The Forgotten City Is a Clever GOTY Contender You Shouldn’t Miss

The Forgotten City Is a Clever GOTY Contender You Shouldn’t Miss

Many games have roots in mods. Rocket League started out in Unreal Tournament. PUBG had its early days in ARMA. DOTA 2 can be traced back to Warcraft III. The Forgotten City is one of those titles as it began as a Skyrim mod and has since blossomed into its own game. But it’s not just noteworthy because of its origins; it’s noteworthy because it’s an unforgettable adventure and one of the best games of the year.

It may not seem that way from the outside. While it is visually pleasing, it still very much looks like a Bethesda game from yesteryear. This is even more obvious when it moves as it has the same “center-in-on-character-and-zoom-in” camera trick that all modern Bethesda-developed games have when speaking to an NPC. The Forgotten City isn’t a flashy game in its gameplay either as it’s mainly just about talking to other characters. The bow, which is rarely even used, is only in one of its promotional screenshots. All of these elements combine and equal an experience that appears to be somewhat tame or, in the worst cases, bland.

The Forgotten City Is a Clever GOTY Contender You Shouldn’t Miss

This puts all the pressure on The Forgotten City’s writing and premise, an aspect that is difficult to convey, and that’s where it truly excels. It follows a person from the modern era that stumbles into a Roman city from centuries ago. While that’s already odd, there’s a unique hook: If any of the two dozen or so people sin (also called “breaking the Golden Rule”) the creepy golden statues littered about essentially morph into T-800s and turn their targets into golden statues through their special arrows, effectively killing them. The leader of the cursed city is able to loop that final day and tasks the player with finding out who the sinner is so they can continue on without needing to frantically reset the day and, subsequently, their memories of it.

Despite all the time looping games that have come out in 2021, The Forgotten City‘s cyclical setup is still intriguing mainly because of the philosophical questions in its very nature. What constitutes a sin? Why are some heinous acts considered a sin while others aren’t? Who decides what a sin is?

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It asks these questions and doesn’t pull its punches with its answers, which is why it has such staying power. Many other games probably would let some of these questions slide if not gloss over them entirely while The Forgotten City takes a deep look at these topics and asks the player to critically think about these ideas in the context of the game world as well as the real world. Sure, the concept of the Golden Rule is a solid hook for a game, but it’s also a solid hook in getting the player to assess their values; an aspect all too rare in video games.

The Forgotten City Is a Clever GOTY Contender You Shouldn’t Miss

While the bulk of the experience sets up a fair bit of questions, the climax acts like a philosophical boss fight and could feel like a lore dump in another, lesser game, but is full of well-reasoned explanations it has spent hours building up to. It not only provides satisfying and thorough explanations for just about everything, but it also tests the player’s convictions and thinking skills that evokes something like Phoenix Wright. It masterfully binds its themes and ability to make the player think together in this finale in a way few games achieve.

But a lot of that foundation is laid beforehand as most great finish lines come at the end of an exquisitely paved road. The Forgotten City‘s core mystery of finding out who the sinner is is engaging and only gets more engaging as the player uncovers the many secrets of the city. Being only around six hours means that the game’s twists come quickly, but not without being earned. They’re genuinely clever, always surprising, properly built up to, add to the mythos of the world, and don’t drag on, which are all key aspects for any mystery like this.

The macro parts of the game’s writing are all fantastically sharp, but that shouldn’t overshadow the writing on a smaller level. The characters in The Forgotten City all have their own distinct personalities and are all memorable in their own right. Some bits of dialogue are genuinely hilarious, touching, intimidating, or creepy and a script that can masterfully bounce between those tones with so many people is truly impressive. It’s overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t take long to get acclimated to the town and its denizens and that process of learning something and gaining mastery over it is quite satisfying. Again, the game’s length helps with this as a longer title would probably buckle under its excess weight.

The Forgotten City Is a Clever GOTY Contender You Shouldn’t Miss

Combat is relatively rare and functional, but The Forgotten City‘s gameplay is more cerebrally satisfying. Talking the others and piecing things together is the bulk of the gameplay and is a sublime loop (no pun intended) that doesn’t suffer from repetition. The game’s script often has lines in it that lets players cut right to the chase; it knows that you know you’ve done this before. There’s even a bit at the start of every loop that intelligently lets players effectively skip things they’re already done, which means every loop doesn’t truly begin all over again. This small step is yet another avenue where The Forgotten City displays its incredible pacing and smart design.

The Forgotten City is one of the best time loop games, a true achievement considering all the worthy competition that genre saw this year. It’s even coming during a pandemic where every day does feel like the same day over and over, something the game unexpectedly and explicitly mentions. That sort of COVID-related synergy does help the game’s resonance, especially as the story opens up and provides some disturbing parallels to the modern-day brand of selfish narcissist who continually puts their fellow neighbors at risk. But The Forgotten City is fantastic enough to stand out regardless of its release date. Few games are as thoughtfully written and beautifully executed and even though it may not sell itself in the most convincing way from afar, it, ironically given its name, deserves to be remembered and cherished.


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