The following software was reviewed on an Xbox Series X console.
The Forgotten City is a mystery adventure game developed by Modern Storyteller and published by Dear Villagers for Xbox One and Series consoles. Once a game mod for the beloved Skyrim, the experience has been reimagined and overhauled to become something new and playable for a much larger audience. Players will find themselves reliving a single point of time of this city without sin over and over again to learn more about the mystery of what is behind ‘The Golden Rule’ that keeps the peace. This involves learning more about the residents and their stories, discover the many twists and turns behind this city, and find your way out of here once and for all.
Words Speak Louder than Actions
I love games with branching dialogue, and in The Forgotten City, talk is worth its weight in gold; only those without a sharp tongue will have to work for what they need. You will be talking to people from the early anno Domini years in this Romanesque city, arguing about what is right and wrong, what counts as a sin, and even talking to save the lives of some that are doomed to relive the same day over and over again. Like I mentioned earlier, The Golden Rule watches over this city. A rule that will punish all if even a single individual were to sin, turning everyone into a statue made of gold. While it would be nice to punch someone in the face for an item you need, doing so will have you reset the entire day’s events.
Listening is a key part of having new topics to talk about, both in conversations or simply by eavesdropping on others. As this game has multiple endings, what you say and what you do will eventually lead you to one of these endings. The Forgotten City is very good at pushing the player in the right direction in times of doubt, and I never felt that I needed a guide to get unstuck. What is also helpful is the background you get to choose for your player character, which can help influence events in your favor or even push through an obstacle if you have to. Of course, there are also moments of action, and even some mild horror elements, which the game is kind enough to warn you about if you get close to one. I do not want to get too much into detail to keep things a surprise, but I can assure those scared by their own shadows that these segments are a small portion of the game. However, you will have to come into at least one of them if you intend on getting the canonical, or true, ending for the game.
Rome Was Not Built in a Day
The Forgotten City is painted as a lush, secluded little world, tucked away somewhere deep in the world. For a small team consisting of three developers, I have nothing but praise. The Roman artwork is beautiful to look at, the city depicts multiple castes in this tiny part of the world incredibly well, and its people are ever so fitting in their roles thanks to strong voice acting work. There is a good deal of ancient works that can be found and read all over the city, like bits of graffiti or notes left behind by those who came before. Besides literature, characters talk of gods and ancient Roman tales and even question where those may have come from. Anyone exploring this city will be compelled, in some way, to learn more about Rome thanks to how well this city portrays Roman life.
Besides a pretty vista, players will spend quite a bit of time talking to people, which takes place in its own specific scene, highlighting the wrinkles of frustration on an old man or the smooth skin of someone with few worries in life. These windows use specific hero lighting in many other games with closeup one-to-one discussions, and the effects work quite well in keeping you focused on the conversations at hand. You have the option to skip every line of dialogue as well, making the time-looped conversations much easier to get through. If I had one complaint, it’s that occasionally a background sound effect would drown out conversations, but a little bit of repositioning never hurt anyone.
Some Caveat, Hold the Emptor
If I had to sum up the best parts of this game, it would be all about the talking and the puzzle solving. Figuring out problems through the use of a time loop is really fun, and even more so once you have the rules of the game all figured out. Every resident in The Forgotten City has specific tasks they carry out, but they are not based on time but rather triggers, which all fall on the player to discover. In a way, the game is a very small sandbox you can play with until you figure things out. Besides dying or getting an ending, there is no other fail state, so long as you can loop back to when you started.
But the dying parts are where things do not work out as well as I hoped they would. Like I mentioned earlier, there are action sequences that can involve combat and very few segments of platforming. The combat is passable, almost a bit like Skyrim’s archery combat, and very easy to abuse. But I was not a fan of the platforming. All of these felt out of place in a game that otherwise emphasizes discussion and learning over brute force. The horror was a nice touch, however, and really adds to the creepiness of a true utopia ruled by a basic rule of “no sin”. I wish the game leaned more towards that for a change of pace, even if it would make me queasy.
And on a personal note, the use of time travel left me underwhelmed. As a game mechanic, it was fun to work out the do’s and the don’ts and make things work my way. But as a narrative mechanic, it can highlight how meaningless actions can be when reversed, which I felt was not a topic of discussion in the game’s moral story. To The Forgotten City’s credit, it does not delve into multidimensional time nonsense and explains how the time loop works accordingly within the one day that it is activated, but it did leave me with a few questions especially when I pursued a path in the true ending route. Time travel is very hard to get right, and while I enjoyed the stories within the loop, I did not care for the overarching story as much as I would have liked.
In my time with the game, I have also run into a few bugs. None of them were game-breaking, with some of the more unintentional ones involving me having access to dialogue options with information I was not even aware of at the time, or another one where I could get into a locked-off area unintentionally. Most of them involved visual glitches and weirdness, and the developers assured me that one patch would rectify the issues I experienced.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum
The Forgotten City offers many options to tailor gameplay. Subtitle size can be increased as well as placed on a solid background for better visibility. Field of view can be extended past 90 up to 110 degrees and motion blur can be reduced or completely removed. The audio tab has multiple sliders for different types of sound, such as ambiance, dialogue, and menu interaction. Controls can be rebound for controllers as well as mouse and keyboard, which this game fully supports. Sensitivity as well as looking can be inverted as well. The game is fully voiced in English only but offers text support for English, German, French, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, and Russian.
Modern Storyteller has done a great job with the few people they have and the scope of the work they pulled off. Not many developers can pull off a game with multiple events, triggers, and mechanics that are all up to the player to pull off. You can easily have a very broken game this way (even from a AAA game developer), but they pulled it off and that benefits the game’s narrative and the player’s ambitions. While I was not keen on the narrative function of the time travel, it worked as a good gameplay mechanic and added to the individual stories of the people within the secluded Roman city. The action was unnecessary, but the horror was welcome. But even in the face of that, The Forgotten City is easy to recommend for story-centric players. “Caveat emptor” does not apply here. ∎
The Forgotten City$29.99
- Beautiful visuals inspired by Roman works, with strong voice acting for characters.
- Strong writing and branching dialogue is fun to work with and learn from, with time travel as a good gameplay device.
- Action sequences are much to be desired and feel out of place.
- Time travel as a narrative device feels underwhelming.