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The Sinking City: a video game Lovecraft would have played

Take the role of a private investigator and try to discover the mysterious dark origins of flooded city Oakmont's ruins.

Ukrainian game developer studio Frogwares is no strange to adventure gamers. They are, after all, the team behind successes such as The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, Magrunner: Dark Pulse and also in the Sherlock Holmes franchise, Crimes & Punishments, among many others.

Critically acclaimed by the specialized media for the depth of their adventure games, the good folks of Frogwares have been working very hard on an open-world detective game that will delight enthusiasts of the weird fiction out there. We are talking, of course, of The Sinking City.

Is that Chthulu? It has to be!Is that Chthulu? It has to be!

Chthulu Mythos

Heavily inspired by the weird and fantastic literary works of pulp writer Howard Phillip Lovecraft, The Sinking City place us in the fictional city of Oakmont (Massachusetts, USA) during the mid-1920s, where we will be tasked to investigate the monstrous abominations from the Cthulhu mythos that have flooded its streets.

The story, while it might sound like a lazy interpretation of what a Lovecraft game should be at first, quickly appears to be interesting enough to catch the aficionado’s attention. We play as Charles W. Reed, a private investigator and war veteran looking to put a meaning to the frightening visions that plague his mind. Before we know it, Charles is caught in the mystery of Oakmont City’s unrelenting floodings and the dark things that lurk their streets, and we with him.


Now, the flooded city looks spectacularly well done for what we have been able to see not just in CGI cinematics, but in recent gameplay trailers. As for the Chthulu demons, they appear to have been taken right from the pages of one of Lovecraft short stories and are a very real interpretation of what an “abomination” would look like if encountered in real life.

Zero Hand Holding

Lately, most games have been showing a worrying tendency to tell players where they should go to advance the game. Who they should meet, what they should do, with whom they need to talk next. This, while necessary in modern fast-paced titles like Call of Duty or Assasins Creed, takes most of the fun that comes from exploring and discovering the plot, as it was with old adventure games.

As reported by Rock Paper Shotgun writer, Alice Bell, Frogwares promises a sort of “zero hand holding” policy. What does that mean? Well, for one it means you won’t get that awful yellow arrow floating on a corner of the screen or in the middle of the map, constantly telling you where you should be going next. It means you won’t get a character walking all the time ten steps ahead of you screaming “this way!” either. But it also means the game will be significantly more challenging and enjoyable than most games nowadays, which is a very good sign for fans of the genre. In The Sinking City, we have a map, we have streets names, and that’s about it; we are on our own. Free to explore, free to immerse ourselves in the streets of Oakmont and discover what lurks there.

Cinematics are out of this dimension!Cinematics are out of this dimension!

Lovecraft and Video Games

Sure enough, the reader will be able to go to his or her gaming library, pick any title from the last few years or even from way back in the beginning of video games, and sniff the scent of H.P Lovecraft’s ink all over the box, regardless of the platform, publisher or developer company. As it turns out, when it comes to depicting the strange and forbidden, an entire generation of game developers appears to have no other source for inspiration other than Lovecraft’s cosmic horror.

Some notable examples include:

  1. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Bethesda, 2005)
  2. Shadow of the Comet (Infogrames, 1993)
  3. Eternal Darkness: Sanity Requiem (Nintendo, 2002)
  4. Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios, 2016)
  5. Sunless Sea (Failbetter Games, 2005)
  6. Bloodborne (FromSoftware, 2015)
  7. Prisoner of Ice (Infogrames, 1995)
  8. Alone in the dark (Infogrames, 1992)
  9. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games, 2010)
  10. Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (Frogwares, 2017)

There have been other attempts to capture the essence of the mythos before and while most have succeeded at some degree, few have come close to representing the true horror Lovecraft characters endure in his stories (or, at least try to) upon facing the insanity of the impossible.

Technology could be blamed for these failures. After all, until not long ago all we had to make the attempt were pixels and a few scattered polygons around the screen. Now that the game industry has mastered the elusive art of creating cinematic experiences in games and has even developed the holy grail of gaming–that is, virtual reality–portraiting Lovecraft mythos should be as easy as making a cheese sandwich, right?

Right?

Well, no. Not exactly. Otherwise, we would have seen serious successes in the movie industry instead of bland attempts. Maybe, the quest for capturing Lovecraft’s cosmic horror lays not in Lovecraft works, but in the study of the man and the fountain he drank his inspirations from. All those short stories, biographies, articles and weird fiction he devoured during his young years are the key. Very doubtfully, Lovecraft would sit around for hours reading his own stories while trying to get inspiration for a new one. Then, why is it that everyone trying to make a new entry in the Chthulu mythos does?

Welcome to Oakmont Massachusetts. The team behind the game studied architecture to build the streets of The Sinking City.Welcome to Oakmont Massachusetts. The team behind the game studied architecture to build the streets of The Sinking City.

That said, The Sinking City looks extremely promising. The team behind the game is as solid as one could get. They not only know Lovecraft, but respect his legacy and the craft of making games as well. Just to mention how much work has been put into this game, the team behind the level design of The Sinking City studied architecture for several months besides how coastal cities organize their ports and streets. That is a level of commitment one hardly sees in small game companies nowadays.

As fans of Lovecraft, we can hardly wait to play this new take on the mythos and we invite you all to walk the empty streets of Oakmont Massachusetts with us.

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The Sinking City Release date: June 27, 2019 - Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch