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The Sinking City beginner’s guide

We’re here to help you understand Charles Reed, Oakmont, and the town’s unknowable horrors

Frogwares/Bigben Interactive via Polygon
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

The Sinking City is not a game where you’re an overpowered superhuman punching his way to victory. Instead, you’re Charles Reed, a private investigator, making incremental progress by finding one clue at a time. It’s not flashy. It’s methodical and procedural.

There’s room in the world for both types of games, but your approach as a player to each of them has to be different. Below, you’ll find our tips and advice as you get started in the drowned town of Oakmont.

There’s no rushing in The Sinking City

This advice is about the story, but also about navigating the city itself. Traveling around Oakmont is a lengthy process. Reed doesn’t run fast, and you’ll be covering a lot of distance when you travel from place to place. The Flood and the flooded streets will slow you down even further. Even short jaunts will require switching from walking to boating and back.

Get comfortable with the pacing — and know you’re going as fast as you can — and you won’t get (as) frustrated.

Unlock fast travel points as you explore

There are fast travel points scattered throughout the town. You’ll need to visit each one first to be able to fast travel to it later, though.

Using the compass to find an undiscovered fast travel location.
Undiscovered fast travel locations will appear on your compass.
Frogwares/Bigben Interactive via Polygon

Watch the compass at the top of the screen as you walk around. Any time you see a compass rose icon, there’s a fast travel phone booth nearby. It’s almost always worth a brief detour to unlock it. All you have to do is head toward the booth until its name pops up on your screen.

Know how to heal

Charles Reed is just a (mostly) normal human up against supernatural enemies, so he’s going to take a lot of damage. Figuring out how to heal, though, is something the game doesn’t go out of its way to explain.

Selecting a first aid kit from the weapon wheel.
Your first aid kits are in the weapons wheel.
Frogwares/Bigben Interactive via Polygon

Your first aid kits — just a syringe, really — show up in your weapon wheel. They operate like weapons, too. Select them from the wheel, hit the button to aim, then hit the button to shoot.

You’ll find a few first aid kits around the city as you explore, or get them as rewards, but you’ll probably craft them in your inventory far more often. They require two alcohol and one coil spring to create.

Manage your madness

After your health, your sanity is next most important thing to manage. While it’s rarely deadly to lose your sanity — you will die if it stays drained for too long, but it takes a while — it does warp your vision and make navigating the world more difficult. If it drains too far, it gets hard to even tell where you are.

Just like your first aid kits, you have antipsychotic shots to use for this. Pick them out of the weapons wheel and use them the same way. Antipsychotics require one alcohol and one coil spring to craft.

Read the hobo signs

There are visual clues everywhere to help you navigate and notice things in the city.

The most common one you’ll see is a chalked H on a doorway. In the game’s lore, this means the building is inhabited. For your purposes while playing, it’s a hint that you can go through a doorway.

Some crates, lockers, and boxes will be marked with a grid pattern like a hashtag with one extra line. This indicates that there’s something inside — usually crafting materials or ammo.

A double V symbol with an M in a diamond means you’re near an infested area. These have good loot — usually lots of crafting materials and more ammo — but a lot of tough enemies.

Avoid combat until you can’t

There’s a lot working against you when it comes to fighting off Wylebeasts and goons. You’re slow and underpowered. Most enemies have weak points, but they’re hard to hit. Reloading is a lengthy process that leaves you open to attack.

This means that you’ll want to avoid combat whenever you can. However, the game doesn’t often present you with combat outside of crime scenes, so you’re not going to get a lot of chances to just run away.

To survive, approach fights slowly. Take your time with your shots — it’s better to aim for too long and squeeze off one shot than it to waste precious ammo (and time reloading) on multiple misses. Use your shovel for weaker enemies to conserve bullets. Use your surroundings — things like barriers, walls, and doorways — to keep the monsters out of reach.

Advance the story to unlock new weapons

Your trusty pistol is a fine weapon, but as the Wylebeasts get deadlier and you’re faced with more and more local goons, you’ll need something better. New weapons are rewards for completing main story investigations. You’ll get a revolver, shotgun, battle rifle, and submachine gun by the end.

Understand your archive resources

Searching the newpaper archive
Frogwares/Bigben Interactive via Polygon

During many of your investigations, you’ll need to look up information in the city’s various archives. Knowing which one to go to will save you a lot of running around.

  • Newspaper. The newspaper archives have articles and advertisements. You’ll usually have a hint about needing the newspaper when you see words like ad or interview.
  • Hospital. The hospital will have archives of patients. Your hint that you need to visit the hospital will be about someone needing treatment for their wounds.
  • Police. Here you’ll find arrest records and complaints. There will be words like crimes or arrested in the hint.
  • City Hall. City Hall has records about people and organizations. If you’re looking for a birth record or the address of a company, check here.

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