The Sinking City

The Sinking City Review

A must-play for detective game fans

A.J. Maciejewski

Reviewed by playing a PS4 on

The Sinking City is also available for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch

ESRB Mature rating

There have been tons of games based on Cthulhu Mythos yet few are as noteworthy as The Sinking City so here's my review.

The Sinking City screenshot 1
Good thing there are so many boats conveniently placed wherever you need them

Veteran detective game developer Frogwares who are best known for their fantastic Sherlock Holmes series including the excellent 2016 release The Devil's Daughter are trying their hand at something new: a detective survival horror game that's inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's short novel The Shadow over Innsmouth. You play as private investigator Charles Reed who travels to the flooding Massachusetts city Oakmont in order to figure out why he's seeing ghastly visions. From then on, he gets wrapped up in a complicated plot that involves a noble ape-like man, a race of fish people, a cult, and plenty of unspeakable horrors. Meanwhile, strange monsters are terrorising parts of the city so aside from your detective duties, there's a dash of simple combat that involves both melee weapons and guns.

Progression in The Sinking City relies on your ability to deduct what to do next which is usually (but not always) mostly spelled out for you within your Casebook which is accessible from the pause menu. For example, you may receive a vague location of where to find someone or be told to investigate a particular building. From these hints, you'll end up narrowing down your search, choosing keywords to search for within a particular institution's archives, or finding evidence in a certain location. The latter is the most involving as you not only collect clues, you can also use your Mind's Eye ability to observe cutscenes related to objects or reveal false walls as well as your Retrocognition ability which tasks you with placing events in order so you can obtain more information about your current case. After you acquire enough evidence, you'll piece it all together in your Mind Palace in order to actually draw conclusions about the case at hand.

The Sinking City screenshot 2
You have to love game developers' self-referential humour

All of this may sound like a lot but it's implemented in a very intuitive way. However, if you start playing The Sinking City with a video game logic mindset then you'll likely get frustrated as it forces you to use actual deductive reasoning and observation instead. I must say; this is my favourite aspect of The Sinking City as I actually felt like I was in Charles Reed's shoes as opposed to merely guiding a character around through trial and error segments. That being said, there were a few exceptionally irritating parts throughout the adventure such as one Retrocognition sequence that took me forever to piece together as the scenes didn't seem like they had much rhyme or reason to them. Plus, there are some bosses that are unclear how to defeat at first so they require a bit of guesswork.

Another aspect of The Sinking City that's handled incredibly well is the fact that it's set in a massive city which features many infested areas filled with monsters, structures to investigate, and even some underwater portions. Exploring the city is either accomplished on-foot or via handy boats. There are many convenient fast travel points to unlock as well which make traversal much easier. Each area is distinct such as the dark Reed Heights, the disgusting Grimhaven Bay that's covered in dead fish, and the posh yet eerie Oldgrove. Finding your way is somewhat easy due to the pause menu's map and the onscreen compass but it would have been much easier if there was an in-game mini-map because having to constantly pause while navigating complex parts of the city is downright annoying.

The Sinking City screenshot 3
How could anyone resist those big ugly sideburns?

The Sinking City is impressively open in that you can generally explore any part of the city at any time. On top of that, there are tons of decisions to make which actually change the story and side cases to complete for certain NPCs. Because of this, there's a ton of replay value as you can play it through again while making different decisions and taking on more side cases to help flesh out the twisted world. The campaign requires many hours to complete on its own so the fact that there's much more to The Sinking City is excellent.

Finally, The Sinking City unfortunately has many performance issues with the most unforgiving being the load times. Sometimes, you'll encounter a few load screens back-to-back that can take anywhere from 15 seconds to a couple of minutes each. Additionally, there are graphical glitches such as severe pop-in, strange out-of-place frames whenever the camera angle changes in dialogue scenes, and you'll even witness the visuals completely pause then jump ahead quite often. These issues seem ridiculous to me because the graphics aren't even that great. Heck, some characters are downright hideous and Charles Reed's beard is laughably drawn on.

The Sinking City screenshot 4
Charles Reed uses his Retrocognition ability like a pro

When it comes to detective games, The Sinking City features some of the best gameplay that I've ever experienced in the genre. That being said, it could definitely use a lot more fine-tuning to iron out its less desirable qualities.

  • + Well-implemented detective elements that force you to use your grey cells
  • + Huge immersive city to explore
  • + Loads of choices and side missions
  • - Awful load times and major performance issues are regularly annoying
  • - Some exceptionally frustrating parts
  • - Desperately needs a mini-map
7.6 out of 10
Gameplay video for The Sinking City 12:08
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Trivia

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