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The Sinking City

FBT investigates the curious case of Sherlock’s tentacle

I was really excited to play The Sinking City. A gumshoe explores a Lovecraft-inspired Open World from the developers of the Sherlock Holmes series; Lovecraft meets Conan Doyle in a free-roam action-adventure? Sign me the Steampunk up.

Aww man I knew it was too good to be true. TSC is one of those games that when described, sounds amazing but when you’re in it, feels flat. Also, I’ve never played one of developer's Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes games, but it’s blatantly a reskin. Sherlock vs the Great Old Ones? See, sounds cool, but it’s not.

During WWI, Reed was the only survivor of the USS Cyclops, which mysteriously vanished. After this event, Reed found he had developed paranormal senses and was plagued by strange visions of monstrous creatures. Using his powers to become a PI, Reed began searching for answers, finding himself in a port called Oakmont where a flood has cut off the already isolationist town from the mainland. Others who suffer the same visions are also drawn to the town, and the flood seems supernatural, washing in strange creatures. As the ravaged town deals with the flood, the creatures and its own strange history and politics, Reed must keep his sanity as he searches for answers.

TSC really should be awesome. At first, the town looks incredible. Half submerged, falling apart, you really feel cut-off. The people nearest the port are struggling to cope in the seaweed and stench, battered by the creatures and the loss of their homes. Further inland the population are better off, and a class system emerges. Areas are completely taken over by the creatures, we use little motorboats to get across the flooded streets and everywhere looks dirty, rotting, and dangerous. And that’s before you meet the locals.

The town’s bossman, Throgmorton, becomes our main mission giver as someone also trying to understand what the portentous Flood is about. When you first meet him, politeness stops you from going ‘are you an ape?’ but side missions reveals his dad, an African explorer may well have fooled around with the wildlife. Another group of people resemble fish. I suppose when you have visions and preternatural abilities, talking fish and ape men are no big thing. It’s all great stuff, a weird, surreal place to detective about in. For a bit.

The first problem is the size of it. Oakmont has seven districts, and it can get boring pootling in a boat to cross a street then walking then another boat. There’s no cars or transport, so you spend a lot of time taking in the town, and there’s not a lot to it. A good free-roamer has lots to distract you, be it missions or curiosities, but even a town inspired by Lovecraft feels average and empty, a façade. We have a map, but you will spend most of your time lost.

The locals are suspicious of outsiders so will never give precise details when they do send you on a quest. That feels like the kind of vague clue Sherlock would have gotten, and I guess ‘its over there somewhere’ makes sense, but even people who specifically ask you to check in on someone don’t mark their house on your map, which causes a lot of lost-tourist behaviour as you wander up and down samey streets looking for markings on doors you can interact with.