I’m not a big Lovecraft buff, but I’ve always appreciated the tangential games and what little bits of knowledge of Cthulu-inspired lore I’ve picked up along the way. The existential cosmic horror is nightmarish indeed, but few games have really tapped into the feelings and stories presented by the hellscape Lovecraft invented. Frogware’s The Sinking City, thankfully, is one such game. This is our review.
If you’ve ever been a fan of Frogware’s other investigative RPGs (their Sherlock stuff is fantastic), you’ll know what to expect here. The Sinking City is inspired by Lovecraft, but it’s not specifically based on any of his stories, from what I understand. Set in a fictional city of Oakmont, Massachussets in the 1920s, you play detective and WWI veteran Charles Reed as he investigates a murder in the perpetually flodded town, as well as his own nightmares which seem inexcplicably tied to the locale.
As you delve into the town, you find that not everything is what it seems, that people who seem good at first may hide darker secrets, and those you expected to be the villain might have more amicable traits. Sinking City is a game of gray morality, not purely binary good and evil, and it’s hard to argue with that. It makes choices, of which there are many, more interesting and it makes the characters seem more grounded in reality. These are people, not just caricatures of right and wrong. This sort of walking the line was what made the Witcher series so great, and Frogwares captures that same spirit here with equal aplomb.
Gameplay wise, you’ll spend most of your time exploring the city of Oakmont, collecting clues, and using your second sight to piece together crime scenes. There is combat in Sinking City, but it’s nothing to write home about. The game does limit your bullets, going so far as to make them a form of currency in the game world since the people of Oakmont know their value in keeping the monsters at bay. This isn’t an Action Game with RPG Elements, it’s the reverse - a thinking person’s RPG that puts story and detective work first, action second.
There’s a section of the UI that you’ll spend a lot of time in called the “Mind Palace”, a mechanic pulled from the Sherlock games Frogwares is known for. It’s here you’ll piece together bits of each case you’re working, and it leads you down the path towards picking which way you’ll go with the game-impacting choices. It’s like a scene from a crime movie where the detective has a wall of notes and pictures connected with strings, and it works really well even if it’s not too expertly explained to the player at first. The fact that it’s so easy to pick up and use is testament to this fact.
The world of Oakmont is hideously beautiful too, and populated by all kinds of great characters. But, like other Indie RPGs, there’s also a ton of repetition in character models to the point where it can be distracting. Let’s put it this way - you’ll always know who’s a main character because they actually look distinct.
But any big issues I have with the sort of jank Sinking City has is wiped away by a massively enjoyable and troubling story. Great investigations, loads of side quests, and solid character progression make for an RPG that’s worth the price of admission on whatever your chosen platform is. A Switch port is due out this fall, too. Just know that the ending, of which there are multiple, often falls a bit flat or anticlimactic. The game’s many stories are worth seeing through, but after such a good build up, it’s a bit hard to come to a good conclusive ending.
Score: 7.5 / 10
- Very interesting world and characters
- Oakmont is gorgeously gross
- Some great voice acting
- Combat is mediocre at best
- Traveling can be a drag
A code was provided for the purpose of review.