Did I ever tell you the definition of "insanity"?
- engrossing investigation mechanics;
- the story in some of the Cases;
- the game doesn't bluntly tell you what the next step is;
- interesting choices during the investigations, the consequences are revealed later in the game;
- rich equipment and armament;
- "one more case" syndrome;
- despite the poor graphics, the city can look very atmospheric.
- crude audiovisual design, poor animation;
- a real festival of graphics "copy-pasting”;
- somewhat annoying combat sequences;
- almost all Cases utilize the same pattern;
- the main thread based on Lovecraft's prose is rather unimpressive.
It's random manipulation of the field of view and orange spectra of different characters – at least, according to the developers of The Sinking City from Frogwares. The authors of a substantial series of games about Sherlock Holmes opted for the prose of H. P. Lovecraft and seem to have knuckled under to the power of the Great Old Ones. The Sinking City turned out a decent detective adventure – if you can shut your eyes to crude production quality, which is way below today standards.
All the while, I was under the impression that references to Lovecraft served as mere excuse for fighting bizarre creatures, being able to visually rehearse the events from a crime scene, or offering the players some dramatic choices around the end of the story. The fictional city of Oakmont has plenty of "normal" problems – with refugees, racial prejudice, corrupt politicians, or gangsters – which renders the supernatural side of the story rather opaque. Theoretically, it's all closely related, but I found searching for street murderers invariably more exciting than figuring out what those tentacle monuments are doing at the bottom of the sea. The Sinking City is a bit like L.A. Noir seasoned with some Cthulhu (which is the perfect seasoning by any margin). Mildly scary, moderately crazy, but still exciting and interesting.
In the current of crime
The character of a private detective, a veteran of the First World War tormented by nightmares, seems almost a cliché in games based on the prose of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. Charles Reed, a former deep-sea diver from Boston, arrives in Oakmont to solve the mystery of the strange flood and the mysterious hallucinations and nightmares that also harrow him. Unlike Call of Cthulhu published last year, however, where we had to deal with a single mystery, here, we have to solve the problems of the entire city.
The story is based on the "I'll tell you if you sort this thing out for me" principle. One task suddenly branches out into a series of new ones, and the threads that appear along the way often prove more interesting than the original one. This is supplemented by optional side cases commissioned by random strangers, the combined length of which effectively dissolves the entire affair of the cult of the Old Ones somewhere along the way, and most of the exposition ending up being dedicated to the lesser cases that are served in a more compelling form.
THE CTHULHU MYTHOS WITHOUT CTHULHU
The The Sinking City was developed among a small confusion. Initially, Frogwares was supposed to develop a game called Call of Cthulhu, which was ultimately made by Cyanide and Focus Interactive studios. Frogwares, however, continued to work on their game based on the Prose of H. P. Lovecraft – most likely without a license for the Call of Cthulhu franchise, which is why the game never spells out the blasphemous name, and features no quites in the language of the Old Ones. The main deity in The Sinking City is called Cthygonnaar. Instead, we find mentions of the city of Innsmouth, human-fish hybrids, and a lot of easter eggs readily recognizable to the fans of H. P. Lovecraft's output.
Great Old Ones vs urban jungle
The general idea for the city of Oakmont seemingly didn't help in creating a mystical, disturbing atmosphere straight from the works of Lovecraft. This is no longer the small town of Innsmouth from Dark Corners of the Earth, where everyone was suspicious of the protagonist, nor the Darkwater isle from Call of Cthulhu. Oakmont is a metropolis that used to have trams, the streets of which are piled with dilapidated vehicles. The atmosphere is eery, but all the unsettling stuff is nullified with usual, mundane stuff.
People suffer hallucinations, horrendous abominations come out of the ground and prey on passers-by, sperm whales rot around buildings, someone's getting battered in a back alley. Yet, among all this, we see some character fishing carelessly, a newspaper man shouting the latest news, and bars full of people bending the elbow. In the city, instead of horror and mystery, we witness the power struggle of local, influential families, smugglers doing their thing, Ku Klux Klan haunting racial minorities, and fish-faced refugees of Innsmouth. The feeling of growing madness or impending death is nowhere to be found; there's only the constant argument between the supernatural occurrences and every-day crime, with the latter usually taking the cake.
The gamedev from Ukraine is usually associated with the S. T. A. L. K. E. R. and Metro series, and not everyone knows that Frogwares is also based in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The company, which today employs about 80 people, was founded in 2000 and has been mainly engaged in a series of games about Sherlock Holmes, which sold a total of seven million copies. The Sinking City is by far the most ambitious and the most sizable project of the studio.