The first thing that jumps out about The Sinking City is the atmosphere. This new video game, currently in development at Frogwares, is set in the roaring 1920s, but without the Flappers, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse, and anything related to the HBO hit series, Boardwalk Empire. Instead, we have imagery heavily inspired by iconic horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. This means strange visions, tentacled beasts, and townsfolk unaware of their impending doom. You’re at the center of the madness, with every mission you complete unraveling what might be one of the creepiest video game stories we experience this year.
The game takes place in the fictional city of Oakmont, Massachusetts, the kind of place we could see ourselves getting lost within as we delve deeper into the mystery behind its bizarre-looking creatures and strange townsfolk. You play as Charles Reed, a private eye suffering from visions who winds up in this plagued town, which is currently cut off from the mainland and as the title of the game implies, slowly sinking into the ocean. You’re here to find out why you’re going nuts, but hey… while in town dealing with your psychological breakdown, you might as well fix things for a variety of characters. Just don’t expect the developers to hold your hand every step of the way.
This is because Frogwares didn’t set out to build an easy game. They want the player to think critically in order to progress through the missions. As such, you won’t get many in-game prompts designed to hold your hand. Instead, you must analyze different pieces of evidence to form conclusions, and pay attention to directions in order to manually place waypoints on the massive in-game map. After receiving our next objective in the game, for example, we literally had to open the map and locate the intersection of two streets in order to find out where to go; conversely, most video games would automatically drop a waypoint onto a mini-map the second you accept the next mission. Speaking of said mission, we wound up taking a short boat ride, encountered a wall blocking the pathway through, and had to figure out the best way to go around.
Being a detective, you’ll need to speak to a variety of weirdos and then make use of different in-game abilities to piece clues together. At the center of this madness are two distinct types of hybrid creatures. There’s an ape-like race called the Throgmortons, and then the creepy-looking fish people, the Insmouthers, both of which seem to despise each other. So, based on our early conversations with each faction, there was a bit of finger pointing at the opposing group, along with some choices that we had to make based on how much we liked or disliked one race over the other; without giving too much away, we had the choice of protecting a suspected murderer or giving up his location. Our decision was heavily impacted on what we thought of the Throgmortons versus the Insmouthers.
Meanwhile, part of the game tasks you with seeing past events to offer perspective at the strange goings on. This is referred to as Retrocognition, which allows Charles Reed to step through portals and view an event (a murder, for instance) after it took place. There’s also another feature called the Mind Palace, where upon gathering evidence, you’re able to piece things together in order to reveal new details about the plot.
In addition to chatting up ape and fish people, and searching for clues, The Sinking City will throw you into combat scenarios, but it appears that this isn’t the game’s primary focus. The game might be more like Konami’s Silent Hill series, where despite a smaller number of monsters to shoot, encounters are more focused and intense, with one or two critters dealing significant damage if you’re not careful.
Then there’s the city of Oakmont, which is both pretty to absorb and fascinating to explore. Dead sharks with huge bitemarks in their abdomens had us thinking just what the heck went on here, while 1920s inspired buildings (blanketed by darkness in the demo) gave the place a wonderfully sinister vibe.
There’s still some work to be done. We’d like to see tweaks made to the slightly awkward controls, but we have the impression that gamers who invest the time in The Sinking City will enjoy a well-written plot that’ll have them constantly wondering what happens next. With that in mind, The Sinking City will release for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on June 27.