What a time to be a fan of H.P Lovecraft’s work and mythos. Walking around the convention center at Penny-Arcade East it was apparent Lovecraft and gothic settings are back, and in full force. But among the games that used a gothic setting and hinted at Old Gods behind the scenes, one game in particular embraced H.P Lovecraft’s world and seeks to expand upon the mythos. The Sinking City, the new Lovecraft inspired action/investigation game published by Bigben Interaction and developed by Frogwares, looks to delve the player into the mystery that surrounds Oakmont, a coastal Massachusetts city with a strong fishing economy and growing cityscape.
In talking with the team, they felt there was opportunity to dive deeper into the world of Lovecraft and expand it by introducing a new town, Oakmont. This new town enables The Sinking City to make references to familiar Lovecraft characters while still feeling fresh. The team cites Call of Cthuhlu and The Dunwich Horror as inspiration, but stressed that their narrative is outside of the stories that H.P Lovecraft created. As I sat down to play the demo, I was given a briefing of who I was playing and a sliver of his motivations. Our hero is Charles Reed, a private investigator who is tormented by horrific visions and dreams. Reed hopes that Oakmont holds the key to easing these visions, but as he arrives, he finds a greater mystery is about to unfold.
My hands-on session started with Reed awakening from a horrific dream in the cabin of a ship. Once in control I was able to take photographs to get additional lore as well as local insight. The gameplay is a third person action adventure game with a focus on investigation. I found myself looking in every nook in cranny to make sure I found all photos, clues, and collectibles. Soon after disembarking the ship I was approached by Robert Throgmorton, a powerful local Oakmont figure. From this interaction I learned that refugees from Innsmouth have found their way to Oakmont and this is causing some friction. The conversation had many branching dialog options allowing me to approach Reed in my own way. A cold PI or a man willing to lend his set of skills to the Oakmont residents. This made me immediately want to explore the dialog options and learn as much about the setting as possible. Reed learns of a crime scene and puts his PI skills to work.
The investigation is where the demo truly shines. The setting, dialog, and subtle nods to the works that inspired it sucked me in, but the gameplay kept me wanting more. In the investigation Reed uses his “Mind’s Eye” and “Retrocognition” to see clues and help recreate the events that transpired. These gameplay mechanics lean into the supernatural elements of Lovecraft while making the player feel like a true detective. My favorite aspect of these mechanic is that it is tied to a sanity meter. As that meter continues to dwindle certain visual effects as well as changes to Charles Reed occur. I will not spoil one, but as the meter dwindle an action occurred that had myself and the audience watching gasp. Sanity is core to Lovecraft and the addition of this mechanic was a welcomed sight.
The hands-on session left me wanting more and asking questions about the characters I had interacted with as well as questions around Oakmont as a whole. The Sinking City is set to release this June and I am and eagerly awaiting to see what else Oakmont has lying behind the scenes.
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