If this is the first review of mine you’re reading (and I entirely blame you for that indiscretion, I’ve been reviewing games for over 10 years now!) then you might not know that I like to go in as cold as I can on most titles. I try to avoid news, controversies and basically any information about a game apart from the bare minimum to get me interested in playing it. To be sure this means that there’s probably been some misfires when a game’s initial foray into the press was less than stellar and I simply didn’t bother to go back and look at it again. This does mean that going into some games can be a bit of a jarring experience as what my vague recollection of what they should be doesn’t line up with what they actually are. So was my impression of The Forgotten City, something I thought was a run of the mill walking simulator which actually turned out to be something entirely different.
You awake on the bank of a river with little memory of how you ended up there. It appears that a woman was camped there and noticed you floating down, saving you from certain doom by dragging you onto the shore. After exchanging a few pleasantries she asks if you can help her by looking for her friend Al who disappeared into some nearby ruins. You oblige and head off towards them where you discover they’re actually ancient Roman in origin. Descending further you find yourself in the middle of a long forgotten city, seemingly stuck in ancient roman times and dictated by the Golden Rule: should one person sin all of them will suffer. How this place came to be and how this rule works is a mystery even to its inhabitants and something that you’ll task yourself with figuring out.
I was initially taken aback by The Forgotten City’s decidedly dated visuals and the uncanny resemblance it had to the Skyrim’s style of dialogue (I.E. zooming right up to the character’s face whilst you make decisions between a couple text options). As it turns out this is not accidental as the game is the recreation of a Skyrim mod that the main developer had made and released back in 2015. Whilst this is something of a distraction for the game’s opening hour or so the visuals matter less and less as the game progresses on with the real focus being on the story and unravelling the secrets of the world. So whilst I’d grade it around a C- from the audio-visual aspects it’s thankfully one of the few detractions from its otherwise solid core gameplay.
The Forgotten City doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre as it borrows elements from numerous different styles of game whilst never really committing wholeheartedly to one. Whilst you’ll be spending a lot of time walking around and talking to people it’s definitely not a walking simulator. No in order to progress the story you’re going to have to make some logical jumps and direct conversations in certain ways, figure out how the game’s main mechanic actually works (since the game doesn’t tell you how it works) and, strangely, there’s even a basic combat system that you’ll have to engage in if you’re ever to make it through to the end. All of this though is done in aid of pursuing the story however, something which requires diving deep on to see any meaningful progress.
I have to admit that I struggled a bit with the game’s first hour or so. Whilst it’s always nice to have fully voiced characters there’s an awful amount of preamble and exposition that the game needs to get out of the way before you really, truly understand what’s going on in the world. It’s also rather hard to discern what’s going to be necessary to progressing the plot and what’s worldbuilding and so you’ll end up retreading a fair bit of ground early on to get your bearings as to what you need to know and what’s just something nice and/or filler. However once you get past that initial point things start to ramp up and you start to have a whole lot more agency in how things play out.
Which makes the game’s middle parts arguably its strongest as you start to form links between the various people, their personalities, motivations and build out an inventory of different things that help you solve the various problems that are plaguing this city’s residents. The developers have also included some great time saving mechanics which enable you to blast through certain problems quickly once you’ve solved them for the first time, ensuring you’re not spending an inordinate amount of time retreading already well beaten paths. This frees you up to explore and experiment more which, for a good while, is definitely a lot of fun.
There does come a time where you start to hit the wall a bit, where clues start to peter out and the seemingly obvious progression paths don’t seem to work in the way that you’d think they would. This led to me running around the town randomly for a good long while, looking for clues as to what I’d missed in order to push the story forward. As it just so happened I lucked into finding a particular hidden section that uncovered a significant story reveal which then also led me to discover yet another area that led to the one ending I unlocked. The game does show you that there’s multiple endings, and teases you to try and “improve” the ending you got, but honestly at this point I’d felt like I’d seen enough of the world and felt pretty satisfied with the ending I got.
If it sounds like I’m dancing around the plot a lot well, I am, partly out of the request the game makes to not spoil things but also because it wouldn’t take much to really take the wind out of the game’s sails. There’s a number of key reveals and moments that, even if notionally hinted at, kind of ruin the mystery and could likely see you not bothering with talking to certain characters at all. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the narrative and it’s method of gently guiding you helped immensely in ensuring that the story was well paced.
The Forgotten City is one of those strange, out of left field experiences that writing about seems almost moot. Whilst I hope I’ve given you enough information to pique your interest the reality is that, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys these sorts of things, you likely already know about it. If you don’t then it’s likely not a game you’d get much out of. I mean, I fell into the latter camp and I still did, but I would’ve never gotten around to it if it wasn’t for Yahtzee mentioning it in his yearly game roundup. Maybe the lesson is here that my ultra-low information diet on games needs a bit more calories in it.
The Forgotten City is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch right now for $35.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 4.1 hours total play time and 45% of the achievements unlocked.