The Sinking City Review: Incredible atmosphere that grips the darkest parts of your mind (Pic: FROGWARES)
Your arrival to Oakmont in the opening scene of The Sinking City is anything but ordinary. Caught in a nightmare of a sunken city and unknowable, sinister, intelligences beckoning you deeper beneath the waves.
Its almost too Lovecraftian, but sets up both the city, and central, dread filled atmosphere perfectly within a couple of minutes.
The city is by far the most interesting character in the game. Its many districts, twisting back alleys, makeshift canals and terraced streets tell a thousand tiny stories, from the divide between the haves and have-nots. Bouys bob idly on the flooded corners to tell you which street this is, strange ships sail past in the unnatural mist, and poorer homes feel damp even through the screen.
What makes Oakmont stand out as one of the most instantly imaginative, and frankly unsettling locations is the post-disaster setting. Half the city is submerged, and it feels like the rest of the city might slip down any minute.
While a typical flatfooted private detective might spend his day pounding the pavements, protagonist Charles Reed is going to have to get his feet wet to cross some of the streets and chase his leads down.
On top of that, there are the occupants of Oakmont. These denizens have taken to the flood with a worrying amount of gusto. While some look typical for the 1920s setting, others seem to have crawled directly up from the bottom of the ocean, some underground crypt or from another world entirely. They wander the streets senselessly, awkwardly clustering in deadends before turning on their heel and walking the other way. At first it feels like poor pathfinding, but it quickly adds to the unwelcoming feeling of Oakmont. While the empty streets might hide monsters, the occupied ones feel no more welcoming as the residents shuffle around like extras in The Truman Show. You are an outsider in this city and the game reminds of you are literally every turn.
This should make for a really interesting narrative as well. A detective from the normal world suddenly washed up on the shores of madness, should make for some interesting character development but frustratingly, Sinking City dances around it. Charles Reed is secretly a supernatural detective, capable of piercing through the veil and seeing the strangeness long before he arrived at Oakmont. This allows him to shrug off a lot of what he sees around him, and accept the impossible with almost frustrating ease.
These powers manifest in useful gameplay mechanics that allow players to piece together abandoned crime scenes, follow otherworldly clues and look past magical illusions that some of Oakmonts more mysterious inhabitants use to hide their secrets. His powers have been highlighted in trailers and previews before now, but I was hoping they would develop in Oakmont, so Reed would struggle more with the surreal nature of the city. His ease at accepting it makes it a little unsatisfying, as well as harder to connect with him as the protagonist.
Playing the detective means investigating crimes scenes, carefully wandering around the environment looking for something to interact with, before chasing whichever lead you come across. Sinking City doesnt hold your hand in this regard, and youll have to use resources like the City Hall, Police Station and Library to track down addresses for your suspects and next potential clue. Its a nice touch that adds a sense of mundanity, and another excuse to explore this otherwise impossible setting. And that hint of normality works well compound the Lovecraftian bizarreness that surrounds the cities and the cases youll be working on.
Unfortunately, Sinking City takes a little too much inspiration from Lovecraft. While the author is celebrated for his troubling mythos, he was also a staunch racist. Most Lovecraftian games sidestep his awful opinions when borrowing from his work, but the Sinking City has a different approach. Innsmouthers, residents of one of Lovecrafts most famous towns, have taken refuge in the city after their home was destroyed, something the residents of Oakmont have issue with.
While it might not be a direct depiction of todays racism, the overt hatred for what is essentially refugees is a little too close to home, especially given your inability in the games dialogue options to combat it. Its something that feels more honest to Lovecraft and his views, but also makes it harder to enjoy the experience. And although it is good to remember the good and the bad that comes with creators, perhaps tying it into the game this way wasnt the best method, as Reed silently condones the views held by some of the Oakmont residents.
But worse things have moved into Oakmont as well. Monsters and beasts crawl up beneath the waves, infecting others and slowly spreading across the city. Reed can dispatch them with a variety of firearms you feel along the way, but be careful, ammo is currency in Oakmont and you dont want to come short should you need to buy supplies, or bride a witness. The combat is simple, and maybe a little floaty. Youll probably find yourself dancing around corners firing potshots or doing laps around random obstacles to keep the beasties back, bRead More – Source