E3 2019: Preview: The Sinking City – Sherlock’s Gone Mental

E3 2019 may be nothing more than a distant memory now, but for me I’m still stuck in the past. I’m still in the process of writing up everything I saw, played and did, but Frogwares’ The Sinking City takes priority right now, only because our review will be going live tomorrow and I don’t want my E3 2019 meeting with the developer to have been for nothing!

I got the chance to sit down and play a good chunk of the game at Big Ben Interactive’s booth earlier this month and I came away really, really impressed. I’m a little jealous I’m not taking the review duties on this one, instead that falls to play-it-all Max Taylor. Probably for the best, anyway, as The Sinking City requires some brains to get going, and I’m really not in the best shape of my life. E3 flu, yo. E3 flu. Or at least that’s what I’m calling it.

I got to the Big Ben E3 booth in good time with three games on my list to play – The Sinking City was the first and I was rather looking forward to taking it for a spin while asking whatever nonsensical questions came to mind.

The Sinking City is another effort from Ukrainian development studio Frogwares. You might have heard of some of their previous work? I know I certainly have. This is the developer behind the Sherlock Holmes games that have graced consoles and PC for the over a decade. I’m a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes games, though Devil’s Daughter stands out as something of a sour note. Crime and Punishments was good enough that I bought it on PS3 and then again on PS4.

The Sinking City is much more than Sherlock Holmes in another one of his disguises, though, and it deserves to stand apart from Frogwares’ previous efforts. For one, it’s a completely open-world affair that can be explored at your leisure. For another, it’s superior on a technical level in just about every way. The famed ‘Eurojank’ that I’ve come to admire is still present, mind you, but it’s a lot more nuanced. The developers have really outdone themselves this time in making a game that feels both compelling to play and decent to look at.

I sat down with one of the game’s developers in front of a large TV. Unfortunately I cannot for the life of me remember this guy’s name. I remember staring at his E3 badge and willing myself to dedicate his name to my memory, as I had done with a dozen other folk, but this was on the last day of E3 and just a few hours before my flight to Vegas. I was excited and, naturally, my brain wasn’t working to full capacity. Perhaps the E3 flu was already taking hold? Who knows.

The demo I played opened with an investigation. Someone had been brutally murdered inside an old church and it was my job to put the pieces together and figure out who had done what. This is where I got to learn of the game’s detective mechanics. You’ll piece together clues and then, using your massive gaming brain, put those clues in the right order to “see” the events as they happened. It seemed familiar, like it had been done elsewhere before, but I’m not sure where. Anyway, it worked nicely and I soon had the case in the palm of my hand. I will find you, killer!

I should mention at this point that I don’t really want to spoil any plot details. However… This particular case got my actual gaming brain going very quickly and upon asking the dude-who-can-not-be-named if my deduction about the case was correct, he said he didn’t want to ruin it for me or anyone else. I’ve come to the conclusion, then, that I am correct. Why am I telling you this? Because when you eventually play the game (it’s releasing this week) I’ll bet that many others will get to this case and come to the same conclusion I did. You’ll know it when you see it…

The case wasn’t over and I still had a killer to catch. So what was I to do? The nameless chap next to me explained that the game wasn’t going to tell me, but that I’d have to figure it out for myself. Like an actual detective. Oooooh. It’s hard to concentrate amongst the noises of E3, and the stool I was sat on wasn’t exactly comfortable. Also my feet were hurting. And I had a tummy ache. Yes, I asked the demo guy to help me. Don’t you sit there and judge me. You weren’t there. YOU WEREN’T THERE!!!

The investigation took me across town where I questioned a few folk and made some connections, though not before getting a taste of the game’s combat. Unfortunately it was rather bland. Monsters emerged from the darkness and I had to shoot them dead. It was simple and functional, but I’d be happy if these moments were spread out very sparsely. It just didn’t feel that great. What did feel great was pulling out my revolver and shooting some innocent women dead in the street. I’d asked Mr. No Name if I could, and he said “sure.” So I did, and then instantly regretted it. See, performing mental actions results in your sanity meter depleting. When this happens the monsters from the darkness come out in force, though they’re not actually real. Or are they? Most likely not. They seem to be manifestations of your character’s broken psyche. This can be remedied with a simple jab from some mind-medicine that’ll get your brain back on track, though there’s also the risk of the cops coming down hard on you for being an arsehole. I’d gotten lucky this time and there were no witnesses. The murder was clean and I was off free. Ha!

The Sinking City doesn’t like to hold your hand, like, at all. There are some very rare objective markers on the game’s map, but for the majority of my time with the demo I had to piece together the clues and figure out where to go all by myself. Mr Nameless may have helped a few times… Whatever.

When I was told that my time was up with the demo, I was legitimately gutted. Had I had a comfier chair, some noise cancelling headphones and a glass of bourbon on the go, I reckon I could have sat and played for a long while. Alas, it wasn’t to be and I was ushered on to the next game. Still, The Sinking City stuck in my brain and I found myself re-watching the trailers and re-reading the press release I’d received about the game. It’s a Lovecraftian horror through-and-through, set on the mean, albeit flooded streets of Boston. I couldn’t help but wonder if Lovecraft himself would have appreciated his name being thrown around in relation to video games. I asked the demo dude and he laughed before musing over my question. Maybe, maybe not. Lovecraft was obviously a moody fella, would he have even played video games? We’ll never know.

The Sinking City releases June 27th for PS4, Xbox One and PC. A Nintendo Switch release is planned for later this year. Be sure to pop by on June 25th for our full The Sinking City PS4 review.

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