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The Sinking City
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What 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.
What's it about?
THE SINKING CITY is set in a small American coastal city that has experienced a bizarre flood and is now cut off from the rest of the world, creating an isolated community in which money no longer has meaning and strange, nightmarish creatures roam abandoned streets and buildings. Players take on the role of a private detective who has arrived in the city by boat, looking for answers to the strange visions that haunt him and which he worries are proof of madness. He quickly makes himself of use to the locals, including a wealthy family and the local hospital, solving mysteries by combining his sleuthing skills -- he's brilliantly observant and an ace at honing in on relevant information in stacks of files -- with newfound paranormal abilities that allow him to see visions from the past and put together chronologies of events based on limited evidence. His history as a navy diver also comes in handy, as he journeys to the seafloor to unravel what happened to a research team and finds clues as to what may have caused the city's mysterious and enduring flood. Players are free to explore the city as they like, pinning locations of interest on a map by studying clues in notes, using boats to navigate flooded avenues, and defending themselves from both monsters and men via a modest arsenal of guns and limited ammunition, which can be crafted from scavenged resources.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. Is the impact of the violence in The Sinking City affected by the fact that you're fighting monsters most of the time instead of people? Is the impact intensified because you frequently see scenes of blood and gore? Would the impact be changed if you were mainly facing off against people instead of creatures?
Why do the genres of horror and science fiction serve as such effective mediums to communicate important messages about our world? Is there something about these genres that sums up these messages easier than commentary about the world's problems?
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Bigben Interactive
- Release date: June 25, 2019
- Genre: Survival Horror
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, History, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Ocean Creatures
- ESRB rating: M for Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.