Despite being a fairly small studio, Frogwares has done an incredible job of enhancing The Sinking City for next-gen.
When it first released in 2019, The Sinking City was a decent game. We reviewed it, giving it a 6/10, but praised it for its excellent storytelling and detective work. What we didn’t particularly comment on was how the game looked and performed. On PS5, the game now runs at 60 frames per second with a 4K resolution. I can’t tell you if it’s 100% locked at those, but it feels consistently smooth to play – and looks absolutely beautiful.
Set in the miserable town of Oakmont, “beautiful” is a strange word to describe The Sinking City. Oakmont’s several boroughs are far from picturesque; it’s a city half underwater thanks to flooding that just won’t subside. The areas that aren’t submerged are filthy and run-down; desperate and destitute residents walk the streets begging for help. It’s a grim sight, yet in 4K it’s brilliantly brought to life. Puddles on the floor reflect light beautifully; the detailing on broken and dilapidated buildings is crystal clear. The character models, too, are striking in their realism. Their facial animation might not quite be perfect, but their features – particularly their eyes – are so realistic it catches you off guard.
The power of PS5 also means that The Sinking City has practically no loading times. At most, you’ll have to wait two or three seconds when starting a new chapter or loading a new area. But for the most part, your time with the game is uninterrupted, allowing you to get completely immersed in the dark and twisted Lovecraftian-inspired world.
And get immersed you will. What really stands out about The Sinking City is that it doesn’t hold your hand in any sense of the word. Like a true detective, you’ll need to figure out for yourself how to use the information you’ve collected. Heard that a crime was committed in a particular area and need to track down the perpetrators? You’ll need to work for that information by visiting the police station and searching their records. The authority given to the player here is definitely jarring at first, but once you get used to it, it’s incredibly refreshing. Progressing through a game and figuring out a case has never felt so rewarding.
The lack of hand-holding goes further than that, too. There’s an open world feel to The Sinking City; after a short opening mission, you’re free to move around Oakmont at will. But unlike other open world games, your map won’t be filled with various markers and points of interest. You need to gather and place those yourself. You might be given an address, or vague location that’s of interest, but you’ll need to use your map to seek it out yourself, placing your own markers. There’s a variety of markers available, too. You can link one directly to a mission, and you can also mark your own points of interests, or dead ends, and more. It’s a great feeling to slowly get to know Oakmont, with a map filled with useful information that you’ve gathered all for yourself.
You can focus on The Sinking City‘s main story if you like – a twisting tale that involves murder, sabotage, prejudice and more than a healthy dose of the supernatural – but if you want to go at your own pace, there are plenty of side missions to indulge in. It’s in these side missions that you’ll find the most freedom to explore Oakmont. The buildings you can explore are cleverly marked, and sometimes you might want to go exploring simply to stock up on resources. You see, everything is scarce. You’ll need to craft your own bullets, and for those, you’ll need to find gunpowder and casing. You’re going to want to have bullets in stock when you do come upon an enemy, but having a fully loaded arsenal in The Sinking City is little more than a pipe dream.
That’s perhaps probably the most disappointing thing about The Sinking City: its combat and gun play. You’ll come across the first of the game’s numerous foes fairly early on; a stringy, fleshy creature that seems to be made only of arms appears out of nowhere and will likely frighten the life out of you. You’ll eventually become used to them, as you will with the other, larger foes you find yourself facing off against. But none of them are particularly fun to engage in combat with. Those arm creatures are small and agile, and getting a shot on them without any sort of lock-on function is hard. You’re better off using a melee attack on them; one good whack and they’re down. But in an area where you’ve got multiple enemies, all out to get you, survival becomes difficult. You certainly aren’t a damage sponge; a couple of good hits and you’re out for the count.
The saving grace is that The Sinking City is very generous when it comes to checkpointing. You’ll lose no progress, with your position being reset to the nearest fast travel point. You’ll likely need to heal yourself though and, like bullets, the components needed to make a health kit are scarce.
But even frustrating combat isn’t enough to bog down what’s special about The Sinking City. Few games let you feel as much like an authentic detective as you do here; working through your case notes, piecing together information and tracking down your next lead is wholly satisfying. So too is scouring a pivotal location for clues; you’ll need to use your own eagle eye and your character’s supernatural “Mind’s Eye” in order to pull out key evidence. That player authority is implemented so well here that I hope more mystery/detective games take note. The only downside comes with the choices that The Sinking City has you make. Occasionally, you’ll have to make the call on whether someone is guilty or not. And that might mean, er, “disposing” of the perpetrator, so to speak. It’s your judgement alone, so you might well make the wrong call. These choices seem to have little to no impact over the whole game, which is a shame. You’re only left with your own guilt if you think you’ve made the wrong choice.
The Sinking City was already an intriguing and worthwhile detective-thriller. But its PS5 enhancements have taken it to the next level. It’s a gorgeous-looking game, and roaming the ruined streets of Oakmont at 60FPS has never felt better. The combat is still a let-down, and more repercussions for your choices would be nice to see, but the freedom the game gives you to follow your own leads is second to none. Frogwares should be proud of everything it has achieved here, and it’s got me excited to see what its next game has in store for us.
The Sinking City PS5 Review: GameSpew’s Score