Sinking Island review

Sinking Island
Sinking Island
The Good:
  • Mandate and evidence system is an interesting way to solve a murder case, and evokes the feeling of actually doing detective work
  • Graphics are often very nice to look at, with a great sense of style
The Bad:
  • Story is predictable and clichéd
  • Some rather unfair pixel hunting
  • No mouth movement during dialogue
  • Translation issues range from somewhat quirky to unforgivably awful
Our Verdict: It’s a worthwhile outing for mystery buffs and would-be detectives, though a bevy of small annoyances prevents Sinking Island from rising above the competition.

When billionaire CEO Walter Jones is found dead on the beach of his private tropical island, it’s up to visiting police inspector Jack Norm to find the culprit amongst the ten remaining inhabitants. But can Norm sift through the evidence before the tremendous weight of Jones’ personal Xanadu, a massive art deco hotel, pushes all the evidence into the sea? Sinking Island is the latest game from creator Benoît Sokal, best known for the Syberia series. Unlike Sokal’s previous games, Sinking Island is more rooted in reality, a straight-up noir murder mystery, without any fantastical or supernatural twists, despite its rather incredible premise. Will Sokal’s fans be pleased by this change in direction, or will they be begging for the island to hurry up and sink?

With ten suspects in a finite space, it may seem like fingering the culprit is merely a matter of attrition, but the more you discover about the late Mr. Jones, the more it seems likely that just about anyone would want to kill him. He’s easily the most deplorable character in the game, far surpassing the actual murderer (or even murderers; you'll get no hints here). While no one is without their dirty little secrets—and in fact, Norm has an almost comical habit of immediately revealing the secrets of Suspect A when he goes to interrogate Suspect B—it would be hard for anyone to surpass the crimes the so-called “victim” perpetrated on the guests of his little island. As sordid as their lives are, however, there isn’t much in the story that will actually shock you, with twists and turns playing out in a fairly clichéd fashion.

You’ll converse frequently each character using a simple icon-based dialogue system, and for the most part the suspects all have unique things to say, and each has their own special part to play in the drama that unfolds. There’s the sly lawyer, the long-suffering architect, the mute island girl and her scheming father, and the victim’s three grandchildren with their significant others. While they easily fit into stereotypes (one grandchild is the clean-cut favorite son while another is a degenerate gambler), they’re different enough that by the time you’re tired of interrogating one you’ll be fresh and ready to move onto the next. Norm himself doesn’t have much in the way of a personality, except for the tendency to switch oddly between uncomfortably confrontational and unnecessarily apologetic when introducing himself. But the one startling issue is that none of the characters ever move their mouths when they speak. You’ll probably want to enable the subtitles just to distract you from the telepathic conversations playing out onscreen.

As you begin sorting through the many relevant details, fortunately you’ll have help in the form of your PPA, or Personal Police Assistant, which is a sort of super-computer that keeps track of everything for you. The first feature of the PPA provides a list of all the suspects with arguments for and against their guilt, along with their current location, which automagically updates as they move around. The primary feature is the Clues Database, which is where you’ll spend most of your time, since this is where you’ll find every piece of evidence you’ve gathered so far. This includes material evidence (like the murder weapon or a torn shirt), photographic evidence, documentary evidence, or declarative evidence based on suspect statements. A simple “compare” function further allows you to match fingerprints (and more) to develop new pieces of more conclusive evidence.

Within this database is your current mandate—in other words, what the next thing is on the agenda that needs solving. For example, who else was present on the beach when Mr. Jones met his maker? Underneath the mandate is a series of blank spaces, which indicates how many pieces of evidence you need, and of what type. So you may need four witness statements, two pictures, and one piece of material evidence. There’s also a progress bar that shows how much of the needed evidence is in your possession, so you won’t waste too much time trying to solve a mandate that is not yet solvable. While telling you exactly how much evidence you need, and in what category, may make the game seem simple, it’s certainly the most intriguing feature, and the most fun to use. There’s a large enough mountain of evidence, including a lot of red herrings, that it’s not always easy to fill in the blanks and get the right answer. The final feature of the PPA is simply a way to switch between open mandates on the evidence screen, with each mandate represented as a puzzle piece in the overall mystery.

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What our readers think of Sinking Island

Posted by thorn969 on Nov 18, 2014

Deeply flawed but clever, beautiful game

This game was beautiful, as all of Benoit Sokal's games have been. The scenery was lovely everywhere, as was the tower. I thought the story was reasonably clever with plenty of red herrings. I didn't think the evidence was particularly strong, but that is...

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