Author Topic: The Sinking City [2019 -- Frogwares]  (Read 107 times)

Offline Starfox

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The Sinking City [2019 -- Frogwares]
« on: July 30, 2021, 08:14:47 AM »
Well, that took me a damn long while to finally be able to play The Sinking City. First there was the Epic Games Store exclusivity (I won't enter into another polemic -- most people knowing me also know what I think about EGS policies) as I don't buy from them I had to wait for the release on Steam but then another polemic hit the fan, a copyright and property conflict between the developer Frogwares and their publisher Nacon (formerly Bigben Interactive) and the game was removed from Steam on the demand of Frogwares. Then I had to wait again. This month (July 2021) the game reappeared (about 3 months after it was removed) and since it was on sale I decided to get it before it disappeared again (apparently the dispute is still ongoing so one never knows). It's interesting to note that Frogwares seems to have a knack for getting into lawsuits messes with their publishers... first Focus Interactive and now Bigben/Nacon.

But enough drama and let's talk about the game itself.

The Sinking City follows the adventures of Charles Reed, a former U.S. Navy diver (this has some relevance in the game). WWI veteran, he decided after the war to become a P.I., job in which he proved successful enough thanks to some special -- some might say "out of this world" -- investigative abilities he developed after the ship he served on, the USS Cyclops (and yep, she did exist) disappeared under mysterious circumstances leaving him as the only survivor, albeit without any recollection of what happened. Then came the oppressing nightmares which led him to investigate the recently flooded Oakmont, a curious town with its own tradition, its own parlance and, even more curiously, which is absent from virtually every map.

This is on the docks of Oakmont that our story begins. Will Charles successfully uncover the darkest secrets of Oakmont? Who knows? He might...

So far so good... The Sinking City claims itself based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft which it is or should have been. Before being The Sinking City, the game should have been Call of Cthulhu published by Focus Interactive. Something happened though, Frogwares was out and instead Cyanide was left developing Call Of Cthulhu that I reviewed a few years ago. Meanwhile, Frogwares switched around different things and renamed their game. Still the game was meant to remain a "Lovecraftian" game with what that appellation entails: supernatural elements, psychological horror and a slow descent into madness for the main character and more generally other characters involved and of course... an old one...

Mission accomplished? Yes and no. First and foremost The Sinking City is a very good detective/investigative game which is not really a surprise considering that Frogwares has a lot of experience with their Sherlock Holmes series. Indeed, several investigative gameplay mechanisms are borrowed from those earlier games like the "Mind Place" (Sherlock brain neurons in the other games) where one can assemble the clues from a case to build deductions as to what happened or the "Mind Eye" with which Charles can see things invisible to others which also has its counterpart in the Sherlock games. Another mechanics in which you have to uncover scenes from the past and place them in the correct order to get the full story seems to be borrowed from The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. All in all I very much enjoyed the investigations in this game.

The game atmosphere however is a mix bag. Oakmont is well made and believable for the era during which the story occurs (mid 1920s), that is if you like rain, and storms, and more rain... There's not a lot of sun in Oakmont which I guess goes with the half flooded thematic of the game. There's really a good show of a town that was recently half-ruined by a flash flood even if the interior design is a lot of repetition as it was generated procedurally to reduce the development time (a few interior blueprints slightly altered to make them appear different and spread out across town according to each section -- poor, rich, warehouse etc...). it gets the job done but once you've seen three or four interiors you got the impression to have seen them all.

Another thing about the game is combat. Sadly this aspect of the game is lacking. There are post Flood creatures roaming the town that Charles will have to fight in just about any interior he visits. To be frank the combat is not the worst I've played but it certainly is far to be the best becoming eventually quite annoying and frustrating after a while. The Sinking City is not a game where one can buy and sell stuff. Each weapon available to Charles is provided as a reward for completing some of the cases during the main quest. Side cases themselves only bring ammo (that is the currency of Oakmont post-Flood) and components with which one can craft more ammo or grenades, medkits... etc.

Most side cases (or side quests) are definitely harder than the cases on the main quest with more creatures, harder to take down, especially if you only have your pistol and your shovel for melee combat. Unfortunately the game distribute side-quests haphazardly  (in fact if you don't look for them yourself you won't find most of them aside from the one provided automatically at the beginning of the game). More importantly the game does not provide any means to assert if a particular case is actually too hard for you. Which prompts this advice from most people whom played the game -- and I concur -- "Ignore the side quests/cases at least until you are awarded with the shotgun during the main quest". I know this sounds a weird advice but believe me it will spare you a lot of frustration.

The Sinking City does not hold your hand... at any point. For example, you are not provided with locations conveniently indicated on your map or on your compass. Instead, any location will be provided to you under the form of addresses like "In suchandsuch district, on Oak St, between Blablah St, and Weird Ave." You have to find the location on your map and pin it yourself. After it is pinned, it will appear on your compass. Same goes for practically everything. Even though there are icon indicating what can interacted with, one must be pretty close to have them displayed; no magical arrow pointing you toward the thing you should look at. Charles investigates, Charles draws his own conclusions and if Charles does his job well, he will either solve a case or obtain another location to pursue the next lead. And I'm not criticizing there, I quite loved the idea of going old school for once without the game telling you what to do and when to do it. In fact this particular brand of no hand holding adds to the atmosphere of the game. And it's still much easier than playing Morrowind... at least if you can read a map.

Too bad then that the whole combat routine almost destroys the atmosphere. As I already said combat may become infuriating and frustrating but it's not even the main problem. The problem is that there's so much of it compared to other Lovecraft-based games (like Call Of Cthulhu -- the most recent one -- or Moons of Madness) that you get the feeling after a while to be in a standard horror game in which you shoot stuff just because it's there. Which of course triggers the question: is open world the best setting for this kind of game? Don't get me wrong, I got nothing against open world, I have played and enjoyed a lot of open world games. In this instance however, the open world nature of the game provides a lot of distractions to the detriment of a particular atmosphere I've come to expect from a Lovecraft based game. In that area Call of Cthulhu and Moons of Madness do much better because they are closed games focusing on the story allowing the game to build up the atmosphere unimpeded. 

Not that there aren't some good Lovecraft moments in The Sinking City but they are mostly during in game movies and few and far between. The rest of the time what you get is a good detective game with annoying combat mechanics and monsters to waste your precious bullets and/or trench spade on. At no particular moment do you have the impression that Charles is slowly loosing it and if it weren't for the in game movies depicting his nightmares you could easily think that he's a well adjusted guy.

As you can surmise from all the above, I'm of a mix mind regarding The Sinking City. On the one hand I love the investigation aspect of the game on the other hand I quite dislike the combat mechanics. I like the overall setting of the game, the design of the flooded town (except for the repetitive interiors) and the open nature of the game and yet I lament the fact there are so few "Lovecraft" moments in the game, despite the graphical references here and there.

Would I recommend the game to people in search of a Lovecraft atmosphere? Possibly not. Better to turn to Moons of Madness or Call of Cthulhu. Would I recommend the game just as an open world investigative game... Possibly, if it were not for the combat mechanics which is really not the shining aspect of The Sinking City. In the end the only reason why I decided for a is because you don't spend 90% of your time fighting in this game (it's more like between 20-30%) which reduces the annoyance due to combat and because I eventually decided to rate the game as it's own kind of game and not as a Lovecraft based effort.

What is fascinating to me is that from similar premises, Cyanide and Frogwares managed to obtain two vastly different worlds and look and feel. There are common points that show that at some point the two projects where linked though. Charles Reed and Edward Pierce are both WWI veterans turned P.I., both are from Boston, both suffer intense nightmares, both possess some almost supernatural deductive abilities and both end up investigating a queer little town in Massachusetts almost completely ignored by maps but full of strangeness. The resemblance though stops there.

Of course, what I personally expect from a Lovecraft-based game may vary from what other people may expect so... feel free to try. And if one doesn't expect anything The sinking City is a good detective game if one can get over its combat mechanics (and especially ammo management).


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

Offline Silver Sorrow

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Re: The Sinking City [2019 -- Frogwares]
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2021, 08:59:26 PM »
I'm seeing a lot of negative reviews on Steam, mostly due to DLC being removed and players' earlier saved games being rendered unplayable.

Otherwise, sounds like an interesting game. (Reminds me: I should finish Call of Cthulhu someday. "Last Played: Oct 14, 2019"..."Play Time: 2.1 hours"...why do I never finish anything? Why? Why?)
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Offline Starfox

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Re: The Sinking City [2019 -- Frogwares]
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2021, 06:01:38 PM »
Yeah, there's a problem for people who bought the game when it was first release on Steam, before it was brought down for the copyright issue. When the game reappeared it was without the DLC. Unfortunately The Sinking City is not Skyrim telling you (you don't have this and that; some elements may be missing and a lot of other awful things may happen) and then proceeding to load the savegame anyway.

Although I don't get why people who bought the game "with" the DLC are now left "without". I think that Frogwares should get their act straight because all the bad publicity is hurting themselves not the publisher whom anyway has other studios to deal with. What I can tell you is that The Sinking City on Steam is definitely a different version from the one on other platforms (namely Epic Games Store as I think this is still the only platform "officially" distributing the game). Thing is we don't know who allowed the game to come back on Steam and under what conditions. As the lawsuit is apparently still a work in progress, things may change.

Still, Frogwares has some history. First they engaged a lawsuit a couple of years ago against their previous publisher Focus Interactive because of their Sherlock Holmes series. Back then I was rather on their side, the arguments they put forth were convincing. But now, they launch a second lawsuit against a completely different publisher with arguments that are murky at best. That left me wondering what is the problem exactly... the publishers or them? Generally I'm not on the publishers side when things like that happen. I tend to rather be on the side of the developers. But there... I really don't know.


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

 

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