Upon its initial release, The Sinking City from developer Frogwares found a solid following thanks to its deep coverage of the Cthulhu Mythos and intriguing investigative gameplay. However, before too long the game became embroiled in a fierce legal dispute that saw the game delisted from online stores, with Frogwares currently asking fans not to buy the game on Steam. Now, The Sinking City has also been released for the PS5.
The Sinking City sees the player take on the role of Charles Reed, a 1920s private investigator from Boston who is sent to the city of Oakmont, Massachusetts to look into the strange events and awful visions of its inhabitants. Taking cues from the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft (but thankfully removing the virulent racism of his work), The Sinking City is intrinsically tied to cosmic horror, powerful gods, and body transmogrification.
Those expecting a major overhaul of the original game are going to be left in the cold with the PS5 release, as The Sinking City‘s wider issues remain in place. The game is clunky a lot of the time, with its thin world, hollow characters, and less than fully-formed ideas still prevalent two years on from the initial release. Its combat still remains awkward, in particular down to its bizarre AI that could see human NPCs taking umbrage to the player fighting the terrifying beasts of Oakmont and teaming up with the monsters.
Nonetheless, there’s some real brilliance here. The Sinking City‘s plot may not be a refreshing take on Lovecraft’s work, but it successfully manages to blend a variety of tales together into a Castle Rock-esque smorgasbord. It certainly manages to capture a powerful atmosphere, too, from Oakmont’s flooded streets and oceanic growths through to the politics between the groups of Oakmont, Innsmouth, and the recent newcomers to the city. Fans of Lovecraft will no doubt find The Sinking City to be a cosy place to visit.
Although the combat isn’t strong, the actual detective work is enjoyable in a way that very few games have been able to capture. The Sinking City throws out the traditional open world trappings of easy to follow map markers, instead forcing the player to use their own intuition and in-game archives to find locations and solve mysteries. It works extremely well, using Reed’s preternatural abilities to see past events in a method that would later be used in games like Twin Mirror.
The horror elements of The Sinking City are also handled well, both in terms of its larger, all-seeing entities and the granular level wylebeasts that are the main enemies of the game. The wylebeasts are gross to look at, from skittering little rat-like creatures to hulking, tentacle-covered monstrosities. Combat might be a chore, but at least the enemies are suitably disgusting.
Although the PS5 version isn’t a reinvention of the game’s 2019 release, there are some improvements to the overall experience. Most noticeably the load times are dramatically reduced, which will be a relief for those who faced the brutally slow fast travel of the launch version, while DualSense support does add a bit of nuance in terms of controller feel. Even so, it would be nice to have a better boost in terms of graphical quality.
This leaves the PS5 version of the game in a similar place to its original release. The Sinking City is one of those flawed but sometimes brilliant games that has a huge amount of ambition. It might not reach the heights of other recent cult classics like Greedfall or Vampyr, but its blend of cosmic horror and detective pulp is infectious.
The Sinking City is out now for PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS5 download code for the purposes of this review.