The legacy of Howard Phillips Lovecraft looms large over incalculably huge swaths of popular culture. Books, movies, comics, video games, inexplicably cute toys for kids – HP has had a clammy-palmed influence on it all – which is impressive for a bloke who died in 1937. The latest video game to attempt to capture the uneasy horror and sense of dread from Lovecraft’s writing is The Sinking City from developer Frogwares, and while it’s a valiant effort, it also has some serious problems.
The Sinking City takes place in the isolated fishing town of Oakmont, Massachusetts, in the 1920s and is one of the more evocative video game locations in recent memory. You play as Charles Reed, a war veteran turned private investigator who is attempting to find the source of the vivid nightmares that assail him with terrifying regularity. As generic as the player character is, the town skews much more interesting. There are old families, racial tensions with the Innsmouthers, mysteries abound, unexplained murders and madness creeping into everyday life. It’s some classic Lovecraft gear and while the more prolific dialogue is let down by sporadically shonky voice acting, HP enthusiasts will be delighted by the various deep dives (literal and figurative) into the old master’s lore.
All good so far. Unfortunately, where The Sinking City runs into trouble (over and over again) is with the technical aspects of the game. Walking around the city in third person is adequate but combat is an unresponsive mess. The graphics look decent when nothing’s going on, but move that camera even an inch and get ready to see a bonanza of screen tearing, which is to say nothing of the clipping, pop in and slow down that will occur often and enthusiastically. No one of these elements is enough to completely ruin the atmosphere, but when they all start happening together the spell is broken.
It’s a pity too, because there are so solid ideas with the investigation aspects of the game, a Hannibal-esque “mind palace” is a great way to explore the various clues you’ve picked up, but it’s not enough to get past all the irritations that show their ugly little faces all too often.
Ultimately, The Sinking City is a conceptually strong title that suffers far too much at the hands of execution. All the bugs in the world won’t ruin the experience for the truly obsessive Lovecraft fan, but for the rest of us this eldritch horror needed a little more time being developed by The Old Ones.