A new Lovecraft-inspired Adventure RPG? Sign me up!
Developed by Frogwares, the company probably most known for their Sherlock Holmes series of games, and published by Bigben Interactive, “The Sinking City” tells the story of Charles Reed, a private investigator who is troubled with horrific visions. Set in the 1920s, these visions have lead him to the overly flooded island town of Oakmont, Massachusetts, far from his hometown of Boston. He soon discovers that not everything is as it seems in Oakmont, insanity can be contagious, and something is lurking beneath the ever rising ocean waters.
The flooding, referred to as “The Flood” by the residents, started happening many months ago, Reed discovers, around the time people started experiencing the visions. Oakmont is a town and island that is partially underwater, but the people have adapted to use boats to travel between unflooded areas. But, as you quickly discover, the inside of their dwellings didn’t fare any better in this calamity. Most are in shambles, with gaping holes in walls, floors, etc. Apparently no carpenters survived the initial destruction to help anyone restore things. Or maybe the townsfolk just know it is a losing battle, and that the ocean will soon swallow everything. Regardless, I just want to know where all those holes came from.
There are violent critters running amok, which the locals call “wylebeasts.” You will have to battle them throughout your casework. I would like to say they caused the damage, but I mean, people are presumed to still live in these places. And most of these buildings look the same. Really. The same few floor plans will be encountered over and over again. Often with said holes in the same places. Sometimes with no regard of how the outside of the building looked. While I understand it isn’t a high budget blockbuster type game, I would have appreciated a little more variety.
More variety inside and out. While I initially liked the in-jokes and nods to Lovecraft, apparently the town of Oakmont only has a handful of businesses. You will see the same building signage over and over and over again. Sometimes, even on the same street. Seeing “West, M.D.” the first time is amusing; seeing five of those signs in close proximity is another thing; and seeing them all over town is yet another.
Graphically, at least, things look decent and decrepit. And everything is almost constantly wet. Rain is frequent as the flooding continues, so get used to hearing squishy footsteps everywhere you travel in the game. While often slightly mono-chromatic, the imagery fits the tone of the story. The game does have some severe level-of-detail pop in issues, though. And this pop in also applies to the random people populating the streets, who will also pop out of existence — while you are looking at them.
The main story-line is what you would expect of an adventure of this genre, and kept me interested in playing until the end. The requisite Old One mentions, sanity problems, cultists, etc. are all on display. And, as is the way of these games, side quests abound for you to investigate and pad out your play time. These are mixed bag; some were interesting, some were dull. Your mileage may vary.
The game has a simplistic level system. As you uncover clues, solve things, and kill wylebeasts, you will get experience points. These lead you to level, and at each level you get a skill point you can spend to upgrade your abilities (some cases also reward skill points upon completion). You can increase your health and sanity, enhance the damage you inflict, or increase the number of items you can carry, amongst some others. Reed also has a supernatural ability that allows him to dispel illusions, see echoes of what actually happened at a crime scene, and occasionally see “omens,” which are ghostly creatures pointing you to a vital clue. The longer you use this ability at any given time, the more your sanity drops, so best to use it in short doses and only for as long as is necessary (there is medicine to help restore your sanity, should you need it and have some on hand — I don’t think I ever ran out).
I discovered three endings — not sure if there are any more. Sadly, which ending you get is determined at the very end of the game, when you are presented your choices and must pick one. Nothing that came before seems to have any bearing on these ending choices. That disappointed me, to be honest, and why I am bothering to mention it. There were moral choices presented during the case(s) that I agonized over. Do I do this or that? What happens when I choose one over the other? Argh! But, alas, in the end, none of it really mattered. I really rather like when ending is determined by your gameplay, as I feel it can help increase replayability. But here: get one ending, load your last auto save, pick another, repeat.
I played the PC version, available (at least for now) exclusively through the Epic Games Store. Xbox One and Playstation 4 versions also exist. Is this the best game of it’s type? Not really. (I still have fond memories of “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” from 2006, though it isn’t perfect by any means.) Is it buggy? While I never encountered a crash, there are a few graphical bugs here and there, but nothing major. It is simply a very adequate game, that has as much to offer as it has problems. Come for the story, if you’re into that, and you’ll likely enjoy yourself.