Review: Sinister City
Games can be bad in a lot of ways. They can be too hard, they can be too dumb (it’s true), they can be too rough, and so on. I’ve played plenty of games that were perfectly good at what they wanted to be, and what they wanted to be was bad. Sinister City is the opposite, in a way. It wants to be dumb and goofy in a charming way, and it would be, if not for being genuinely bad on the technical side.
You play John, a regular joe who looks a little like Tom Cruise with a painted on short-sleeve button-up and tie. His girl Nina gets whisked away by a vampire to Sinister City, an actual fucking place full of vampires that everyone is totally okay with for some reason. After getting his bearings and some vampire hunting tips from the melon-headed veteran, John makes his way into the auspicious burg to wrest his fiancee from the clutches of the undead.
It’s nowhere near this epic, mind you, and that’s a good thing for once. Whatever you’re expecting of Sinister City is going to get upended because the story is acutely aware of its absurdities and tries to top itself constantly. Within minutes of starting the game (spoiler alert I guess?) the kindly hotel manager assembles a mystical hypnosis machine that sends you to the astral plane. To defeat the villainous vampire you’ll need the help of his real estate agent wife and his therapist. There’s a vampire Teletubby. And all of this is spilled on you not with a wink and a nod, or awkward tryhard dialogue, but with some refreshingly earnest humor and a willingness to just roll with the weirdness.
The reason I’m telling you all this up front is because despite the solid kookiness, you really shouldn’t play Sinister City. As wonderfully campy as the story ends up being the gameplay cannot sustain it, and the technical issues just demolish what’s left. The hidden object scenes here are a combination of the genre’s worst habits: You can only seek five items at a time, you have to move completely unmarked objects to get at things behind them, the scenes themselves are hard to spot and tend to be in strange places, and you have to do them multiple times until you find almost every single item. This means that scenes are incredibly easy as long as you’re randomly clicking on everything, which is the only way to find the movable objects anyway.
On top of that, you need to find multiples of items across multiple scenes or areas to get inventory items to use on NPCs or puzzles. These can be hidden anywhere, including hidden object scenes for OTHER items, and you get no indication that you’ve found everything in a given scene. Plus, you can’t even pick up obvious items until you trigger the dialogue telling you to get them! On top of all this, some scenes are misaligned graphically which make it super hard to click the right things, and some objects blend far too well into the muddy backgrounds.
The amateur-hour graphics don’t do Sinister City any favors either, with inconsistent 3D models and some incredibly blurry backgrounds. I must admit, though, the sound design is decent and features some nice, campy voice acting and appropriate music. But it is clear this was a mobile title first, with a lack of options and plenty of “Tap here to X” prompts. It wouldn’t take you more than 90 minutes to beat even on the harder mode, so as decent as the story is in its goofy way, you’re better off staying far, far away from Sinister City.