The Sinking City as a game is equal parts noir mystery and alt-historical horror story. While playing through Frogwares Studio’s E3 demo, we got to solve a creepy missing person’s case, and see the game’s dark interpretation of an East Coast city. A little under a year still remains until the game’s release, but the content we’re seeing right now is pretty compelling.
“Lovecraft” is right in The Sinking City’s tagline, and they’re not kidding. Briefly running around the city showed off otherworldly monsters and hybrid monster-people, and still other people who have been “augmented.” True to its title, the city you play in is partially submerged in sea water, and filled with strange sea creatures in the ‘channels’ that were once streets.
While combat is part of gameplay, developers emphasized that it was secondary to the main mechanic: an expansive open investigation system. In The Sinking City you’ll play as private investigator Charles Reed, whose amnesia and penchant for tortured visions lead him on a mission for truth. As you play, the game keeps record of your jobs and evidence in a casebook, like most games with a ‘journal’-type addition, but this one won’t tell you what to do. There are no directions given or optimal routes specified by the game; players are meant to freely explore and make their own decisions on where to go and what to investigate next. You’ll never see a note on the corner of your screen saying “go to X location now,” you’ll just have a pile of evidence to comb and extrapolate places you could take the investigation from there. Self-reliance is big in The Sinking City—the game wants players to figure out what to do, and rewards them accordingly.
For instance, the missing person’s case in The Sinking City’s demo led to a deserted building in a ramshackle part of town. There were a couple of grotesque monsters infesting the house, and once they were dealt with, several pieces of evidence could be collected. This involved searching out and collecting papers, snapping photos of important-looking details with the camera that Charles is equipped with, and puzzling through the visions that he experiences. When Charles gets himself into a stressful or evocative situation, he may begin to lose his sanity and having visions of past events that have occurred. In this house, once the order of events was put together properly, Charles could figure out a few places to visit next.
The Sinking City‘s investigation also had an interesting way of handling optional avenues on inquiry (a couple vague spoilers ahead). Once Charles had collected a certain amount of evidence, I had a choice to go right where his missing person had last been seen, or look into a newspaper report on him before running off. I decided to take my time and check out the newspaper: lo and behold, my care paid off and I was able to avoid a messy trap that had been set for me.
As mentioned, The Sinking City’s setting is meant to look like a city on the East Coast in the 1920s. The city can be explored like an open world, and it’s divided into seven districts by architecture, atmosphere and noticeable differences in residents and social class. Parts of the city can be navigated by foot, but the flooding requires players to captain a small motorboat through other sections. Fast travel has also been implemented, although there’s plenty to explore before you do that.
The Sinking City releases for Windows PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on March 21, 2019.