The Sinking City (Xbox One) Review

By Josh Di Falco 30.06.2019

Review for The Sinking City on Xbox One

The Sinking City is a haunting, third-person, open-world adventure that threads together narratives inspired by the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. Developer Frogwares pays great respect to the source material, while it crafts an original story set in the '20s city of Oakmont. Private Investigator Charles Reed is summoned to investigate the recent flood that has left half the city underwater - as well as the dark and horrifying visions that has been terrifying the residents. P.I Reed is also suffering from the visions - and he begins to uncover the deep, dark secrets in Oakmont in a bid to finally cure himself, and the city, from the beings that lurk in the shadows.

From the moment P.I Reed steps foot onto Oakmont, there is the unsettling sense of nothing being quite as it may seem. Reed represents naivety, as he is thrust into a whole new world of mystics and the paranormal. For those with an affinity to the Lovecraftian world The Sinking City will feel right at home. For those jumping in without any background knowledge of the inspiration material, then, prepare to be exposed to the weird, the wonderful and the downright terrifying.

This is an open-world setting where P.I Reed must investigate various crime scenes and disturbances to find clues and evidence in order to form a hypothesis. Whether trudging along the main questline, or going off-script and taking on the side-missions, there are always locations that need investigating, or a case that needs solving. However, solving these cases is a three-part process. The first part is trying to find various clues to begin forming an idea of what may have happened. This requires simply wandering about the place examining different points of interest, while Reed thinks out loud about the relevance of these things to the case. Once most of the points are found, the second part generally revolves around tapping into Reed's 'Mind's Eye.' This is a phenomenon where Reed temporarily investigates the 'shadow world,' where phantoms or 'omens' act as guides to point him towards a certain point-of-interest that is vital to the investigation.

When Reed has all the key facts, then the third part of the investigation is where he needs to figure out the order-of-events that led to the resulting case. This is called the 'Retrocognition' mode. This plays out using Reed's 'sixth-sense', where he can envision the three or four scenes that played out, before he must place them in sequential order to understand what truly happened. From a pure role-playing perspective, these investigations are a fun and eventful exercise. Along the way, there will be other points of interest that are designed purely to further enrich the universe that Frogwares is trying to create. Sometimes, random events may even unfold when Reed unknowingly stumbles upon something.

Screenshot for The Sinking City on Xbox One

There is combat involved, as the monsters from the stuff of nightmares try to kill P.I Reed. Luckily, he gains an arsenal of weaponry to defend himself as he gets progressively stronger. Early on, the pistol and his melee weapons are his only options - and they are futile against large numbers of enemies. During these early stages, it is a safe bet to just run from battle to avoid getting killed. However, in the latter stages of the game, the new weapons make for some satisfying results. It is rare when Reed gets to dish out a juicy measure of payback, as he will often get killed. The combat sequences are not overly impressive - Reed is a bit slow when strafing enemy attacks, and the sensitivity when aiming at enemies could be set higher. However, in saying that, The Sinking City is an open-world investigative game before it is an open-world shooter, so the extra emphasis is placed on nailing down the detective aspects of the experience.

The most curious and interesting aspect of the detective aspect of this title is that Reed may not necessarily find all the evidence that he needs to make an arrest. Crucial pieces of evidence can be overlooked, therefore leading Reed to decide the outcome based on the facts he has collected - and these could have dire consequences if he gets them wrong. Most cases end with Reed needing to make an irreversible decision at the climax of the case, and it is these moments when everything falls into place.

Another aspect to The Sinking City is the horror elements, and there's plenty of that here. When the protagonist is in the zone and investigating, he is also vulnerable to demons jumping out at him. In addition to his health meter, he also has a 'sanity' bar so to speak. When he makes a haunting discovery or begins to venture deep down the path of the paranormal, his sanity meter slowly drops. The aim is to ensure that the meter never depletes, or he will go insane and its game over.

This meter is an interesting aspect to the experience; most often, Reed will be at risk of going insane. There was an alarming moment early in the piece, where upon making a disturbing discovery, the 'voices' in Reed's head made him put his gun to his own head. As his sanity meter depletes, his world and vision become much darker and warped, shadow 'creatures' begin to appear, and Reed begins waving off invisible flies to try and get his head back in the game.

Screenshot for The Sinking City on Xbox One

There are portions in the story where Reed must submerge into the oceans below by wearing an old-fashioned diving suit - yes, the scary-looking ones normally found in horror movies. Unfortunately, these parts of the game are somewhat slow. Reed lumbers his way on the ocean floor, temporarily paralysing sea-monsters and avoiding waterspouts. While the realism of wearing the cumbersome suit is there, it is not overly fun to play in, and these moments can slow down the momentum of the story.

As Reed solves cases, he earns experience points which grants him one knowledge point to use on a series of skill trees to advance his development. Some skill trees grant more ammo for his weapons, while other skill trees focus on improving his vitality and sanity meter. Luckily, all the skill trees can be viewed, so Reed can place skill points in areas that lead to his preferred skill slots.

The open-world nature of The Sinking City also works quite well. It is filled with residents, most who are struggling with the disturbing changes made to their way of life. Houses are left desolate, as the flood brought about a lot of destruction. Entire streets are completely submerged - thankfully Reed has a boat to traverse the dangerous waters, as swimming will see him get eaten by the ravenous fish. While some open-world games feel quite empty due to the large areas and their lack of non-playable characters, The Sinking City provides a city filled with life - from residents crying in the street, to the people fishing in the streets as Reed drives by. Some NPCs even provide side-quests for opportunities to earn some extra loot in the form of bullets and first-aid kits.

Of course, The Sinking City does provide some unintentional amusement with the various graphical bugs that befall the residents. NPCs will occasionally fall through the floors, appear out of thin air on the street, or two NPCs will occupy the exact same spot, thus the game would render both characters spliced together... in case this world wasn't horrifying already. Unfortunately, these moments are many. However, they only disrupt the immersion aspect of the world. Otherwise, they do not break the game, and mechanically, The Sinking City is sound.

Screenshot for The Sinking City on Xbox One

Plus, there are street names. For every case, Reed will encounter addresses of suspects, victims and the like - and he must make his way to the address. Unlike some other open-world experiences where quest-markers will pinpoint the destinations, in The Sinking City, Reed must pinpoint his own markers on the map by using the addresses he finds. Let's say that during an investigation, he stumbles upon a name left behind on a piece of paper. Reed can then make his way to City Hall, where they house all the citizens records, and he can find the last-known address of the person named. Reed can then place a marker on his map in the street that City Hall listed - before venturing out there to investigate further.

...Or if Reed discovers that the suspect of a crime was injured during his escape and required medical treatment, Reed can then find out more information about the suspect at the Oakmont Hospital. Or if there are a string of similar-crimes, Reed can go to the Police Station to find out if they had made any prior arrests to suspects who may fit the bill of these new crimes. The University Library also holds valuable resources that Reed can use to learn more about buildings, or religious groups among other things.

The archives play a huge part in Reed being able to solve crimes. These are his external tools that provide him with the information he needs, if he asks the right questions. If Reed is working a case, and he hits a seemingly dead end with no further leads, his best bet is to visit these archival places to gauge any further information about the suspects, victims or related crimes. Working these archives is as simple as selecting a piece of evidence or clue that Reed has already found and wishes to learn more about, and then selecting three specifications to get a result. Sure, these sections may not feel detective-like, but it is a satisfying feeling when the archives spit back a result that allows Reed to progress his investigation. Inputting the wrong specifications will garner a negative result, but there is no harm in trying multiple options to see what works. Generally, the pieces of evidence found gives Reed some clues as to which specifications he should select in the archives, but it can be difficult to pinpoint one of the specifications. Sometimes clues can be so vague that Reed ends up spending a couple of extra minutes to trial various combinations to see what the game is after.

One other thing worth noting is that The Sinking City features a few loading screens. Using the fast-travel points to travel between parts of the city will feature a load screen, and it's not uncommon to have a three or four second delay before entering the building for the new location to render. This coupled with the vast number of graphical glitches, inventory and map bugs as well as texture-flickering, can break the immersion that the world is trying to convey. However, these things can always be fixed with future updates, so don't let these get in the way of an otherwise great experience.

Screenshot for The Sinking City on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

For fans of Lovecraftian horror, The Sinking City is filled with... fishy details and lore that is used to enrich the world that Frogwares has created. Private Investigator Charles Reed must voyage through the deepest and most disturbing parts of his mind, as well as Oakmont itself, to find a way to rid the town residents of their visions. Doing what he does best, Reed must investigate and solve crimes while battling the horrors that jump out from the dark. While it lacks a bit of polish, The Sinking City is an otherwise weird and mind-bending journey, bundled with all the ingredients for a great experience.

Developer

Frogwares

Publisher

Big Ben

Genre

Horror

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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