I’m all for giving games a second chance and with the advent of modern gaming, developers have allowed themselves the opportunity to gain that second chance by enhancing their games, utilising new improved generational tech to go back and examine those which released on older consoles. At the same time they respond to feedback and try to action the things that could only have been imagined before, mostly focusing on revamping visuals, gameplay, and of course loading times.
When The Sinking City was first released in 2019, the game was applauded for its detective storytelling and narrative roots that took us through the Lovecraft universe. But it suffered from some jerky framerates, long loading times in between the open-world sections, and a general lack of smoothness throughout. Now though Frogwares have released the game on Xbox Series X|S, giving us the chance to go back and take things in once again, just this time having the chance to enjoy some improvements.
The Sinking City is a third person action-adventure detective game, made by those who created the excellent Sherlock Holmes series of games over recent years. The action takes place in the 1920s, dropping us into the flooded fictional city of Oakmont in Massachusetts. You play a private detective – Charles W. Reed – who is haunted by terrible visions and horrors of World War One. You’ve arrived fresh off the boat and straight into a murder investigation that leads you into a tale of mystery, the supernatural, and the deep sea…
You won’t find too much that has changed as The Sinking City comes to Xbox Series X, at least in terms of the content of the game. The map of Oakmont is divided into seven districts as you are left with an open world to explore and find your adventures in. The game comes with a main quest line and is then boosted by a mixture of side missions to complete as well. You also get an extra piece of DLC here; one with some extra quests that have been put into this next-gen package. As with any game of this genre, any investigation normally requires you to discover a specific location from the latest clue, and then go out there to examine the world.
Throughout The Sinking City, you’ll find yourself spending time chatting to people which opens up dialogue options and provides hints about where to go next on your investigation. You arrive at an investigative location you will explore, look for clues through objects in the crime scenes and take in the pieces of evidence left on the floor or walls, with secrets discovered by rotating objects and revealing a sweet spot to find the information.
There is also the opportunity to explore the scene through your mind’s eye. Here the world changes to a different reality, whereby you see omens of where to go or hidden clues unseen in the real world. You might see the ghost of the person you are tracking, allowing you to follow their movements to find out where they went. You might see a glimpse of a scene showing past events connecting to an object you find. But you can also follow several past event scenes, gathering up information and snippets of what happened in an incident there. For example, at one point you will take in four scenes of a fight breaking out in a fisherman’s house, and it’s up to you to try and put the sequence of events together in a linear order.
Each clue that you gather moves into your casebook or mindscape, leaving you to match these clues up with each other in order to stumble upon the desired result and outcome of the investigation. This side of The Sinking City is brilliant, borrowing well from the Sherlock Holmes games. For me, I will never get bored of going through these inquiries.
However, in terms of combat and things are different. This is a strange one because the game urges you to run away from conflict rather than to fight to the death. Yes, you can melee attack and you have access to several weapons – different revolvers, shotguns or machine guns – but you will need to plan your attacks carefully because it is – as the game warns – very tricky indeed. Ammo is scarce, and bullets are even used as currency, so you have to be careful and considerate with each shot.
The new power that Xbox Series X brings has improved The Sinking City tenfold since last time out. You see, the combat initially felt clunky and misfired, but now with the new 60 frames per second framerate, it works much better and feels more free-flowing. It’s not the main focus of the game, and I still try to avoid conflict rather than engage, but when it happens it doesn’t now feel like a drag. In fact, the whole movement of the game feels more interesting now, all while being less glitchy. Even the city feels more alive and fewer residents get stuck in their loops. The biggest change however is in the loading times – these are now super fast and there isn’t any interruption when traversing the open world.
Visually, The Sinking City has improved with this next-gen move too, now with a greater level of graphic detail throughout; from the character models, through to the lighting and the detail in the weather. It’s all presented in 4K (3840×2160) resolution and it looks great, even though some interior locations feel like they are reusing the same assets too many times. It is however a much better and massively improved delight on the eyes all around.
The sound design is still as atmospheric and beautiful as before, able to create an eternal sense of terror with every step. I particularly like the effects it uses as well, differentiating between the two worlds of the real and strange. The voice work employed and the performances of the actors are excellent as well, with a commanding delivery and a wide range of voice talent.
It is always strange to replay a game, especially one like The Sinking City; a game that is quite hefty in terms of the hours required. But with this next-gen edition, this is never an issue and it’s been a delight to head back in to the world it delivers – mostly thanks to the new tweaks making it feel like you are playing a new game at times. From the fast loading times to the texture of rain on a coat, The Sinking City now feels wonderful.
If you haven’t played it before then The Sinking City on Xbox Series X|S might just be one to sink yourself into.