A bit like Duck Life and My Singing Monsters, Forgotten Hill is a series that I had no idea existed until I was given the game to review. This is the SIXTH Forgotten Hill release, coming hot on the heels of – deep breath – Puppeteer, Fall, Surgery, Mementoes and Little Cabin. It’s the first of the series to hit Xbox, so that’s our excuse.
Does it matter that you (or we) haven’t played the previous games? As it happens, yes, a little. Forgotten Hill Disillusion isn’t willing to do a recap or find another means to bring you up to speed. You have to osmose the story from various newspaper clippings and journals, and it’s not altogether easy. You are presented with a blizzard of names and places, and you suspect that a Forgotten Hill player would be nodding their head, while the rest of us are nonplussed.
As you can guess from the title, there is a lot of love for Silent Hill here, certainly in some of the storytelling. You seem unable to leave the city of Forgotten Hill, a place that’s been isolated from the world for decades. It’s a city that can be seen on two layers: one with the naked eye, and a hellish alternate version that only occasionally gets revealed. There’s no Pyramid Head and it never goes so far as being scary, but you get the idea.
Forgotten Hill Disillusion plays less like Silent Hill and more like a point-and-click. An especially old point-and-click, actually, as this gave us Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate vibes. If you’ve played the 8-Bit Adventure Anthology on Xbox, you will be especially at home here.
The game kicks off in a hybrid of library, museum and gallery. A Lurch-like guard welcomes you in, offers you a ticket to the library area, but bars you from the other doors in the building. You will need other tickets for those areas. So, you are exploring and completing puzzles in the library with the aim of generating a coin for the ticket machine, which will in turn move you to the next area.
There’s a bygone, slightly stale feeling to Forgotten Hill Disillusion. You interact with stuff using a cursor from Windows 98, and it’s a slow beast. None of the innovations from the past ten years of point-and-clicking are here: you can’t lock onto interactibles, nor can you activate a filter that lets you see all of them. For some, that might be a bonus – this is unashamedly retro – but in places it can feel like it’s being held back.
You are gathering items and completing a lot of puzzles. The density of puzzles here is much higher than a hidden object game or your average point-and-click. It almost goes so far to challenge Professor Layton. What surprised most was how robust they were. We enjoyed tinkering with a lot of Forgotten Hill Disillusion’s riddles and games, and there were plenty that we hadn’t seen before.
In particular, Forgotten Hill Disillusion makes use of two gizmos, and we’ll only reveal one as the second is something of a spoiler. You get a camera, and this lets you view the game’s alternate hellscape through a viewfinder. Every single room in the game has a dark, alternate underbelly, and Forgotten Hill Disillusion hides clues to the puzzles within it. You’re scouring the background for hints, and marveling that FM Studio would bother to produce double the art for each room (it becomes clearer why by the end, but – again – spoilers). It’s generous and great fun, allowing the game to be puckish about tucking secrets across dimensions.
On the flip, the puzzles are often a reach. We’re chuffed that we live in a future where the internet can provide us with a walkthrough, as some puzzles simply aren’t intuitive. Towards the end of the game, for example, you are presented with a projection puzzle, where you have to line up four different projections so they create a larger shape that matches the amulets, screen prints and other items that you have picked up along the way. But rather than reward you for getting close to the destination image, you have to get it almost pixel-perfect. You are nudging items millimetre by millimetre, unsure whether one of them is incorrect or all of them.
This unforgiving approach gets mixed in with straight illogic. Most of the time it’s the graphic adventure stuff that’s the problem. It’s less a spoiler and more a public service to give you an example: at one point, you have to cover a statue with a cloth, so that another statue grows a tentacle out of its mouth, and then you put that tentacle in another statue’s mouth, which produces a poop, which gets magicked into a gem when you take it into a separate room. Too often, Forgotten Hill Disillusion swaps logic for a kind of bizarro cause-and-effect, and you will be scouring guides more often than you should.
But for all the anachronistic gameplay, the complete lack of recapping, and the frustrating puzzles that stick a middle figure up to you on a regular basis, we actually enjoyed our time with Forgotten Hill Disillusion. Once you buy into the idea of playing it with a gamefaq loaded on your phone, and you accept that it often won’t make a jot of sense, it does a lot right. It’s huge, for one, with a playtime into the double figures. It’s consistently foreboding, and the manipulation of multiple realities – particularly with the camera and a rugpull twist halfway through – makes it stand out when you expected it to do anything but. If you ignore the execution in places, this has a lot of great content.
Forgotten Hill Disillusion is a hard point-and-click adventure to like. So much so, that it feels willful. It doesn’t care for bringing you up to speed with the story of the series, and it wears its illogical puzzles like a badge of honour. But tear away at this rotten tissue and there’s a surprising amount to like underneath. Forgotten Hill Disillusion is a claustrophobic puzzler that has a couple of fantastic twists up its sleeve.
Forgotten Hill Disillusion might not get you searching out the other games in the series, but it will while away a dozen or so hours. Some of them might even be memorable.
You can buy Forgotten Hill Disillusion from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S