Review – The Sinking City (Switch)

I hadn’t played The Sinking City prior to tackling the Switch version, but I sure did hear a lot from it, mainly from our WTMG staff. Our own Jason Palazini, our go-to Lovecraft encyclopedia, reviewed the PC version not long ago and had some mixed feelings about the end product. The game was riddled with issues on the PC and console builds, so I had no idea what to expect from the Switch port, considering the much more limited hardware the developers would have to develop the game for. And you know what? After playing it for way more than I could have ever imagined, I liked it. It has issues, lots of them, but I liked it nonetheless.

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I mean, SyFy still hasn’t done a Sharknado movie with Cthulhu. That’s some untapped potential.

I’m not going to dive in too deep regarding The Sinking City‘s story for two reasons: one, the game is heavily story-based, and two, we’ve talked about it on our previous review. All I can say is that it is not based on one particular book written by H.P. Lovecraft. Instead, it’s more of a love letter to everybody’s favorite racist by mixing creatures, events, and locations from various books into one better-than-expected plot. It’s also not exactly scary. Even though it has the staple sanity meter present in other Lovecraft-inspired games like Eternal Darkness and Call of Cthulhu, most of the game felt more like Gangs of New York with eldritch monsters than a proper horror story. Then again, considering that the story is well-written, I didn’t mind that too much. It caught me off-guard in a positive way.

What I was worried about was how well the game would run on the Switch’s hardware. I know we’re currently seeing a streak of surprisingly well-developed ports, such as the Switch versions of Mortal Kombat 11 and Bulletstorm, but The Sinking City was notoriously janky when it first came out on much more powerful systems. I had no idea what to expect from that game running on a tablet hardware. Results were… kinda positive, I guess?

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Don’t fool yourself, he’s also a racist.

By no means I’m saying that this is a beautiful game or that its framerate is absolutely stable. The Sinking City is quite ugly, with underwhelming textures and a less than stellar resolution, but it runs somewhat smoothly, despite never even trying to aim for more than 30 frames per second. The lighting effects, especially the one coming from your flashlight, are also somewhat impressive. I was expecting for something in the veins of Don’t Knock Twice, but this game proved to have some neat post-production effects here and there. Even with the constant rain effects onscreen, The Sinking City‘s framerate didn’t drop that severely. That’s the best thing I can say about it, not hindering the game from being playable.

I also wasn’t expecting for the sound department to be so… decent. It’s not that the soundtrack is good, the contrary actually, but I was impressed with the voicework. It’s definitely not amateurish, as the vast majority of people who were cast to perform in The Sinking City did a really good job, especially the voice actor portraying the protagonist Charles Reed. With that being said, I also have a gripe regarding the voice acting. A very big gripe. I hate the fact that everyone says the word Innsmouth as “Inns-Mouth” and not the correct “Inns-Mooth”. I know Jason has already mentioned that on his own Sinking City review, but I had to rant about that as well, because it drove me to near-Lovecraftian amounts of insanity.

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Now try saying this three times in a row.

When it comes to the gameplay, The Sinking City is a mixed bag. Half of it is fantastic, absolutely brilliant. The other half is awful and unnecessary.

As an investigative game, The Sinking City is challenging and very entertaining. Something to be expected coming from the developers who spent more than a decade making Sherlock Holmes games. Between the complete lack of hand-holding, the fact you need to actually research for clues and addresses on public archives, and the little deduction minigame disguised as your mind palace, there’s a lot to like in here. I also loved that there was no minimap or guidance, with the game forcing you to figure out where you have to go by reading clues and pinpoint locations on the map by yourself. It didn’t feel annoying at all, it actually felt refreshing, as if the developers knew that I was smart enough to figure stuff on my own.

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I guess this game will sell well among a certain demographic in Japan.

Then there’s the combat. You’ve read about it before, and yes, it’s still as bad as ever. The forced third-person shooting mechanics are janky and unnecessary, as not only is the aiming bad, but the enemies require an excessive amount of bullets before being killed. Considering that ammo is finite and you can’t carry a lot of it with you, it makes the simple act of fighting against a small group of monsters a frustrating experience, as you’ll more than likely get rid of all of your ammo, traps, and bombs in the process. Granted, you can craft more at any time, with the resources being easily obtainable throughout the map, but it’s still a nuisance. The Switch version also includes the option of aiming with the joycons’ motion sensors. All I can say about this is that I turned it off two seconds after I found out it existed.

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The combat mechanics in this game are as unnecessary as the existence of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

Don’t get me wrong, The Sinking City is tremendously flawed, but I still had fun with it. It’s not an easy recommendation, as this is a game that caters to a very niche audience comprised of people who like both horror and mystery titles who own a Switch and who don’t mind a bit on jank in their games. Those who decide to sink their teeth into this bizarre love letter to Lovecraft, however, will actually get some enjoyment out of it, especially considering that the Switch version ended up running much better than I could have ever expected from it.

 

Graphics: 6.0

By no means a beautiful game, plus it features some visual glitches at times, but the fact that the Switch version has a slightly more stable framerate than other console ports is already a huge plus.

Gameplay: 7.0

Whenever the game throws you into an investigative section, it’s absolutely brilliant. There’s no hand-holding whatsoever, so solving mysteries feels rewarding. Whenever the game throws you a combat section, things go downhill.

Sound: 7.5

The voice acting is of a much higher quality than I could have imagined and it helps you to forget about how uninteresting the overall soundtrack is.

Fun Factor: 7.5

The Sinking City features great ideas that are occasionally well-executed and occasionally terribly executed. The detective bits in the game, as well as the overall story, are amazing. The combat is just terrible. All in all, it’s still a fun title and something unique for your Switch library.

Final Verdict: 7.0

The Sinking City is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of The Sinking City was provided by the publisher.

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