The Sinking City review | Intriguing world, shallow problem-solving

Not much has changed, but they live underwater…


The Sinking City sees Ukrainian developer Frogwares back in its detective game lab, having already proved its detective game chops with the cult classic Sherlock Holmes series. This time the studio hopes to find mainstream success by bringing the art of deduction to the dank and inky world of H.P. Lovecraft. Private Investigator Charles W. Reed is the unfortunate soul tasked to solve the mystery surrounding the eponymous open-world city of Oakmont, and luckily, he boasts a swathe of special skills to help him do so.

Initially, the sheer number of investigative options available to help you crack each case seems daunting. You can speak to witnesses and pick up key objects spread across a crime scene, sure, but how The Sinking City sets itself apart from its genre peers is through unique supernatural abilities like Retrocognition, Omen-Following and Mind’s Eye. The first lets you step Reed into moments of the past, piecing them together sequentially to paint a better picture of what happened; following the spectre-like Omens, meanwhile,guides you to other areas involved in a case; and Mind’s Eye sees you glimpse into the history of important items.

All will warp and twist the screen in different ways, constantly reminding you that this is a city suffering from the otherworldly. The powers feel open-ended to use at first, but novelty quickly wears off when you realise most cases have a singular route to a solution.One mystery, for example,saw me investigating the cause of a local family’s sudden outbreak of madness. It was intriguing at first, yet quickly fell into the same rinse-and-repeat checklist of detective tasks – like combing through the house and waiting for the whistling sound needed to activate Retrocognition – before organising the gathered evidence in Reed’s Mind Palace (a repurposed mechanic from the Sherlock Holmes games).

Thankfully, the actual scenarios of each main and optional side case feel distinctive enough that these actions rarely get stale; it’s just a shame that the actual act of solving them isn’t quite as sprawling as The Sinking City itself. Getting around is a simple mix of on-foot exploration and boat travel – the latter being Reed’s only way of traversing the areas steeped in flood water. You enter new suburbs at a regular pace through the core story and sometimes even venture underneath the adjacent seabed at points, which helps shake things up visually. Funnily enough you feel most like a detective while travelling, largely because of the need to visit the Oakmont Chronicle, Police Station and Hospital’s archive when crime scene clues only get you so far.

The Sinking City doesn’t push the detective genre forward so much as it wraps around you its familiar staples like the tentacles of, yes, a Lovecraftian creature. Its biggest success is making Oakmont feel like a place steeped in secrets and in need of your help, rather than offering up any new mechanic or approach to have you think outside the box. Still, it’s a mystery worth diving into.


Reed is always at the mercy of the sanity meter, which will move up or down depending on how disturbed he becomes while investigating. You see, he’s suffering from faint visions himself, travelling to Oakmont in search of answers. Bashed bodies and Wylebeasts won’t do good for his mental health.


The Sinking City’s engaging world is rich with intriguing characters and mysteries but can’t quite escape from shallow problem-solving.


Genre: Survival Horror
Format: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Price: £49.99
Release date: Out now

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