Developer Frogwares has - following a run of evocative if not-entirely-informative cinematic trailers - released the first proper gameplay footage of its Lovecraft-inspired open-world detective horror, The Sinking City, walking through an early investigation mission.

The Sinking City follows the adventures of troubled private investigator Charles W. Reed, as he explores the mysterious goings-on in Oakmont, Massachusetts. We've known for a while that exploration and detective work are a major focus of The Sinking City (as was the case in developer Frogwares previous, frequently enjoyable Sherlock Holmes series), but we've yet to see how this might play out in-game.

That's all changed with the arrival of Frogwares' latest developer video, which walks viewers through the first part of an early, smaller-scale side-quest, titled Silence is Golden. Here, players are set the challenge of tracking down a mysterious figure that the local librarian, Joy, believes has been breaking into her home.

Your initial task is to traipse through the city's streets - awash with pleasing, if rather dilapidated 1920s period detail - in search of your destination. Frogwares stresses that The Sinking City offers no explicit objectives or waypoints during a case; instead, you're expected to use the clues available to plan your own investigation - in this particular instance, by locating Joy's address on her original letter, then plotting a route to it on your map of Oakmont. This then pins a custom objective marker to the compass on your screen.

The ensuing journey to Joy's apartment offers a brief taste of The Sinking City's atmospheric traversal, both on foot and by boat as Reed navigates the gloomy, sometimes flooded streets. However, once at your destination, the proper investigation can begin, initially requiring Reed to search for clues around the apartment building. Some of Reed's more disturbing discoveries - in this case, a teddy bear fashioned from the flesh of Joy's pet dog - can send him into a state of colour-sapping agitation, although it's not entirely clear what this means in gameplay terms.

Beyond merely scouting for clues in plain sight, Reed can also call upon some more specialised detective skills. His troubled history has, for instance, gifted him the ability to see into the immediate past, and you're able to examine memory fragments to reveal additional leads. You've also access to Concentration Mode, which will direct your investigation toward other points of interest in the immediate locale.

As Reed's snooping continues in the video, there's a very swift look at some unsettling critters down in the basement, and a spot of third-person gunplay - which seems solid enough, although Frogwares notes that weapons and bullets are relatively hard to find in town, so reckless use of your firearm can come back to haunt you further down the line.

Having collected all the available evidence at the apartment building, it's time to return to the library, where players must indulge in a spot of research, using key words and details gleaned about Joy's intruder - the mysterious and murderous Granny Weaver - to find new leads that will help them uncover more of Oakmont's disturbing past and complete the side-quest. That, however, is where Frogwares' demonstration ends - and while brief and relatively low-key, it does at least offer the clearest idea yet of how The Sinking City will unfold.

Whether the final experience will exhibit the same kind of disorientating surrealism that made The Sinking City's cinematic trailers so memorable remains to be seen, but we'll know more as Frogwares gears up for the game's PC, Xbox One, and PS4 release on March 21st next year.

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Matt Wales

Matt Wales

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Matt Wales is a freelance writer and gambolling summer child who won't even pretend to live a busily impressive life of dynamic go-getting for the purposes of this bio. He is the sole and founding member of the Birdo for President of Everything Society.