The Sinking City is an atmospheric but ultimately frustrating Lovecraftian yarn that could have used a bit more time in the oven.
The Sinking City is a third-person, open-world detective adventure from Frogwares that follows in the developer's Sherlock Holmes games' footsteps. It's a richly atmospheric Lovecraftian nightmare that relies heavily on a layered investigative system that requires players to collect evidence, choose correct dialogue choices, and complete side quests in a bid to understand the supernatural mysteries that have enshrouded a city under siege by a series of Eldritch curses, namely a perpetual flood whose tides will not stem.
The town's seven districts are bleak, strewn with trash from the water, bizarre mutant creatures, and terrifying visions meant to make Reed question his sanity. Visually, The Sinking City is impressive as it communicates the bizarre nature of the Lovecraftian influence on the town. You must travel throughout arts like Oldgrove, Reed Heights, Coverside, and The Shells by boat, since most of the streets are flooded. While Reed can swim, it's not suggested – spending too much time in the water can result in a severe loss of sanity and health points.
Instead, players will complete their investigative work mostly on what dry land is left and while traveling to each area as is appropriate. The branching dialogue system will lead Reed throughout a wide breadth of missions as well as the occasional side quests that are required to complete for any sort of definitive answers on the Flood that's been mysteriously plaguing the town's citizens.
But it's not as easy as simply walking around and collecting evidence and clues to assemble in Reed's "Mind Palace," which allows Reed to gather his thoughts in an organized method players can use to investigate further – though this is ultimately how simple it can be to piece together fragments of the mystery, disappointingly enough.
As Reed is exploring, he'll come across a variety of unsettling beasts waiting out in the town, just waiting to pounce. If Reed's vision lingers too long on them, insanity effects akin to that of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem will begin to kick in. The game quickly becomes a sight more terrifying when dealing with the multiple ways it wants to mess with Reed, either with images of enemies making their way over to him or even showing him a vision of his death. It's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.
As such, Reed will have to dispatch these enemies as quickly as possible, which is more of a frustrating undertaking than it really should be. Combat moves at a glacial pace, and it never quite feels as though bullets are connecting with their intended targets. Enemies are all over the place, and they can launch offensives in an annoyingly fast manner. This makes it particularly irritating to have to wade through, and even though they offer additional supplies and items that are useful, having to deal with combat to pick up these goodies doesn't feel worth it.
Using Reed's supernatural powers in an attempt to solve cases doesn't always work fantastically, either. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to spot the prompts necessary to fully investigate an area. Beyond this, in some of these areas, the Switch closed immediately with an error, which a system restart resolved, but it wasn't stable by any means in some of these areas. Some characters ended up with looping dialogue, and animations seemed off. This happened far too routinely to be written off as unimportant, unfortunately.
Luckily, Reed has an intriguing backstory, and the environments are genuinely intriguing to explore. The Eldritch nightmares seen throughout the game are worth experiencing, and the mysteries are truly interesting to get to the bottom of. Unfortunately, the gameplay loop just isn't that satisfying. Coupled with being riddled with bugs here and there, unsatisfying combat, and detective work that's simpler than it really should be, The Sinking City reveals itself as a lackluster Lovecraftian tribute that's all wet. Perhaps future iterations could polish it further.
The Sinking City is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC now. A digital Nintendo Switch code was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.