For me, the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft—filled with fantastical monsters sporting writhing tentacles and gnashing claws and teeth—have always felt something like a fever dream. They’re dark, aching and disquieting constructs. The Sinking City has that Lovecraftian vibe, and versions of the writer’s squirming grotesqueries, at its core.
But is it fantastic?
Sinking City certainly throws all it’s got into delivering a distinctive gaming experience. It presents a world that’s a combination of dripping rot, crumbling mystery and ankle-deep fish chum. You can almost smell the mildewed moulder of the place from your first squelching video game step.
The action takes place in the waterlogged 1920s port town of Oakmont, Massachusetts—a fictional island on the Eastern seaboard that’s trying to recover from recent floods and a series of dank mystical happenings.
Gamers play as a former navy diver turned private eye named Charles Reed who’s been dealing with his own unrelenting, well, fever dreams: He’s been anguished by nightmares of drownings and massive writhing sea creatures. And his inquiries have led him to this soggy locale.
Within the first 10 minutes of play, Reed gets pulled into investigating the murder involving the son of a leading Oakmont citizen named Robert Throgmorton, a half-human, half-ape character. And Reed is thereafter swept into a number of other political and criminal intrigues involving human thugs, cops and fish-faced people called Innsmouthers.
Gameplay-wise, players investigate a long string of gory murder scenes and other crime spots, using a supernatural investigatory ability (featuring ghostly apparitions) to piece together an unsettling story of cults and twisted psychosis. (It should be noted that Sinking City also uses its mad and cultish narrative to deliver a social commentary on prejudice and racism.)
Then you’ll set off to uncover dank sacrificial temples, listen in on lewd character discussions and fight off an ever-growing population of nasty creatures called wylebeasts. You’ll encounter giant spider-like thingies made up of nothing but arms and hands; bubbling, poison-vomiting humanoids; and a variety of other tentacled and ghoulish, pus-dribbling monstrosities.
Players use pistols, machine guns and rifles to combat these beasty onslaughts. At times, you’ll also blast away at human attackers, and even random folks in the streets if you so desire. But no matter who you’re battling, the resulting firefights produce gouts of goop and bloody splash. A handful of scenes are also littered with human body parts, burned remains of human sacrifice, and the entrails of both men and beasts.
This Lovecraftian horror story obviously seeks to appeal to a certain stripe of horror-loving gamer. But even players who feel drawn in by this game’s fantastically horrific narrative and gameplay simply won’t find much that’s … fantastic. The story is as spiritually dark and squalid as its setting looks. And the gameplay is grindingly repetitive and slow as players wade through occult elements, dismembered body parts and a dribbling mélange of fish guts.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.