If I had to conjure a list of deeply under-rated games, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments would be high on that list. When a game asks you to play as a detective you usually play their eyes rather than their mind, scurrying around crime scenes for evidence while your character does all the thinking and deductions. Crimes & Punishments had you piece clues together to form deductions, sometimes asking you to decide between two or three possible conclusions which led to multiple endings (and a singular correct answer). When I heard that Frogwares (the very same developers of Crimes & Punishments) were making an investigative title called The Sinking City, with a similar (if not the same) deduction system, but set in a Lovecraftian universe; I couldn’t help but dash to the booth to see it for myself.
The Sinking City is an over-the-shoulder 3rd person open-world Lovecraftian investigative title set in the fictional sinking city Oakmont, partially populated by Innsmouthers. You play as a private detective, in the demo solving a side-mission case called “Bad Decisions” where a woman’s fisherman husband has gone missing. Apparently, though, he has a hut that he dwells in often. She’s got no money but she’s got a ring that can be pawned, “that’ll do” I mutter motioning it over to me as I pick my guns off the desk.
So I stumble downstairs to talk to the landlord. I ask Vic if he knows the fisherman, which he inquires of me “What’s it to you?”. On one hand, confidentiality agreements. On the other, I don’t recall signing anything, just hallucinating being groped by tentacles like a teenager in an anime. So I tell Vic (who I imagine as a dear friend who is probably actually stealing socks from my room without me knowing) “It’s a client.”, and he steers me to the Fish Market.
So off I stumble to the fisherman’s hut, using a boat to cross flooded streets, and inside I smell something metallic. It’s then I find a decapitated corpse and my sanity collapses briefly like a melon in a vice. Spiders begin to crawl out the woodwork, and as I claw back my attachment to reality, I fight off the imaginary spiders with my guns. Deep breath, right, back to the case. I spot four figments of what happened using spooky detective intuition, seeing ghosts, and hearing what they said. After putting them in the right order (and triggering a glitch that genuinely gave me a scare as my detective unleashed the fish-face within), I sussed out something wasn’t right. With a quick photo of the eye on the wall, I went to the library.
I sifted through files, reports, and books, and found that the eye is related to Innsmouth folklore. “Huh, so maybe this is occultism in nature?”. I went to the Fish Market and spoke to the only man willing to give me the time of day, scales crawling up his face and gills flapping on his neck. I asked about the fisherman and got the least convincing “Oh yeah, he’s totally in the basement, just go down there.” I had ever heard. Guns ready, I descend.
In the depths lay a religious monument to Cthulhu, with blood dashed upon the sacrificial stone. Suddenly, from my left appeared both wife and fisherman, safe and sound. After an apology, everything goes black as an Innsmouther knocks me out from behind and mounts me to the altar for sacrifice. Fade to black.
…Unknown to me during the first run, I had missed a piece of information at the fisherman’s hut. If I had gone through his belongings more I would have spotted what looked like a ripped editorial praising Innsmouthers by the fisherman. “Odd,” I mumble as I left for the newspaper office. There I find the full thing and he seemed to really like them, praising them and scowling outsiders.
Back to the Fish Market, when I was told the least convincing “the fisherman is totally in the cellar because he said some nasty things about Innsmouthers”, I called him out to little effect. That’s okay though because at least I’m certain something is off. Back at the altar, after the betrayal but before I could be snuck up on, I’m ready enough to shoot down everyone except the wife. The wife, well, perhaps the police department could do with a chat about why you don’t set someone up to be murdered.
You may be able to tell that I actually dig it a lot. Sure the deduction system hasn’t been implemented yet, and the best I know about the skill system is that it exists and is still being designed, but everything else on board is definitely on the right track. There is some expected roughness and a good few glitches, but for a game that I thought was still very early in development, The Sinking City was in a remarkable state.
I was surprised my detective was gullible enough to fall for the Fish Market worker without having a piece of evidence to flat out tell him that he was wrong. In addition, without context, the setting feels like normalcy in insanity, as it seemed just another day of shooting hallucinations. The gun mechanics also feel a little raw, holding little tactics beyond “shoot the bad guys”. However, at this stage and within a side-mission case, these are grumbles I can live with.
Generally, I am incredibly excited to see what the coming months/years will do to The Sinking City. It represented one of the major highlights of EGX Rezzed for me, ticking a lot of personal preference boxes. This is especially in the face of the few Lovecraftian titles out there that really let you get stuck into investigation and deducing things yourself, rather than just sneaking around or slaying horrors. I truly think people should keep an eye out on The Sinking City if they want to stroke their investigative itch or submerge themselves into Lovecraft.
The Sinking City will be coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC, with no release date announced.