Stepping into the shoes of Charles (not Charlie) Reed, we dock in Oakmont Massachusetts, a city that cannot be found on any map, home to all manner of Lovecraftian horrors, and our only hope to find an answer to the nightmares that plague our every waking moment – and sleeping moment for that matter.
As a private investigator, Mr Reed finds his particular set of skills come in rather handy in Oakmont, missing people and strange occurrences can be found around almost every corner, and it up to us to unravel the secrets the sinking city is trying very hard to keep hidden. Not all is as it seems with Charles though, as well as being blessed with higher than average deductive reasoning, he can also summon omens and visions of the past using his minds eye, helping uncover clues that would otherwise be lost to us, an invaluable tool in our detective arsenal, but also a curse, spend too much time using your abilities, or expose yourself to the Wylebeasts for too long, and your tentative thread of sanity may snap.
The real heart of Sinking City is its Casebook and Mind Palace, while most games nowadays give you a giant red arrow to follow making sure you know exactly where to go and every given moment, Sinking City gives you hints and tips but ultimately lets you find your own way through the game. You’re given scraps of paper, part of a letter, a half-explained location, or something of the sort, that you then have to actively locate by looking at region and street names on your map. For those who really want to flex their Sherlock Holmes muscles, you can increase the difficulty of the investigations by removing all hints and tips, the game won’t inform you once you’ve collected key evidence, and it won’t prompt you to visit your Mind Palace – the place you go to piece together all of your clues culminating in deductions that help you solve your current case.
While Charles’ otherworldly talents give you a leg up when it comes to sleuthing, sometimes you can’t beat good old-fashioned research. Archives can be found across the city at various locations, you can look up patients in the hospital, crimes at the police station and past articles at the Oakmont Chronicle – this is not an exhaustive list and it’ll be up to you to decide just where you need to dig to hit investigative gold.
Throughout the city, Wylebeasts will group up in ‘infested areas’, you can either spend time and valuable resources trying to take them out for the XP they provide, or, you can do as I did and just run through them, the vast majority of the creatures are too slow and stupid to do any real damage and the payoff didn’t feel worth it for the amount of resources I needed to invest – ammo and healing items are scarce no matter which difficulty level you decide to play it on and I’d recommend not to waste them.
It’s wise not to look too closely past the surface of Sinking City, the story is interesting enough to keep you hooked, but the characters are somewhat two dimensional (Sorry Charles), and there were times when I thought I would lose my mind waiting for the next scene to load – unfortunately the loading was not only lengthy but it was also at times, very abrupt, completely shattering the emersion the game works so hard to create.
Choices are ripe throughout Sinking City, and some decisions will – quite literally – come back to haunt you, although the several endings of the game seem unaffected by the choices you have previously made, making the deaths and chaos you have wrought feel somewhat hollow.
Sinking City will not hold your hand as you wade into its murky depths, it instead sits back and watches as you submerge yourself fully, waiting to see if you manage to sink, or swim. If you can manage to keep your head above water, there is fun to be had beneath the murky waves of Oakmont, just don’t tread water for too long, there are creatures that lurk below the surface, and they’re waiting.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*