A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
The story, seemingly about a town suffering an invasion of monstrous creatures, serves as allegory for a variety of social subjects -- e.g., people with vaguely fishlike, apelike features act as proxies for examination of racial prejudice, and roles of master and servant characters function as commentary on classism and aristocracy.
Positive Role Models
The navy diver-turned-private eye at the heart of the story exhibits a healthy mix of courage, fear, confidence, self-doubt, pragmatism, cultural sensitivity, problem-solving skills. Players can make key choices for him in certain situations, such as whether or not to turn in or let go a suspect with no memory of the crime he's committed.
Ease of Play
Multiple difficulty levels allow players to tailor the experience to their abilities. The easiest combat setting makes battles fairly easy, and the easiest detective setting provides lots of visual cues and markers for players to follow to help them complete investigations, though it's still possible to get stuck if the player doesn't read clues carefully.
Violence & Scariness
Players use pistols, a rifle, a shotgun to attack and kill strange-looking monsters and aggressive human characters. Injured and dead characters bleed, creating puddles on the floor. Some environments contain horrific scenes, including hanged and dissected human corpses, bodies carved up to be prepared as food, tubs filled with body parts.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Spoken dialogue contains suggestive material, including women on the street who shrewdly ask whether they can do any favors for the private eye as he passes by, and a man asking an unseen woman to disrobe.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Liquor bottles line the walls of several locations, including bars, restaurants, and homes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Sinking City is a horror game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. The game is set in the 1920s and is filled with gory murder scenes, disturbing narrative threads about cults and madness, and terrifying Lovecraftian monsters that have tentacles, bizarre limbs, and incomprehensible heads. Players fight these creatures (and the occasional human) using guns and melee attacks, and encounter scenes of carnage in which people have been hanged, shot, or carved to bloody pieces. But most of the game is spent exploring the city and investigating cases. Players take on the role of a navy diver-turned-private detective who uses a mix of sleuthing abilities and supernatural senses to piece together what happened at murder scenes, track down missing people, and discover the town's darker secrets. The game's fantastical plot also touches on social allegory, delivering commentary on racism and prejudice through fictional characters with physical characteristics that make them stand out. The player has the ability to make certain key decisions that will alter the story, such as whether or not to believe that a suspect was out of his mind when committing a crime, and whether that should affect his responsibility for his actions.
Is It Any Good?
The key to enjoying this atmospheric horror adventure is to set and manage your expectations of your experience in this nightmarish town. The Sinking City was clearly developed by a small and passionate team with a grand vision and limited resources, resulting in a game that can frustrate as much as it entertains. For example, the city of Oakmont is satisfyingly large and stylized, evoking an authentic 1920s vibe infused with eerie tinges of horror and weirdness, but it's not nearly as detailed as the open worlds players have seen in many other games, and many of its inhabitants feel much more like lifeless automatons than real characters. They spout the same lines over and over and heedlessly walk into walls and cars. The action is a similarly mixed bag, with competent but lackluster gun combat, simplistic crafting mechanics, and derivative sleuthing sections that involve finding and organizing clues. These things have been done significantly better in games with bigger budgets that allow for more nuance and complexity.
Where the experience begins to shine, though, is in its storytelling. The writers have created an engaging world full of riddles begging to be solved and mysteries in want of answers. What caused the flood? Where did the creatures come from? Is there any connection between the city's cults? Why do so many people share the same dreams? Is our hero going mad, or is he simply gifted? Even when the game's limited budget shows itself in the story -- characters don't always have a sufficient stock of lines to create smooth and useful conversations -- we're still left with the desire to know more, which should prove enough to keep players who enjoy cryptic Lovecraftian horror stories playing through to the end. The Sinking City is a game that wants to be more than it is, and while the seams show, it's hard to fault it for trying.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.