Time loops are an amazing fictional device. An endless day that keeps starting again and again, waiting for something, someone, or an event to break the cycle and the world to begin once more is a pretty commonplace mechanic. For many, it’ll be Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as the poor weatherman stuck in a small town reliving the same day over and over again that is one of the very favourite examples. At least, until The Forgotten City came along. You see, this is all about working out how to progress through a story, while knowing how it all ends. It’s clever, inventive, and a great experience all around.
The Forgotten City started off life as a mod born from Skyrim in 2015, yet it became extremely popular with a huge amount of downloads. It has now been remolded in the Unreal engine and developed over six years into what we are seeing today. There is a small team of developers who have made this game but don’t let that put you off because it could be a hundred and the quality would be the same.
At the beginning of The Forgotten City you wake up by a riverbed in modern times, with a woman next to you who’s saved your life. It’s through her questioning and talking to you how you determine your character. I initially said I was an archaeologist by trade and that trait helped me later on in some of the conversations, but there are further options like being an adventurer, for example. You offer to help the woman find her friend who was last seen heading towards some Roman ruins by the River Tiber in Italy. As you enter the ruins you get sucked back in time, placed in the heart of The Forgotten City.
This city’s residents and buildings are from two thousand years ago; a magical place locked in time. As you explore the amazing working city with its Roman market, forums, and palaces you discover that this city has only 23 residents, and in this world, there is one golden rule – no one can commit any crime. There is no murder, theft or bribery. Golden statues lie dotted around and if a crime is committed they come to life, attempting to kill those who have broken the rules, all while the world around crumbles. It’s here where you have to run back to the entrance, avoiding death to reset the day and begin the time-loop again.
The clever thing about the game’s design is that you know what’s going to happen to certain characters or events, so much so that you can alter or reshape history when resetting the day. In one loop an archer evades the city, attacking you. In the next loop, the information that you acquire can help you stop the archer from attacking you, luring him to his death so you can steal his bow. The game is all about information and chatting rather than action and combat, much like a huge murder mystery in which you are working out all the secrets, main motives, and intrigue. It must be said, the writing is excellent, especially in regards the dialogue and world-building. The way the small team behind it has designed the story while adding in time loops, real and fictional history, and superb three-dimensional characterisation, is the highlight of the game.
The gameplay is set in the first person and plays and feels a lot like Skyrim as you walk around the locations; jumping and sprinting. In the latter stages you get weapons, but you can’t go around killing people because of that golden rule. Instead your time in The Forgotten City will be all about conversing with people, gathering info, and working out the solutions to what folk need and want so you can get more information and finally escape the city and get back to your time. The great thing about the start of each time loop is that you get to keep your inventory from the previous circle.
For example, a healer needs a special herb to make someone better, but the problem is that herb is very expensive. You’ll be able to steal the herb, triggering the statues as they try to kill you. By running to the portal and resetting the time loop, you’ll be able to give the herb to the healer in your inventory. That’s just one small example of the many clever solutions and inventions that the developers employ throughout.
Visually and The Forgotten City looks beautiful; it delivers a great location and superb lighting. The character models are nicely designed as well with some great facial expressions and interesting designs. Yet even though the game has been upgraded visually from the mod, it still has the old Skyrim foundations dragging at it and sometimes has that comes out in some slowdown or a tiny glitch in the gameplay. Thankfully it’s nothing that interrupts the enjoyment of the experience. The soundtrack is very good too – solidly atmospheric. It’s helped along by the voice-over which is outstanding throughout, with a great collection of performances delivering the superb script.
The Forgotten City is a game that many will thoroughly enjoy. It’s got a great story at its centre and keeps delivering a standard of distinction in narrative design and dialogue throughout. The time loop dynamics and puzzle solutions are clever and will always make you smile. It’s visually very good too, yet there are some slowdowns and small glitching in rare moments. Overall though, it’s well worth getting trapped in time in The Forgotten City.
Travel through time, and back again, in The Forgotten City on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One