On Thursday, Frogwares surprised everyone by announcing a remastered PS5 edition of their latest release, The Sinking City, which was set to launch at midnight that day, allowing people to experience the next-gen edition from Friday onwards. As a massive fan of the game, having completed it on the PS4, PC and Switch previously, it was inevitable that I had to also play this version and give my opinion on it – A simple ‘quick look’ led to me grabbing the platinum within 25 hours by playing it non-stop. There are a few ‘questionable’ changes and welcomed improvements, but is this the definitive way to play the game?
Frogwares, as you may already know, are the team behind the modern Sherlock Holmes games, titles such as The Devil’s Daughter and the recent re-release, Crimes and Punishments (which we also reviewed). As such, The Sinking City shares a lot of gameplay mechanics with these games, but it’s now set in a massive open world which you can explore in order to gain background knowledge and lore documents – a bold move that actually works really well. After recently replaying all their PS4 games, and this one, I can’t explain how excited I am to play their new Sherlock Holmes game which has its first part out later this year.
So, after playing this game non-stop since the code we were given was redeemable, is this version worth picking up if you’ve played the game before? Does it fix the minor issues we had with the original release? And just why isn’t this a free upgrade from PS4 to PS5… Let’s find out…
Story (taken from my original PS4 review)
Set in the 1920s, The Sinking City starts off as any standard H.P. Lovecraft inspired game often does, you’re a private investigator who has travelled to a small island in search of answers behind a paranormal occurrence. To put it simply, Charles Reed, our protagonist, has been haunted by strange visions of Oakmont and disturbing beasts which reside within the ocean. He has been summoned to the real Oakmont, by Johannes van der Berg, in order to find the source behind these disturbing dreams, dreams which the locals are also having. However, little did he know that his issues would be the least of his worries as he disembarks upon the dock of this foul, infested land.
In his quest to find answers to his predicament, he utilises his skills as an investigator in order to help out the locals around the town, locals who wouldn’t look out of place in a zoo or a circus of ‘Freaks’… The citizens of Oakmont don’t take kindly to ‘Newcomers’ so you must build up their trust by completing mundane tasks such as finding a letter, investigating a robbery, or taking out giant mutated creatures which have mercilessly infested local homes – you know, the usual jobs a P.I. would have.
Each completed case brings you one step closer to the truth and one more step closer to madness as you not only fight against the satanic creatures you encounter, but you’ll also fight against your own sanity in hopes of staying sane. Can you solve the mystery behind your psychotic visions and the terrible events occurring within Oakmont, or will you succumb to the insanity once and for all?
I’m not going to go too in-depth here, this review is going to mainly look at the PS5 improvements. So, if you want more info on the gameplay mechanics, please check out my PS4 review HERE or my Switch review HERE
The Sinking City is an open-world action-adventure game with RPG elements and an emphasis on exploration and investigation. You play the role of a P.I. who is not only out to solve the mysteries behind his own vivid haunting dreams, but also there to help out the locals in order to discover the truth behind the strange events which have been occurring. The entire (barely) floating city is open for you to explore, with numerous buildings being unlocked as you gain enough evidence or reason to enter them through looking up info at one of the many research points, or talking to the various ‘people’ you come across.
Aside from exploring, you’ll also gather clues and information for each of the many, many cases you take on, resulting in you populating your own ‘Mind Palace’ with conclusions and questions. If you’ve played the Sherlock Holmes games, this will be familiar – you link the questions or key points together in order to come to a conclusion, conclusions which eventually point to an outcome for that particular case. For example, one of the quests results in you finding a bunch of trapped sailors (who have gone mad) at the bottom of the sea within an air-bubbled cave. You can either deduce that you have to save them or leave them – the Mind Palace is only for guidance though, your real choice is whatever you pick during certain conversations.
During your investigations, you’ll enable a super-natural reenactment mode – similar to what we saw in Cyanide Studio‘s Call of Cthulhu (which I also reviewed, HERE). This requires you to watch ghostly figures play out key scenes which happened prior to you getting there, then piecing them together in order so that our protagonist knows exactly what happened. You’ll also use this ability to follow other ghostly creatures as they point to where the culprit or victim went, and also to find and open hidden passages which have been disguised as walls.
If you like games with a lot of exploration and hardly any hand-holding when doing your investigations, then you’ll love this game – it really does have Sherlock Holmes gushing through its veins.
I was so impressed when I first saw the map on the PS4, my opinion hasn’t changed one bit! Basically, the map is huge in The Sinking City, starting off with very few places pre-mapped (the police station, newspaper company, hospital, etc…). However, as you find clues and information, they’ll either give you an address, which you have to plot on the map yourself, or you’ll get clues that you need to further investigate within one of the above reference points, then plot the address you uncover. It makes you feel like you’re truly running the investigation as you plot all the points then set out to find the truth.
As you complete quests, find new locations or kill the hellspawn demons, you’ll gain experience. This eventually unlocks skill points that you can invest in your skill-tree, making you stronger, more resilient, or enhancing the rewards you get from completing quests from here on. Basically, the more you play, the more efficient you’ll become.
The Sinking City isn’t just a casual detective game, there is quite a bit of combat involved as well. Your melee attacks result in you smashing your victim’s faces in with a small hand shovel (a strange, but effective, weapon), and your firearms range from a pistol all the way to a Tommy Gun. As with the previous versions, the combat is a little sluggish at times and I found myself trying to avoid it as much as I can – not due to that, but due to how rare bullets are! If you thought Fallout, a game set after an apocalypse, was scarce, you’ve not played The Sinking City!
You can craft new ammo or find it within bins, lockers and boxes. But, you’ll quickly run out as you encounter the bigger enemies and hordes of smaller once which are a little too strong to one-hit with your shovel. Seeing as the game is focused more on its exploration side, and doesn’t really encourage you to get into fights which you don’t provoke yourself, I have no complaints with how the combat works – it plays well and simply adds to the excitement and fear when you realise you’re stuck in a room with hardly any bullets, watching as a huge blob slowly works its way towards you.
The only thing which disappointed me, a little, with The Sinking City was the lack of variety with its enemies. There are about four or five enemy types, each with various colour versions that are either stronger or have a different attack style. There is one unique enemy which comes as part of one of the stories from the DLC, but all the other enemies stem from the same small batch of variants. As I’ve played it a few times, and this time I tried to avoid battles, it didn’t bother me, but you’ll quickly wish for different enemy models if trying to complete every side-mission as you’ll find yourself against the same ones over and over again – unless it’s a mission against the KKK or other human-based enemies.
Yes, it only took me about 25 hours to platinum the game – but that isn’t the playtime. As I’d played before, I skipped most of the side missions and only did those needed for the trophies. However, add in all the side missions, plotting the locations, finding out more info, talking to the locals, and taking pictures, and you’ll easily get over 40 hours of gameplay out of the game. The Sinking City doesn’t explain everything to you, if you just follow the main story then you’re only seeing a small portion of what’s going on around you. It’s like Control, you have to explore, do side activities, and learn more about the world in order to truly understand the motivation and events which have happened prior.
I really enjoyed the missions in this game, it’s like The Witcher 3, each one has it’s own backstory and unique documents and events to uncover, but you’re sometimes doing the same thing (under the hood). For example, you may just be going to a location to clear out monsters or find a book, but you’ll read letters left by the deceased or find pictures which makes that quest seem different from other similar requests. Completing some of these quests will also lead to unlocking new costumes for Charles to wear, including a rather dashing Sherlock Holmes one!
PS4 on the left, PS5 on the right
The mighty ‘PS5’ edition
I never thought we’d see a PS5 edition of The Sinking City, so when we got news of it launching a few days ago – I was probably one of the first people to reply and ask if we could review it for them. The press release promised a lot of things, improvements over the original release, but were they all true – is this really the best way to play the game? Before I get into that, let’s address a common question I’ve seen online – “Is The Sinking City PS5 a free upgrade for PS4 owners” – no.
Why is this? I’m not going to get into it too much, as I don’t have all the info, but you can search on google for more information. Frogwares is currently in a Legal battle with NACON/BigBen over the original PS4 and Xbox One edition of the game. As such, they self-published the later Switch release and also this new PS5 version. Seeing as the game now has two publishers on PSN, it’s not possible to provide a free upgrade. However, Frogwares has priced this enhanced version cheaper than the original PS4 version and it’s 30% off for PS Plus members for a few weeks, post-launch.
Also, as this is a ‘new product’, you can’t transfer any save files from the original game into this one, so you’ll have to start again (sorry ‘Trophy Hunters’ who were begging for an auto-pop situation). Finally, for those who prefer physical releases – The Sinking City is currently a digital-only release (also PS5 only as there’s no Xbox SS|X edition). This could change in the future if they partner with one of the limited-run companies (I’d prefer Merge Games as they produce unlimited copies and not highly-priced limited ones), but as of right now – it’s only on PSN digitally.
The first thing you’ll notice in The Sinking City PS5 is that the resolution is now full 4K (2160p) and runs at 60fps. I did encounter some minor dips in the open world when I was being bombarded with enemies and I was throwing Molotov cocktails at them, but I’d say about 99% of the game runs at a solid framerate. They haven’t only boosted the resolution though, the graphical fidelity has also been increased. Basically, they’ve touched up a lot of the textures to make them look cleaner on a 4K TV, but there are still a lot of textures that look a little ‘muddy’ despite the geometry being nice and sharp.
The most impressive upgrade is the loading times. The PS4 was ‘okay’ and the Switch version was quite bad, loading the game in chunks rather than seamlessly, but the PlayStation 5 blows them both out of the water! Loading your game from the main menu takes 3-5 seconds and fast travel to any point on the map is 2-3 seconds. This makes it so much better to play as you can progress so much faster than on any other format. If you die, then it’s about 3-5 seconds and you’re back in the game – it’s crazy.
They didn’t specifically mention it, but I believe the lighting may have also been upgraded. When playing on the PS5, The Sinking City looks fantastic, the atmosphere is enhanced by sharp shadows, smooth fog, light rays, better light colours based on the time of day, and an overall creepier feeling to everything.
Frogwares has added support for the DualSense into The Sinking City, but it’s not as good as I would have hoped. When using a gun, there’s tension in the triggers at the half-way point, making you pull it like a gun trigger, but it’s too weak, meaning you don’t feel it as much as you should. Also, I don’t recall any haptic trigger feedback, as we have in other games, so no rumble as you fire your Tommy Gun, for example. Similarly, there’s no tension for throwing things like bricks or grenades, and nothing for the melee as it’s mapped to the R1 trigger which has no resistive capabilities. The controller is good, but I hope they rethink the support and improve it a little after seeing how other games use the feature, like Hitman 3.
PS5 features (may not be improvements)
The Sinking City has Activity Cards that show you what mission you’re on, how far through it you are, and what your reward for completing it is. But, they don’t break down into what mission you’re on, what missions are left, or offer any PS Plus help (not many games do this tbh). However, my main use for these is to quickly get back into the game and continue – as the PS5 has no Quick Resume, so picking the ‘Resume’ option with Square from the PS5 dashboard ‘should’ take you right into the game within seconds. ‘Should’. Instead, you have to sit through the opening title cards, then it presses continue for you and you’re in – I wish that launching from the activity card simply skipped the intro titles, it would make it so much faster.
We were kindly provided with the Digital Deluxe Edition of the game, this version comes with the Merciful Madness, Worshippers of the Necronomicon, Investigator Pack, Chicago Organ Grinder, and the Experience Boost DLC packs. These are the same DLCs we saw in the self-published Switch edition of the game, but there is a new DLC that isn’t in the PS4 and Xbox One version – the Merciful Madness pack. Why am I bringing this up? The original game had a side-mission based around a woman with her mouth sewn closed, you take on the case to find out who is behind it and why. This mission is now part of the paid-for DLC, and not the main game, with the trophy for completing it being stripped from the trophy list.
The Merciful Madness pack is three missions based on H.P Lovecraft stories, so it fit the bill and was placed in there. But, I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t just make a new quest and leave this one in the main game – it feels a little unfair removing some content and putting it behind the paywall – even if it’s just a 30-60 minute quest. The Necronomicon DLC is also three stories, but this DLC was also out for the original versions before they were pulled (and later reinstated) from digital stores.
This is a strange one – the manual save and load options have been removed from the game. Originally you could save before a major choice, then reload and make the other; this isn’t possible anymore unless you upload to the cloud and download to make a change. I’m not sure why this was removed unless the developers wanted people to play the game multiple times and not ‘save scum’ the trophies?
So, despite the framerate dropping slightly in one point, was the game perfect? Sadly, no. There were a few technical issues with regards to the lighting, or should I say lack thereof. When zooming into some objects, whilst investigating, or if the camera goes in a wonky position, the screen gets really dark – this only happened a few times though. Also, all the strange glitches we saw in the PS4 version – they’re all back, once again.
If you’ve not played the PS4 version, you’ll often see the NPCs walk through each other, read a newspaper which is lodged in their head, the skirts of women randomly flick up, exposing their grey granny panties, dead bodies will jump in the air, etc… None of these affects the gameplay though, they are quite amusing and could be forgiven by thinking it’s because you’re going mad and seeing strange things that are happening. But, it’s clear the PS4 code has simply been enhanced and not fully remastered. Just remember though, it’s Frogwares‘ biggest game, so as long as you can overlook the odd glitch, then it won’t distract you from your fun.
The one thing which hasn’t been updated is the pre-rendered sequences. These run in a lower resolution (I think) and lower quality than the actual in-game visuals, thanks to the improvements. So, they look a little jarring and offputting, especially when they end and you’re back in the sharp gameplay. It reminds me of old games which had FMV for cutscenes then went back to a sharper playable state. They’re not terrible, but I think it would have looked nicer if these had been re-rendered with the new visuals and resolution.
Everything else though, perfect. The resolution is high, the framerate is 60fps, the loading times are almost non-existent, and the vocals and (rare) music sounds amazing thanks to the PS5 enhancing the audio. If I had one request, it would be that I wish there was an in-game photo mode so we could capture some of the amazing scenes, or even have it that the console saves the images we take with the in-game camera. I never understood why that wasn’t a thing, other games have that ability (Yakuza), so I’m not sure why the developers never made the camera a real mechanic.
The Sinking City on the PS5 is the definitive way to play this awesome Lovecraft-themed exploration and investigation game. Despite a handful of disappointing enhancements (the DS triggers, content moved to DLC, and limited info in the Activities), there are far more positive enhancements within the actual gameplay that counter these. The game looks a lot cleaner, the atmosphere is much thicker, the gameplay is smoother, and the loading times are so short, you can’t even take a sip of your drink before it’s completed. If you overlooked this game on launch, in 2019, don’t make the same mistake – pick it up on the PS5 and experience the best version as you easily sink over 40 hours into it.
The Sinking City£39.99
- - 4K/60 visuals and performance
- - Enhanced visual fidelity, making the game more atmospheric and creepy
- - Lots of things to do, dozens of cases within the side-misisons, as well as a long main story
- - Borrows some mechanics from their Sherlock games in order to make each case interactive and fun to investigate
- - Very good voice acting throughout
- - I wish the trigger support was a little more obvious during gameplay
- - Placing Joy's case in the DLC and removing the save and load options is a little strange
- - The glitches from the PS4 version are back again (nothing game-breaking, but they are quite funny)
- - No free upgrade (but that's out of their control so not a negative, as such)