Friday, May 22, 2020

First Impressions: The Sinking City (NS)

Well, it has happened.  The Sinking City by Frogwares on the Nintendo Switch has gotten its hooks (or tentacles if you will. . . ugh) into me.  I picked up the game back in March (I think, time is a strange concept these days) when it went on sale for 50% off, and because $32.99 was the perfect price-point to spring for the Deluxe Edition, which comes packaged with the Worshippers of the Necronomicon and the currently Nintendo exclusive DLC, Merciful Madness expansions.  I was aware of Frogwares through their Sherlock Holmes games, none of which I have played (although I do have Devils Daughter over on Steam and Crimes and Punishments through Epic Games, and may pick up The Awakened on GOG because you an never have too much Cthulhu Mythos mysteries) so I was not really sure what to expect from a semi-open world delve into a Lovecraftian fashioned story.  I did have my preconceived notions of how the game was going to go, but it was not until I shed those ideas that I started enjoying and better understanding the game.

Before even starting the game, I appreciated the fact that Frogwares acknowledged the challenging aspect of H.P. Lovecraft as a person, writer and the views held by people in America in the early 20th century.  This is not to excuse anyone for having racist and/or anti-Semitic views, both of which crop up in weird fiction stories of the early US 20th century, and I do not feel that this is Frogware's attempt at giving themselves carte blanche to have characters act racist or otherwise in the game, just putting the game into some type of historical context.  And I can say that even 35 hours into the game, I have yet to come across anyone using n***** or other real-world slurs towards or about other characters.  Jumping ahead a little bit, the city of Oakmont this story takes place in is not real or one of Lovecraft's creations, but it does include the town of Innsmouth (in name, but not a visitable location) and the race of semi-aquatic humanoids known as Deep One Hybrids, but referred to in-game as Innsmouthers or the fish people.  I mention this because the Innsmouthers come across as refugees after the events in the story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (so far only hinted at) and are looked down on by the general populace of Oakmont, and the term fish people is used in a derogatory manner and so far is the closest thing I have come across to a racial slur.

Going into the game, I think I was expecting something akin to The Witcher 2 or The Witcher III in terms of open-worldness and having a main quest with ever cropping up side-quests.  Even Skyrim and older Final Fantasy games too now that I think about it.  The way that I would (and still do in the case of The Witcher III, The Elder Scrolls, ) play these games, is once I get the main quest, I will wander around to do a bunch of side quests to level up and improve my gear before tackling the main quest.  In The Sinking City, however, I took my years' worth of video game and RPG knowledge for granted and when I started attempting side quests I had very little idea what I was doing or how all of the mechanics in the game worked.  This lead me to read a recommendation that I should stick to the main quest, at least for a while before venturing off to do side-cases because the game teaches you as you play through the early cases. 

The Sinking City feels partly survival-horror not only because of the subject matter and the influence of cosmic horror, but based on the fact that after finishing the first quest I had two handguns and only five rounds of ammunition, along with one physical health and two psychological health packs.  There was a disclaimer of sorts during one of the loading screens that essentially said that humans are soft and squishy and running might just be the best option.  I figured that out on my own too when I unloaded five bullets (or at least thought that I did) into some multi-legged-armed creature that came scuttling at me in the basement of a building and did not die.  It was not until a few hours later that I learned (by accident) that pressing the R Shoulder Button performs a melee attack with the shovel on your pack; I later used the shovel to kill two of those spindly bastards.  The combat (a la shooting a gun) is not as slick as other third-person shooters like Fortnite or even Resident Evil 4 so it feels kind of clunky which might have been an oversight by Frogwares, but because I tend to be the forgiving sort, see it as a mechanic that I am not going to bemoan.  Charles Reed is not Ash Williams in Army of Darkness.

I just realized how odd this angle is and makes Reed's arm look
like it is way too long for his body.
The starting area did introduce various psychic mechanics that our protagonist Private Investigator Charles Reed experiences which has a harmful effect on your sanity causing hallucinations both visual and auditory.  As your sanity decreases, you need to remove yourself from whatever hellscape you are witnessing, which can be as simple as walking around outside of a building populated by the non-aggressive citizens (mostly) of Oakmont. instead of run.  Your sanity meter does regenerate fairly quickly so sometimes all I have to do is be alone for a minute before things return to mostly normal, or just use a psychoactive health pack and return to mostly normal, which was a necessity once when I removed the lid off of an altar to find it full of mutilated corpses which plunged my vision into darkness right as I was being attacked from Wylebeasts from what felt like every angle. 

By doing the main case from the start, you find out that there is a lot more to conducting investigations than looking into the past or talking to a person and following a quest marker to the next clue or witness to talk to.  Not having played either of the Sherlock Holmes games by Frogwares, I do not know how the system in The Sinking City was either influenced or adapted by the mechanics in those games, but I feel like previous knowledge of the developer's previous games might have been beneficial.  Or not.  Because for me, there was such a big difference between The Witcher 2 and The Witcher III, or even Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII, having played one may not give you an advantage when playing the other.  The point is, it was only after I decided to continue the main quest and follow the path that Robert Throgmorton set me on with a key and general directions to the expedition headquarters and where those clues lead me that I learned how to use the archive mechanic.  Kind of.

And that is something that I am now coming to expect from The Sinking City, that there will be very little handholding as PI Reed explores Oakmont.  There is some direction with how to use various archives, but there was no walkthrough.  There was no walkthrough about crafting your own bullets or heath packs.  There was no walkthrough about what to do if you witness too much horror and you come out of a vision with your gun pointed at your own head. . .

~JWfW/JDub/Cooking Crack/Jaconian



I know that by this point in the game, 35 hours in, that I should have finished the main campaign, even by HowLongToBeat's Completionists standards, but you know me and fast traveling, of which you can do in this game via telephone booths.  But even 35 hours in, I still find clues and tidbits that flesh out this world, the city, and history of Oakmont that I would have completely bypassed had I been fast traveling between locations.

Why Walk When You Can...Boat?


Something else I wanted to mention, was that one night while playing Conklederp said that The Sinking City reminded her a bit of Mansions of Madness, and it really does.  So if you are one for enjoying a mystery involving cultists and cosmic abominations that you would find in Mansions of Madness (in a single-player campaign), there is a chance you might like The Sinking City.

This Is Probably Going To End Up Leading To Something Really Bad.

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