Goondu review: The Forgotten City

August 9th, 2021 | by Yap Hui Bin
Goondu review: The Forgotten City
Gaming
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Ready to travel to the past again and again to solve the mystery of The Forgotten City?

From its humble beginnings as a Skyrim mod back in 2015, The Forgotten City is now fully developed with expanded content and released as a standalone game.

At that time, The Forgotten City had won the Australian Writers’ Guild award with its suspenseful, blockbuster-worthy script.

What’s remarkable is that it took three people over four years to create this game featuring not only the ingenious script but also suitably tense and unnerving atmosphere and polished gameplay.

Developed by the Modern Storyteller team from Melbourne, Australia, on an Unreal engine, The Forgotten City shows how much fun a non-triple A, indie title can be.

The developers even consult genuine historical consultants and archaeologists, so a certain level of historic accuracy can be expected.

Live, die, repeat

The Forgotten City sends you 2,000 years back into a Roman underground city where the citizens are under a curse known as The Golden Rule, where all will die if one person commits a sin.

All around the city, there are reminders that “The many shall suffer for the sins of the one”. Your character is brought in to preemptively prevent the sin from being committed and hence saving the citizens from dying.

The Forgotten City plays as a mystery action-adventure game where you solve the mystery through conversation with the citizens, exploration of the complex city, and puzzle-solving.

Keeping this review spoiler-free is a challenge but suffice to say, there are plenty of plot twists that you will discover in the game.

The ingenious plot device of time looping lets you try out different dialogue options and see how things pan out if you made certain decisions.

It’s pretty much like how we play other games – we save before making a major decision and load the previously saved game if it doesn’t go the way we want.

Despite the “Groundhog Day” or “Edge of Tomorrow” feeling and deja vu references, the game has mechanisms to prevent it from being repetitive.

Quests that have been completed and items that have been collected will not need to be performed or collected again, and you can start a new day from where you left off, although the non-player characters (NPCs) will not know that.

There is also a clever plot device that lets you save some time to work on the new developments at the start of each day so you can have plenty of time to prevent the day from restarting before you are ready. Intrigued yet?

The game offers you certain choices for your character, including the gender as well as four preset backgrounds. Each will have different abilities or equipment to be used in the game. They also offer up more dialogue options, so there’s a bit more reason to replay the game with different attributes.

Time travelling and puzzle solving

Although the game is confined to the city, there is surprisingly a lot to explore. From the extensive network of tunnels and caves, to the labyrinthine interiors of major buildings, to the many levels of the city, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to discover.

There is even a way to fast travel using zip lines across the city, which is a lot more fun than walking. 

Despite having only around 20 people to interact with and talk to, the game feels very substantial, thanks to the in-depth conversations as well as some long philosophical discussions and cerebral arguments that you can have with characters.

Also, since the NPCs will forget your previous conversations with them once the day is restarted, you can explore all the possible dialogue options to uncover even more information and their stories. 

Some elements of the game will be familiar to Skyrim players, such as the terrible jumping mechanics and the dated inventory interface. But unlike Skyrim, there are no dragons to slay here and combat isn’t the focus, neither is looting or crafting.

There is a meagre inventory of critical quest items, a torch to see in the dark, as well as a bow that is critical for combat and solving puzzles, but that’s about it.

The entire game takes around 12 hours to complete although certain endings can be achieved much earlier.

The Forgotten City offers four different endings, but the developers strongly encourage players to complete the canon ending (Ending 4) as do I, since it offers the most satisfying conclusion.

There’s even a pacifist route to completing the game which includes minimal combat but that will mean missing out on one of the best and most heartbreaking side quests. 

Sight, sound and the feels

For such a small game, The Forgotten City has created such an immersive atmosphere for each area in the game with deft mastery.

From the claustrophobic tunnels to the creepy undercity to the horrific dungeons, to how the whole atmosphere becomes sinister and frightening when the curse hits, the game manages to be thrilling, scary, gruesome, and even humorous when the occasion calls for it. 

Characters in The Forgotten City are memorable and are voiced pretty well, which makes them a pleasure to talk to. The generous dialogue plus the time loop mechanism lets you exhaust all possible dialogue options with the NPCs.

You can always skip through those longer conversations that you have heard before. It doesn’t matter if your responses offend them and they refuse to talk to you, as they will completely forget about you and the offensive conversation you had after the time loop has been activated. It’s kind of liberating to speak freely without worrying about any irreversible consequences!

While playing, I did experience some bugs – my character got stuck in certain places and was unable to move, but restarting the game fixed that.

There were also some typos in the item descriptions and occasional overlapping dialogue, but nothing terribly game breaking.

As the developers mention in the beginning during game installation, if you don’t play it with expectations of a triple A title, you should be fine.

But they are a little bit too humble. For an indie title that started off as a mod, The Forgotten City’s intriguing story, ingenious script and simple yet sophisticated gameplay is really impressive.

TL;DR

The Forgotten City is a celebration for modders and proof of how a clever script and brilliant gameplay ideas can really carry a game through.

With the unique experience of looping time travel and deep philosophical discussions, The Forgotten City stands out from the usual mash and bash games.

If you enjoy solving mysteries, talking to NPCs and exploring an ancient city, go grab The Forgotten City – it will be an unforgettable experience.

The Forgotten City is available on Steam for PC at S$22 and in the Microsoft Store for Xbox at S$43.50. The game isn’t available at the Singapore PlayStation Store at the time of writing although it is available on the US store for US$29.99. If you have a PC and a Steam account, I will strongly recommend getting it and playing it on the PC.

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