Release Date: 6/25/2019
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I love Lovecraftian horror, but video games have really struggled to bring these mythos to life. Most of the games get the atmosphere and monster design down, but can’t nail a good gameplay loop or decent story. By far the best game for this is still Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. While its gameplay is clunky it has great storytelling that’s somewhat memorable. The Sinking City does a great job nailing the twisted town of Oakmont with great visuals, but that’s about it. No single gameplay element or loop comes together to create anything interesting or worthwhile to make you want to stick around outside of the main story.
Unlike most other Lovecraftian games this one doesn’t take place in Innsmouth, but it is referenced that many are fleeing from that town. You play Charles Reed who is a private eye investigator searching to end his visions. That’s about as far as the entire story goes. You bounce around from case to case-solving problems of townsfolk in form of favors to get one step closer to where you need to go. This is where things start falling apart. Not a single character is interesting, including Reed, the dialogue is drab and boring despite the voice work being pretty decent. There are small little stories for each case you can unravel, but I didn’t care about any of them. I just wanted to progress further and hope there was some cool twist and that never came.
When you are inside investigation areas you can examine items and look at objects. There are key evidence items to progress the story and bonus items to complete all evidence for achievements. This is mostly uninteresting and there are dozens and dozens of these with you just wandering and looking at everything to find any object you can to examine. Once you examine everything you are given clues to advance the case, but nothing is marked on your map for you. You are given a district and then cross streets and have to pin that yourself. I found this kind of interesting until I found out all of the main story cases are almost always right near fast travel points.
Speaking of fast traveling it’s so necessary because the town of Oakmont is boring and lifeless. Sure, there are people wandering around, but they are just animations to fill space. They don’t make any sound, have any dialog, and there are no stores or anything like that. It’s just linear streets that look pretty broken up with water-logged streets that require a motorboat to navigate. Some areas are sectioned off as infested areas full of monsters and aren’t worth going into for any reason outside of a few side cases that require it.
That gets us into combat which is another half-baked idea. The game is trying to be a survival horror game by making ammo scarce, but you can craft ammo and health though! Sure, but you will literally be scrounging bullets and some areas have tons of monsters I got lucky, but usually went down to my last bullet, and aiming carefully is a must. There are 5 different weapons including throwables and traps, but honestly, you just start with your weakest gun and work your way up until you’re spent. There’s no strategy to this and all the weapons feel the same and don’t have any weight to them and there is no cover system. Like any Lovecraftian game, there is a sanity meter and as this drops, you hallucinate wylebeasts and they will attack you unless you take psych meds.
There are some underwater levels in which you walk around in a diving suit and avoid hot air vents and a couple of monsters, but it’s slow-paced and even duller as they are all pretty much the same just with different layouts and an excuse to maybe add filler. You can shoot a harpoon gun to slow the monsters down, but there was no challenge in these 6 or so underwater areas. There’s a single boss fight, and you occasionally attack humans which are easy but usually come in large numbers. Part of the appeal of this game is story choice. Choosing who lives and dies, doesn’t really affect much except what endings you can choose, which are uninteresting and unfulfilling.
There’s literally nothing else to do in the game. I desperately just tried to find all the fast travel points. I don’t understand making this open-world if it’s so boring and uninteresting to explore and feels so lifeless. The same loop of investigating cases, fighting some monsters, fast traveling around to the next case, and listening to the dialog, is so dull and I only kept playing because of my love for the lore. If you don’t care about Lovecraftian mythos then I wouldn’t even bother with this game. I also didn’t bother with any side cases as the main story takes around 12 hours and drained me. I couldn’t spend another minute in this game.
Overall, The Sinking City is another barely passable Lovecraft-inspired game that gets the atmosphere and looks right, but can’t nail any gameplay elements. While none of them are broken or bad they are just boring and could have been greatly expanded upon. The main story doesn’t really go anywhere, there are no interesting characters, the dialogue is drab, and the bullet scrounging gets tiring of the number of monsters that get thrown at you. Not to mention the dull and lifeless open world with literally nothing to do in it. If you truly love Lovecraft stories you might find some enjoyment out of this like I did otherwise it’s a hard pass.