in store more terrifying than any eldritch abomination.Combat/Mechanics
Yeah this has to be the first thing we talk about because it is by far the worst. Cthulhu games always walk a thin line about how much combat to actually put into the game because traditionally (As in the tabletop game and books) fighting this abominations is usually FUTILE. Combat is to be avoided and when I saw on a loading screen from this game that specifically told me "Sometimes it is best to run and avoid combat" I had hope that this trend would continue to be followed but I was dead wrong. Combat is NECESSARY and I dont mean oh you have to fight to give yourself time to get away or there are many human enemies to make up for the fact you cant really hurt these monsters but no you need to clear any building you are in to investigate it and solve whatever puzzle you have otherwise you cant activate your detective vision (It's called mind's eye but its detective vision). At first I was like okay that sucks but I can deal with that but the combat is AWFUL. Most enemies (Excluding ones too big to miss) sidestep shots constantly and aiming is finicky at best. Not to mention you chew through ammo so fast that you are constantly crafting more and that eats up a lot of time that just seems there to pad out the game. Also the crafting system becomes redundant once you figure out crates with crafting materials respawn once you get a bit of distance or enter a new building. So because ammo is so scarce and again NECESSARY that you probably will find yourself going in and out of two areas with a lot of chests restocking your crafting supplies so you can craft more ammo. The game also sometimes will spawn enemies inside walls or floors meaning you cant clear the building and have to leave and come back to reset the area to solve a puzzle. All in all the combat is at its best when you level up and put some skill points in combat and even then its not up to snuff.
The investigation mechanics are not bad per say but they get very repetitive and a lot of people I have talked to have found the puzzle solving with addresses instead of map markers tedious and sometimes confusing. Its your typical search every interactive object in a building and put together a very simple timeline of events using a combination of your detective vision to follow hallucinations (something I wish was expanded on) and spamming the X button on everything in sight. That is the easy part, the more difficult aspect is when you are given an address for your next location and have to go the map and find that district, zoom in and find the intersection or street the clue is talking about and the game sorta tells you that you can annotate and put markers on the map but they really should emphasize this because without me putting markers meticulously at every place I thought a clue was telling me to go then I would never be able to navigate this city. The lore reason for not having numbered buildings or markers is flimsy at best but it really feels like this was done to lengthen the time it takes to get around the city to add more padding.
Speaking of getting around the city I am not a fan of the fast travel system in this game. You have to discover telephone boxes around the map to be able to travel to them but you can only use a telephone box to fast travel to another box. Just finished an investigation at the south end of the map and have to go all the way North? Well the nearest box is about a 2 minute walk east to the closest box and another minute to walk from the North box to your next crime scene. It made traversing what I though was a fairly interesting area turn sour very quickly.
There is a skill tree system that makes the game more bearable for combat and crafting (I would recommend getting the experience boost and crafting recycling perks IMMEDIATELY) but otherwise seemed lackluster. My comparison was initially more towards Call of Cthulhu which had skill trees for different methods of solving cases with different routes like intimidation or occult knowledge. Here it has no impact on your investigation other than increasing quest rewards and I feel like an opportunity was missed here.
Finally going back to the crafting system momentarily. It feels very lackluster. Some items I never ever used (looking at you bear traps) and some I was constantly in need to craft do too how OP they were for combat (That would be you hand grenades). I played on normal difficulty so maybe at higher levels there is more nuance to it but considering how low on crafting materials I was without farming them I doubt that is the case.Story
Okay here for me is where the game shines as best it can because this game is PACKED with Lovecraft mythos and stories some of which I was surprised made it into the game because how obscure they may be. They are far from perfect but some side cases in particular shine through and it is very well worth reading the documents and letters associated with them (A particular letter entry from a child all alone still makes me shiver).
You play as a ex-Navy diver private eye named Charles who is invited to Oakmont to find a cure for the haunting visions he is plagued by and to find the source of his madness. He gets swept up in murder, cults and elder gods and has to survive. On paper it is very typical Lovecraft and holds promise. However the main cases mostly are predictable and bland and again it is the side cases that shine and I wish that they had more of an impact with the main story.
I will say the characters you do get to interact with in Oakmont are very interesting but some are sadly less developed than others. But the most disappointing character was Charles. Throughout the entire game I dont think his voice changed tone ONCE. He was standard PI voice and it grated on me. I know that seems like a lot of complaints but it is all still Lovecraft and if you have any interest in that universe than the lore and stories in this game will be entertaining at least. Brief spoiler section next about choices int he game because to me it constitutes as spoiler but it may not be to some.
So this game is weird for me because graphics in games do not have to be amazing to impress me but sometimes graphics and animations can be so bad that they take me out of the immersion of the game and are distracting. Then there are glitches and graphics so bad that they not only take me out the game but become so damn funny I really cant concentrate. The Sinking City falls mostly under the second category of bad.
This game has glitches....like a LOT of glitches. Citizens all with the same character model walking around a tight circle together, clipping into the ground and shooting up in the air. Your character has a dedicated climb button and there are SEVERAL areas you are not supposed to be able to enter and can get stuck for all eternity and god help you if for some reason it autosaves while your stuck in there because sometimes it wont reload you at the nearest phone booth. In addition to reused character models and voicelines the buildings come in very few varieties and with the exception of main quest areas you will have seen them all with a few hours of exploration.
That is a huge knock against it but there is something haunting about Oakmont and there are some amazing locales later on that really emphasize the Lovecraft horror and are gorgeous. So if you can slog through areas that can repeat quite a bit you can uncover some amazing settings.Conclusion
The Sinking city is unfortunately more than sinking it is already mostly submerged. Terrible combat with tedious traversal with a story trying so hard to cover up its faults as best it can. I cannot honestly recommend this game especially at retail of $60. Yet I still enjoyed my time with it. Maybe its because I am a sucker for Lovecraft but I still had a good time. The best comparison I have is Deadly Premonition. The game mechanically was pretty bad and the graphics were janky and it was very unpolished. Yet still I pushed through and fell in love with that game to the point where I play it every year without fail and it is objectively a bad game. So If I had to recommed this game to someone it would have to be a person who loves Lovecraft, has patience for tedium, loves games that are so bad they might be good and can pick it up for 15-20 dollars not 60. Sad to say the Sinking City will probably sink out of the memory of most gamers who play it.