A few months ago I took a look at The Sinking City on the PlayStation 4 – a mysterious action-adventure game from Frogwares, the developers mainly known for their investigative Sherlock Holmes games. So, when given the opportunity to check out the same game over on the Nintendo Switch, how could I refuse? Just how could the developers take an open-world adventure game and make it run on Nintendo’s lower-end hardware? Surely there has to be some compromises and removed content?
Compromises, yes – removed content, quite the opposite. You see, the Nintendo Switch version of the game isn’t only feature-complete in terms of both the base game and the optional DLC, but it also has a few new pieces of content which aren’t present on the PC, PS4 or Xbox One versions! So, how does this hybrid home console/portable version stack up against its bigger brothers? Is it worth double-dipping or is this a game only new consumers to the title should pick up? Let’s take a look…
Story (taken from my 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 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?
For a more in-depth overview of the core mechanics and gameplay, please check out my PlayStation 4 review of the game HERE.
As a break from the norm, in terms of the previous games Frogwares have brought out, The Sinking City has a decent blend of exploration, investigation, deductions and combat. You’re able to fully explore the open-world of Oakmont, a forgotten island off the coast of Boston, as you walk down the fishy-smelling streets, let yourself into a number of houses and establishments, talk to the ‘locals’, and traverse the titular ‘Sinking City’ as you perform your duties as a detective. That’s right, you’re not here for vacation – God no – you’re here to uncover the truth and meaning behind your strange visions, yet in order to get any answers, the locals will be more than happy to ask for your help with their problems in exchange for information.
This is where the investigations and deductions come in. If you’ve played any of Frogwares fairly recent Sherlock Holmes games, it’s very similar. You’ll obtain some clues or information off the residents, usually pointing you towards a person or place. However, sometimes you have to use your little grey cells and visit one of a number of archives (Town Hall, Police station, Hospital, etc…) in order to cross-examine and obtain further information by searching. Once you’ve got a location and plotted it on your map manually (as the game wants you to feel in control and plot out everything as you go rather than being hand-held the whole time), it’s time to search for clues and evidence or talk to the witnesses and victims.
Finally, once you’ve gathered enough information, you’ll be thrown into a ghostly reenactment of the event where you can see various points upon the timeline (similar to the investigation mode in Cyanide Studio‘s Call of Cthulhu). It’s now up to you to place these events in the correct order so that the truth can be revealed and explained in more detail. You can also visit your Mind Palace (a mechanic ‘borrowed’ from their Sherlock games) and piece together the evidence you pick up and uncover in order to come to a conclusion for the chapter you’re on – will you save someone or not, is this person an ally or a foe, etc…
However, just like the PS4 version, the choices you make here aren’t set in stone – they are merely pointers on what your deductions have pushed your thoughts towards – you can still pick the opposite upon talking to the ‘quest-giver’ should you choose to do so.
The combat in the game feels okay – it’s much better than what we saw in Call of Cthulhu! There’s a wide variety of weapons for you to unlock as the story progresses, from your trusty brick which scares the living daylights out of all the NPCs if you pull it out on the street, to the OP Tommy gun. Whilst weapons seem to be rather common in the world of The Sinking City, bullets aren’t as frequently found. As such, you’ll find yourself crafting the majority of your ammunition out of scraps you pick up all over the place. The better the weapon, the more resources it uses to create a single bullet.
The strange thing is – Oakmont has stopped using money, they use bullets as currency, so technically, you’re literally throwing your money away every time you shoot one of the foul beings!
After playing through the entire game on both the Switch and the PS4, I was left wishing the enemy types were more varied. I know I said in my previous review that there was a decent selection, but when you step back and look at it, there are three main types – small, medium and large. However, each of these ‘things’ has different variations, such as versions which spit, blow up upon death or move much faster. There are a few unique enemies, including a number of ‘human’ NPCs which will turn against you depending on which choices you make, but I wanted more. Some of the quests you embark on really hype up terrible beasts and giant monsters for you to fight, yet they usually just turn out to be the same beings you’ve already killed many times over.
On a side note though, the £11.99 DLC, Worshippers of the Necronomicon, grants you access to three new quests which ultimately unlocks a new, and rather disturbing, costume. These quests also result in facing some unique creatures which I’ve not spotted during the base game. The hideous and F’d up boss within this DLC is what I would have loved to see more off within the base game.
So, what’s the difference between the Switch version and the other three editions out there?
I know this is only a small thing but the Switch edition allows touch screen usage whilst in portable mode. This means you can drag and drop on the map, operate menus using your finger and provide inventory management with your pinky digits. The majority of you out there will probably shrug your shoulders at this and not really care, but I’ve played a lot of games recently where the touchscreen isn’t used at all in portable mode, not even in games where you’d expect to use it – such as point-and-click games.
For some unknown reason, the Switch version of The Sinking City has two new costumes, one of which was actually teased on the official Twitter page a few months back yet I don’t think anyone clocked on! The default costume has our protagonist, Charles Reed, walking around Oakmont with a rather flimsy, empty backpack on his back. The first new costume is basically this one but without the backpack! The second costume is the one I decided to wear for my entire playthrough, the Vacation costume. It’s nothing special, just a shirt and pants, but it’s a lot more casual and ‘normal’ than some of the others – especially the creepy Cultist costume! Both of these are unlocked as soon as you reach your hotel for the first time, rather than requiring prerequisite criteria like the others.
Motion controls. The Sinking City has strange motion controls in that you can only really use them on the Y-axis (up and down) if you’re playing the Switch in portable mode, the X-axis only works if you’ve got your Joycons detached in either docked or tabletop mode. However, I had to turn these off as I found them not to be sensitive enough, so using the control sticks was much easier and convenient for me. However, a question I’ve asked on Twitter is, how come developers only think of implementing motion controls for the Switch versions? Red Faction Guerilla ReMARStered was another game which did this. The DS4 has full motion controls built into it, I would love the option of using the same precision motion controls on the PS4.
Slider comparison below (click/drag if image hasn’t loaded)
As expected, there are both good and bad points in regards to the Switch edition. First of all, as usual – I only play the Switch in portable mode and not via the dock, so the images you’ve seen in this review are based upon the portable mode and not the docked mode. So, the first thing that will jump out is the resolution and image quality – as well as the textures, lighting and other visual settings. They’ve all been dialled back quite a bit in order to get the game to run on the weaker system. However, it’s not as jarring or bad as you’d think as it doesn’t look too bad on the smaller 720p screen.
There have been adjustments to the lighting though, as I did a few direct comparisons with the PS4 version in the same locations with the same time of day and position, yet the Switch version was always a bit lighter and less eerie in comparison. That combined with the lower quality textures and fuzzy visuals made it a bit less enjoyable at first until I’d got used to the low resolution. However, I could be wrong here but it seems the UI and menus all run at 720p in portable mode (or at least higher than the game’s rendering resolution) as they were always much sharper and clearer than the action behind them.
On the bright side though, the performance on the Switch version seems much better than both the PC and PS4 versions I’ve played previously. Whereas both consoles aim for 30fps, the PS4 had a pacing issue with micro stutters at times and the odd performance issues. But, the Switch version, bar having the usual framerate issues when the enemies start attacking in groups, seems to run smoother and more consistent in the overworld. This could be due to the resolution drop or maybe the Switch is running an update which hasn’t been applied elsewhere yet? Either way, it appears sacrificing visual quality has helped the game maintain decent performance.
The sound quality and performance was on par with the PS4 version, I didn’t spot any issues or differences.
There is one aspect of the game which I really wasn’t happy with – the loading times. I had the game installed on a fast MicroSD card and the loading times were very long – much longer than my PS4 which I had running alongside it whilst comparing things. Once the game has loaded, it’s fine, but fast travel is (ironically) very slow. Another thing I noticed was new loading times when you enter buildings. For example, entering the police station gave me a 10-15 second loading screen before letting me in, yet leaving the station was seamless. So, it appears the game loads in chunks as needed and certain buildings only upon first entry.
The Sinking City on Switch may not be the prettiest way to play the game, but it’s a feature-complete alternative way to do so. Despite the graphical downgrades and overall ‘fuzzy’ experience, this version of the game runs really well and even offers a few new costumes which you can’t obtain on any other platform. Once you’ve adjusted to the visuals, the 50+ hour experience was a joy to play, performing very well and even offering a few extra features such as motion controls and touch screen support for those who wish to play a little differently. As the game is now on all four major platforms, if you like games from this genre, you should certainly check it out.
Building up from the mechanics of their Sherlock Holmes games, Frogwares has gone above and beyond in the creation of The Sinking City. Not only do we have to plot our own map after investigating and deducing the truth, but we also have to fend off evil beings which have begun to overrun the forgotten land of Oakmont. Fans of mystery, investigation, exploration, H.P. Lovecraft, and Sherlock Holmes will love this game and easily find themselves absorbed within it’s dark and messed up Universe. The fact this game runs on the Switch at all shows how much care and dedication has gone into adapting this massive adventure onto the portable hybrid system.
The Sinking City£44.99
- - Very atmospheric with its disturbing visuals and creepy sound effects
- - Great use of the core investigation mechanics from the developers previous Sherlock Holmes games combined with combat and exploration
- - Lots of unique and interesting side missions to participate in, as well as the exciting main story
- - You really feel like a detective as you plot out the locations on the map and search for more information in various archives
- - Very long playtime at around 40 hours to see most of the game
- - Some of the thorough investigations seems a little obscure
- - The combat is adequate but it doesn't feel as satisfying as I'd hoped for
- - No creepy Watson when you don the Sherlock costume! The developers should have Watson appear as one of your visions or randomly behind you when your wearing it!
- - Although the performance seems better than the PS4 version, the visuals are a big downgrade on the Switch in order to achieve this
- - Slow initial loading times