by Sean Martin
previewed on PC
A LITTLE SECRET
I’ll let you in on a little secret; I have a soft spot for Lovecraftian games. Just something about the way they depict mystery, the nihilistic incomprehensibility of the universe and, of course, all those giant cosmic squid tentacles… they just take my bacon. So that’s why at Gamescom this year, I made it my special mission to see Frogware’s Lovecraftian detective mystery, The Sinking City. In between appointments I slipped away and navigating through the many halls made it to Frogware’s stand. Unfortunately, another dastardly gamer had beaten me to the punch, so alas I could but observe and ponder. But I shall recount the horrifying things I beheld…
The Sinking City is basically what would happen if you smashed Lovecraft and Noir into a flotsammy bundle of loveliness. You play as a detective in the city of Oakmont (yes, it is sinking) as you explore an open world, by boat or on foot, traversing the 7 city districts, each with its own distinctive backstory and aesthetic. From what I saw of Oakmont itself, it reminded me of Dunwall (of Dishonoured fame), especially the more flooded areas. There are districts that are a mixture of empire and neo-colonial splendour swallowed by the sea. But there are also poorer areas, with a more shanty like visual aesthetic. Each area has its own architecture and some remnants of the city’s various classes still inhabit them.
In Oakmont there are a variety of characters and associated cases which you can undertake for them. These cases can be quite significant, a couple of hours for a single one, and your choices will affect the outcome of each case. There is also a central case which will delve more into the supernatural horror which has gripped Oakmont.
The gameplay mostly consists of a mixture of dialogue, investigatory work and gun-play. You fight supernatural horrors with a variety of 1920s weaponry, and it wouldn’t be a Lovecraftian game without a sanity mechanic, so the longer you fight those supernatural beasties, the more your sanity will become a hindrance. In terms of investigation, you’ll have to chat to victims and crims, L.A Noire style, but the central investigatory mechanic seems to be concentration mode. Think the detective vision from Arkham Asylum and you’ll get a pretty good gauge of it, basically helping you to find clues and unravel mysteries.
The Sinking City is set to drop in 2019 and I would definitely keep an eye on it. The concept of Lovecraft Noir is very delightful and from what I’ve seen of the game so far, it should represent a successful realization of that genre combo. The mixture of shooting, investigation, conversation and just pottering down flooded streets in your boat, like some nightmare gondolier, all create a wonderful looking game. So I’ll ask one more time; do you like Lovecraft? Do you like Noir? Then pull up a stool my friend.