EDIT: As the opening paragraph suggests I thought I was posting this in the regular what are you playing thread. Too late.
So! Over in the Spooktober thread I mentioned picking up The Sinking City, and I will resist the urge to complain about Sony’s horrible shop interface (pro tip for PS5 owners: you want “The Sinking City PS5” because the PS5 edition is not actually in the list of ‘versions’ for the PS4 edition like you might expect…). Instead, I’ll talk about the game itself.
I have a fairly long history with Lovecraft. When I was younger and first discovering his writing, the cultural context was absolutely not inclusive of his racism. This is not to say people weren’t aware of it, or talking about it - I’m sure they were, somewhere, but it wasn’t the frame in which I was introduced to it. And when I was younger, I was certainly naive to it, in a way that looking back at it is wild to me, because the man was not subtle about many of his allegories. I grew very fond of his work and then had complicated feelings as I tried to separate art from the artist, and haven’t revisited his writing since I was an undergrad nearly 20 years ago. So first up: what I like about The Sinking City is it takes all that subtext and makes it text. Those citizens from Innsmouth, with their piscine appearance? Now they’re refugees, visually distinct from the locals, and the fear of miscegenation that drove Lovecraft’s work is clearly incorporated into the storytelling. It doesn’t always nail it, but it’s writing that tries to engage with the author’s history rather than elide it.
The other big thought I have about this, and alluded to briefly in the Spooktober thread, is that it’s kinda weird playing a AA game. It so often feels like all games now fall into either the blockbuster AAA category or the tiny indie category that it’s weird playing something in the middle. The Sinking City is pretty ambitious - a big, open world city, lots of side quests, fairly atmospheric aesthetic presentation (though even on PS5 it looks fairly dated). But so often you see the compromises. Repeated interiors, NPCs popping in within the player’s field of view, a general lack of reactivity from the world when it’s not something directly tied to a quest.
But budgetary constraints aside I’m getting pretty into it. I like the evidence system, both in how you spend a lot of time backtracking to records offices and looking things up, and how you have a way of making deductions from your evidence and the choices for how to interpret things are rarely clearcut. The choices generally feel good in that they (mostly?) don’t feel like blatant “this is the paragon option and this is the renegade option”, it’s more about whose testimony you believe, how you choose to interpret a situation.
My biggest complaint is totally separate from the budget, and it’s that I wish there was far, far less combat. So many Lovecraftian games dare to ask “what if you stared into the abyss?” and answer “it’s fine if you have a rucksack full of grenades and buckshot”. Weird, annoying creatures are a constant threat which both kinda sucks and really undermines the cosmic terror of this setting. The rare fights against humans actually feel pretty good - weirdly, they remind me of the nasty, brutish, and short engagements you sometimes have in Red Dead Redemption 2 (at least when the game isn’t throwing a hundred cops at you at once). The investigation system is so robust it’s just kinda sad they clearly felt the need to squeeze some combat in there because that’s what players expect of an open world game.
I think I’m about two thirds through now (I had a peek at a guide because I was enjoying the often well hidden side quests enough that I didn’t want to miss any). Plenty of time for it to go off the rails. But for now I’m pretty impressed, and real curious about the Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu game from the 2000s the dev, Frogwares, is currently remaking for next year.