When I published my first impressions of The Sinking City, I felt that the game was shoddy but still enjoyable. Funny enough, Jim Sterling seems to agree, calling it “the worst game he’s ever liked”. It made me think about the games I’ve enjoyed in the past that most people may not have. I came up with a handful, so maybe that’s an article for another day.
My final thoughts on The Sinking City haven’t changed a ton from what I first surmised. I wouldn’t call it a bad game though. It seems like reviewers are hesitant to call out a game as simply “bad” these days, but I don’t think that’s what I’m doing here. You can determine that for yourself though based on the below.
I first reported that the graphics in the game were a bit outdated. Predictably, nothing I’ve seen since has changed my opinion. The Sinking City would have decent enough visuals in the PS3 era. Obviously that can be a problem in 2019.
What I noticed beyond the bland, wonky character interactions is that interior locations often repeat themselves to a large extent. Many houses have the same exact layout just with different items decorating each room. Eventually, you feel like you’re entering the same houses from earlier in the game only now someone has moved the furniture. That feeling is legitimate and justified. Halfway through the game you can just picture a Frogwares employee staring at a screen while dragging and dropping different couches, lamps, and wall hangings into the different locations sprinkled around the city. It breaks immersion, and the lack of variety feels like a lack of budget and/or development time.
There are obvious mistakes that seem due to a lack of playtesting, but they can be kind of charming much like in some Bethesda games. Character models that exist simply to give life to the city will pop in just as you round a corner or appear out from a wall. Assets like buoys or barrels floating in water will fly around unrealistically if touched by another object.
This all hurts the overall appeal, but sometimes it can be funny. This is apparent in one particular stretch of the flooded part of the city (which you travel through by boat). A fisherman will load in a second too late and a little too far from the dock he’s supposed to be sitting on. He ends up simply dropping into the water, disappearing into the void, every single time. It’s kind of hilarious.
Some bugs will miraculously contribute to the atmosphere instead of detracting from it. They can be just plain weird, and for a second you might think that they’re all part of the design. This happened to me in the newspaper office. A woman who was supposed to be sitting and typing was doing just that, only she was ten feet in the air above her desk. Her nonchalant typing on thin air with the sound of the keys still registering kind of worked for me in an eerie way.
If I had my choice, all of this stuff would be cleaned up of course. I suppose that it could be worse if it was all terribly received and not a little amusing at least.
Lovecrafting a Story
I don’t think I’m as enamored with the plot of The Sinking City as much as I was a few hours in. There’s one stretch that feels pretty generic. It’s still very good though. Again, you should probably be a Lovecraft fan if you want to get much out of it. However, for what it’s worth, this part of the game is legitimately well done. They did their homework here. I’m someone who has read quite a few but not nearly all of Lovecraft’s short stories. Even with that, I find myself needing to brush up on the ones I’ve skipped in the past. That’s the only way I can recognize the inspiration for everything in this game. It’s chock full.
Thankfully, this isn’t the work of a dev or publisher who’s using the Lovecraft mythos as a marketing niche. Whoever wrote this did a fantastic job, and does justice to the literary world that it was built on. It’s worth noting that it sometimes seems like you and a few very specific NPCs are the only ones who have a clue what’s going on. That’s not a knock on the story, however. It’s more so on the development side of things. It’s due to the lack of interaction with the world and not the story itself.
There are far too many citizens you can’t interact with and doors you can’t open. This goes back to when I said that the game is open world even though it doesn’t need to be. The game feels relatively hollow as far as the genre goes, and the story is diminished a bit as a result. It could feel way more epic. The whole ordeal doesn’t seem as dangerous or as critical as it should. With a more robust world, I think the narrative may have won some industry awards. As it stands, it’s still the highlight of the game though, and its saving grace.
So what to do about this game? I’m still playing it…..a lot. It also has a ton of problems. Well, maybe not problems so much as the game is simply outdated in so many areas. It bears a striking resemblance to the Sherlock Holmes games previously developed by FrogWares. The graphics, the menus, everything has been brought over from that franchise, which was never on the technical cutting edge. Even in the last generation, those games felt like $40 titles to me.. The Sinking City feels the same way, but I can understand the full retail price in this case. The open world elements and brand new setting are big endeavors.
I still can’t recommend this game to the vast majority of people though. I predict it will end up on a lot of Hidden Gems lists in a few years, but that doesn’t help anything now. Your money is better spent elsewhere unless you’re a devout fan of Lovecraft. If you are, I think you should get this for sure. It’s a labor of love thematically, even if the rest of it is incredibly ordinary. For everyone else, it’s not really something I’d even begin to suggest without a deep discount.
My final thoughts on The Sinking City are that it’ll hold a very specific person’s attention, but should be avoided otherwise.