Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: July 27, 2021
Let’s be honest — the bar for writing in video games is low. Like, really low. While narrative focused titles certainly try harder than Mortal Kombat does, most games not named Disco Elysium just don’t have good writing. Voice acting tends to suffer as a result, since it’s hard to deliver poorly-written lines in a way that doesn’t sound silly.
So, it was a pleasant surprise when I booted up The Forgotten City, and didn’t immediately roll my eyes at the first few lines of dialogue. Far from it, in fact; I was immediately struck by how convincing the voice actress in the game’s introductory sequence sounded. Her lines were well-written, and she spoke like a real person! I could hardly believe it. The high caliber of voice acting and writing is maintained the whole game, and I found myself actually listening to every line, and even asking follow-up questions that I knew weren’t required for moving the story forward — something I never do in games.
Developer Modern Storyteller certainly live up to their name with their debut title, a mystery adventure game with a generous helping of time travel. Not only are the characters well acted and well written, but they’re well developed to boot. I found myself growing to like (or despise) a number of The Forgotten City’s citizens, who all come off as real people, with distinct wants and needs. With my positive and negative feelings towards characters came a genuine desire to help them (or not), which made completing quests all the more satisfying.
Which is important, since questing is the name of the game in The Forgotten City. With the exception of a brief FPS segment, you’ll spend most of your time exploring the city and talking to its residents. There’s lots to see, and what you do — as well as what order you do it in — is incredibly flexible. More than any other RPG-style game I’ve played, The Forgotten City actually gives you multiple choices when it comes to approaching a given obstacle.
For example, one quest has you seeking out a particular item that sits behind a locked door. There’s at least three ways to get to the item: you can convince someone to give you the key, you can follow someone through the locked door, or you can find a hidden path that leads into the room. All of the solutions are logical, and at least 1 is made readily apparent. The variety of options isn’t just for show, however. When quests with multiple solutions, they feel less “gamey” and more like a real-world problem, which in turn increases the sense of immersion.
Speaking of immersion, fans of Roman history will find quite a lot of “living” history to dip into here. There are quite a few historical tidbits to be found, from the graffiti on the walls to the lives of the characters. The setting as a whole is wonderfully realized, and does a decent job of showing-not-telling (necessary exposition dumps aside). The handful of things I googled also came back as historically accurate, so it appears Modern Storyteller did their research. There’s some fantastic attention to detail, and you can even find a sponge-on-a-stick or two in the baths.
All that being said, there are times where cracks appear in the columns. There are some serious load times when you enter a new area, and everyone you try to speak to has to take a few seconds to collect their thoughts, then another moment to turn around and settle on their heels, before they can begin speaking. Despite being relatively well-modeled, many of the characters have that uncanny valley, thousand yard stare that all RPG players know by now. Maybe it was unavoidable, given that the game started life as a Skyrim mod — some of Bethesda’s least endearing quirks seem to have rubbed off on The Forgotten City.
None of the minor quibbles I had detracted seriously from the overall experience, however, and I had a ton of fun exploring all the city’s nooks and crannies. The ending is also incredibly satisfying, and manages to neatly plug any apparent plot holes when the curtain is finally drawn back. It only took me about six hours to finish my first playthrough, but with 4 different endings, and a ton of ways to reach them, you could easily squeeze a lot more playtime out of The Forgotten City if you were so inclined (I certainly was).
Modern Storyteller has truly impressed with their freshman release, and I look forward to what they do next! The Forgotten City releases tomorrow, July 28th, on all major platforms.