It is not a stretch to say that The Sinking City has been in development for quite a while now, with the developers citing the need to create a polished experience as the reason. Now with the game finally released it is left to see if the time away helped create a memorable game. The story follows a detective called Charles, who started having terrifying visions after a supernatural incident occurred whilst he was in the Navy, which took the life of all his friends. Tormented by these endless visions, he decides to travel to Oakmount, where apparently more people before him have come seeking the same answers. However, Oakmount is a treacherous place particularly unwelcome to outsiders. In order to survive and find answers, Charles will have to rely on his supernatural abilities to solve his most important and enduring case yet.

As you can imagine from the premise above, I was very interested in playing this game from an early stage, especially as it boasted unique detective mechanics with a whole lot of horrifying Cthulhu mythos thrown in. The cherry on the top was easily the early combat they showed with monsters and open-ended exploration that felt ripped straight out of Silent Hill. It sounds great, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel as well made as it sounds, not due to the mechanics but the overall execution and delivery of the gameplay. Whilst the perception, and investigation mechanics are genuinely interesting, putting a unique spin on what was done with their Sherlock games previously, other aspects of the game like combat and general design do fall a bit flat.

To talk about the best stuff first, as I mentioned the detective part of the gameplay is really interesting where you have to examine clues around an environment in order to come up with deductions. These deductions are formed of different pieces of information, and by matching those that seem connected, you make a hypothesis, helping you solve the case and open more dialogue options letting you progress the story. It works really well, and the game does throw you into an investigation right off the bat, so you can learn about these mechanics relatively quick.

The crime scenes have clues that you can find and use to paint a picture of what may have happened. Charles has a supernatural ability which allows him to see details others would miss, working as sorts of a hint system guiding you to clues. Using this, he can also see certain events that have happened around the crime scene, and it’s up to you to mark these in a chronological order, in order to solve the mystery.

One aspect I quite like in regards to the investigation mechanic is how you can pin certain evidence on a map, allowing you to plan your traversal around the city. The city is completely open and it is rather well designed, and genuinely does remind me of Silent Hill, littered with enemies around some areas. It feels menacing and atmospheric and some of the places tell a unique story, however the main issue like with everything else, comes down to polish. There were quite a few bugs I faced with the citizens vanishing or teleporting from one place to another, walking over props they weren’t supposed to and more.

The combat feels like it could have done with a lot more polish as well, and could have benefited from exaggerated particle effects. The particle effects feel underwhelming when you shoot a gun. The impact is definitely there as you can see the enemy stagger at each hit, but it could have done with a lot more visual refinement to make it feel even more responsive. The guns feel like a peashooter at times, and not a powerful firearm. The melee hit feels like it should have some sort of a combo rather than just one hit with a cool down. A lot of the stats needed to be better communicated to the player as well, especially some sort of indicator either visually or UI based that alerted you to the hits you were taking and when you were at the last drop of your health. Whatever is present, doesn’t do it well enough, making deaths feel cheap.

Speaking of enemies, the first enemy you get to face is thrown at you in such an anticlimactic way that I didn’t feel any sort of tension. It just shows up. What really makes the enemies in Silent Hill and Resident Evil scary are how they are introduced. The zombie turning its head in RE, and the Grey Children coming out of the dark corners in Silent Hill still gives me the shivers. I do think it would have been better to have some sort of a cinematic setup for the introduction, getting you ready. Ultimately, It could have been handled more strategically so that their impact felt menacing and memorable. One of the main reasons I can remember the devs quoting for the delays, was to work on the animations for the game, however, the animations still feel stiff with characters lacking in anticipation and facial performance. In his idle state, Charles just looks straight ahead and is unrealistically arched up. There are a few things they could have focused on to really make the animations stand out.

There is no doubt in my mind that Naughty Dog have easily some of the best animators in the business, and the way they make the characters feel alive in my opinion, even in idle state is by focusing on two main things: Making sure each part of the character has exaggerated movement (realism isn’t always better) and that the eyes shoot around realistically as possible. I believe if The Sinking City had looked at these two things for the animations for Charles, it could have really brought him to life. As it is now, he stands like a tense mannequin with eyes that focus nowhere, even in cut-scenes.

I do like the enemy designs, and I won’t be surprised if they are heavily inspired by the creatures of Silent Hill, featureless monsters covered in flesh. In fact, one of the enemy seems to have been heavily inspired by the iconic Silent Hill creature Straightjacket, a bipod figure with jumbled features launching bile projectiles at you. It is a nice nod if that is the case. Overall, I truly do believe that the game of this scale needed a much bigger budget, more time, and tons of more polish. It is an interesting and atmospheric premise that wants to come to life, but the uninspired animations and anticlimactic design strangles its ambitions. Despite all of that, the game still managed to keep me interested and I never felt like giving up. However, some people might not feel it’s worth the price yet.