The Forgotten City Review – Unforgettable Time Traveling Mystery
The Forgotten CityJuly 28th, 2021
The forbidden fruit is one of the oldest human tropes: something you aren’t allowed to touch just makes it all the more tempting to do so. We’ve all licked wet paint signs, grabbed electric fences, or stuck into staff-only areas of the local cinema. The Forgotten City is much the same, tempting you in with intrigue and strict rules begging to be circumvented. Despite some dated features, The Forgotten City is a surprisingly refreshing take on the adventure game that is just begging to be explored.
You might have heard of The Forgotten City before, and not just because it sounds very similar to the world-famous historical site in China. The Forgotten City, the game, was originally a mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It has now been reimagined, polished, and expanded into a full game. In it, you take on the role of a time-traveling explorer, trapped in a loop in which you attempt to save an ancient Roman city from itself. To do this, you’ll have to explore, interrogate, and tease out the mysteries of the city and its residents, all while warily wandering past the golden statues that are definitely whispering and staring at you.
There's a grain of familiarity to the game for anyone who has played an old-school adventure game, from Monkey Island to Myst. Navigating sprawling dialogue branching, finding items to overcome obstacles, and exploring every nook and cranny of the city to solve the various puzzles before you will have you drowning in nostalgic dopamine. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel much like those games as you're playing it. It feels newer, with more freedom and less bizarre logic. A few areas could be improved, but this feels more like a modernized old-school adventure game than the current iteration of the genre in most regards.
Most notably, although the city is beautiful to explore and takes advantage of the space and verticality of its position fantastically, there isn’t much environmental storytelling to sink your teeth into. Although there are obviously some exceptions, most exposition feels like it comes from lengthy conversations rather than piecing together what happened.
And the dialogue does feel dated, with the shackles of Skyrim firmly holding its place. The Forgotten City begins with a fireside conversation, and you’ll have to stare the stranger right in the eyes the entire time. Thankfully the voice acting is great, and the script is compelling with more or less every interaction, but the close-up showcases how long this game has been in development and where it came from.
Some conversations are extremely long too. Although most characters will warn you before they deliver a soliloquy that would make Shakespeare fidget, you’ll see have to listen to them if you want to begin unraveling the various mysteries of The Forgotten City. And that’s because there are multiple endings that branch off from the main story, so if you want to see everything that The Forgotten City has to offer and avoid intervention from the TVA, you’ll need to learn everything you can. The basic premise of The Forgotten City also has you in a self-controlled time loop, and you’ll quickly learn the need to hop through the portal and start over again as things start to go a little murdery or very wrong. It's satisfying returning to the city with a notepad full of knowledge, a few tools, and a host of new dialogue options to try on the unsuspecting Romans.
The city isn’t extensively populated, with around twenty characters scattered around, but that’s already a fairly large cast to familiarise yourself with. Each character is impressively distinct, with a clear personality, secrets, and goals for you to uncover, exploit, and understand. From the moment you enter the city, you’ll quickly start to see the morally grey and philosophical conundrum they’re gotten themselves into. In that way, it feels a bit like Pathologic 2, but in a manner that doesn’t feel like the game hates you and wants you to waste your time. You’ll have to question your actions and the citizens as you start to understand how the city is governed. There’s also quite a lot of quoting of Roman and Greek philosophers, so you can sound brilliant if you memorize a couple of the quotes too.
One drawback while playing through is that The Forgotten City doesn’t keep a great record of your objectives and information. While you’ll have a quest guide that walks you through your next steps, it is often missing vital information that you heard from a character, and the only way of regaining that information is to run through the same dialogue again. It's no problem for anyone with a scrap of paper or phone to hand, but it feels like the quest system could be a little more intuitive, especially when players are just getting their bearings.
But that is only an issue because the story is genuinely intriguing, and you’ll want to make sure you’re discovering every quest and solving every mystery as you get caught up. The Forgotten City is an ambitious title that handles the branching narrative, large cast, and spirally gameplay with incredible skill. It's an incredible title for players looking for anything story-heavy and action-light, with plenty of detective work between.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher).
The Forgotten City just feels so satisfying to play. You'll constantly be solving little mysteries and discovering new secrets to hit you with some immediate gratifications, all the while working on the larger puzzlers and tangled storyline to reach the end.
- An incredibly complex story that is really easy to engage with
- Impressive host of characters
- Beautiful city to explore
- Really engaging mysteries and puzzles
- Dialogue looks dated
- Not as much environmental storytelling for such a pretty environment
- Slight unintuitive logbook