The Forgotten City – From Mod to Masterpiece
One of the great stories of game development is watching something which offers a great deal of promise through hard work and perseverance expand beyond its humble roots to become something greater.
Which is The Forgotten City in a nutshell.
The original mod was one that had passed me by, so in reviewing the full game, I’m coming at it from a clean slate. I’m incredibly grateful for this, as it’s an experience that well and truly staked a place in my head of its own accord.
It opens in a relatively chill manner, finding yourself on the outskirts of a long-abandoned city, having been dredged out of the nearby river. At the behest of the person who found you, you wander in to search for someone who went in ahead of you.
What you find is the portal to the past. To 2000 years ago where the City is thriving, a Roman community was ruled by The Golden Rule: where if anyone sins, the entire populace is punished by being turned into golden statues.
Your opening goal is to find out who amongst the citizens will break this rule. Which means it’s time to get investigating. The majority of your time will be spent talking with citizens, learning about their backgrounds and how they ended up here.
But you’ll also need to help them, as while the city may have the facade of being a utopia, the truth is it’s anything but.
The characters all have their concerns and problems, some more serious than others. I found them all to be incredibly well written – both those you’ll grow to be fond of, along with those more underhanded, devious types. Not only was their writing solid, but the voice acting for them adds another dimension to their personalities as well.
For me, this really humanised them quite a bit. Even those who I found myself disliking based on their roles in the City’s society.
But the big hook of the game comes from The Golden Rule, and it’s in an ingenious way. Sure, the Rule is not to be broken, and find who is meant to break it is your initial objective.
But sometimes? Solving a puzzle means you need to break it. One such puzzle involves obtaining a rather large sum of money to impress someone in the city. The only way of doing so? Stealing it from the chests of one of the other citizens.
Upon breaking the Rule, you’ll have to hightail it back to the entrance to restart the day, which has you retaining the knowledge you’ve learnt thus far, along with your inventory. I adore this mechanic and how it sets you up to run through the day again, and again in order to set things right.
Once things click together in the final act, restarting the day and solving these citizens problems really feels like a heroic display of mastery.
Though the game’s atmosphere is primarily a relaxing experience, you’ll find a few moments which bring a few scares to the table. The multiple layers of how you explore the world are important, and it’s also ever so handy to shake things up as well.
These sequences also involve combat, and whilst I found the combat to be fine, the particular sequence where you’re required to use it also has some unique environment traversal which I found really added to the challenge of this part. In fact, taking the tricks you learn from this part and apply them elsewhere is quite a neat reward as well if you can keep an eye out for the opportunities.
More than anything, The Forgotten City is not a game, nor role-playing. Instead, it’s more about the philosophy of the systems within. Updating the mod’s setting to take place within the times of the Roman Empire greatly helps with being connected to the story.
In fact, this has to be what I’d consider the most important change with the game over the original mod. Then there’s the greatly expanded script, which contributes greatly to giving the story more room to breathe and grow.
That of course allows the narrative payoff to be so much more substantial. Though I picked up on a few details early (based on what occurs during one of the quests), the way those initial prompts led to the game’s ending truly was a surprise.
For me, the way it ultimately played out was more contemplative than I might have expected on going in, and in an era where perhaps we need to consider more thoughtful ways of solving our problems… it highlighted that in a way few games have in quite a long while.
Which for me gives The Forgotten City an important place to claim in gaming for 2021. It offers a strong narrative in a complex world, and a relaxed pace resulting in a unique experience that is well worth your time investigating.
The Forgotten City was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.
Rob is that weird hybrid of a developer and a writer. Having been enjoying games since the days of loading 8-bit oddities from cassette tapes, nothing excites him more than finding games which draw him into the zone or offer something slightly unconventional.
When away from review or development duties… he’s making videos diving into examples of older and lesser-known titles… to avoid screaming “This belongs in a museum” into the void anywhere near as often.