What will you do with yourself today? This is a question asked mainly by parents when intending to load their teenage children with tasks around the house, or by a spouse who senses that their partner looks dangerously close to having a lie in. It’s a question I also ask myself whenever I have some free gaming time — and in 2021, it’s been a particular problem for me.
Why? You might be wondering. Well, you see the trouble is that every time I boot up my console — especially my Xbox Series X — all I see are asinine sequels. FIFA 22 — a game so riddled with child-baiting microtransactions that it makes me have to choke down my own vomit. FIFA’s awful business model is now so successful that it has effectively killed off Pro Evolution Soccer — forcing Konami to replace it with the absolutely dreadful eFootball.
What else is in my Next-Gen collection though? Upgraded versions (only some of which are free) of God of War 3, Gears 5, Forza 7 — there are seven of them before even counting Horizon and there are four of those — Jesus Christ — and even a remake of Dark Souls, which remains just about the only reason to own a PlayStation 5. Remakes and f**king sequels — and that’s your lot. Where is the originality? Where is the passion? Where are the new ideas?
I’ll tell you where they are, they are hidden deep below the Earth, in a place that time has failed to conquer. Yes, the good news is that if you want something a little bit different — something cerebral — something that isn’t out to charge you £22 to download Mbappe’s Nike sweatband, then you can find it if you look hard enough. Cue, The Forgotten City from the bedroom development team at Modern Storyteller.
Now, if you click here, you can read a proper review for The Forgotten City from my much more sensible colleague, Levy. I’m just here to reinforce everything he says about it, and to tell you one simple truth: The Forgotten City is the best game you’ll play in 2021. Fact. You could piss away two hundred quid on your FIFA sticker album, or sink twenty-five into something a lot more wholesome instead — I know which I’d choose!
The Forgotten City began as a mod for Skyrim; which was once the best game ever made, but has since been reduced to a comedy meme that highlights the cash-before-quality nature of modern video games thanks to its twenty-second re-release on the Apple Watch. Nonetheless, the popularity of Skyrim is what led to The Forgotten City and it’s a wonderful thing that the team at Modern Storyteller had access to such a powerful engine in which to create their masterpiece.
Now released on PC and console as a full-fledged game, The Forgotten City weaves a narrative tale that features the kind of writing and voice acting that you simply do not see in games outside the most AAA of AAA games. We’re talking The Witcher 3 (probably the only sequel that I am not going to attack in this piece) levels of quality here, with every character given a name, a story, a voice.
As Levy wrote in his proper review, The Forgotten City is better of enjoyed first-hand than described by some pissed-off hack like me, but you do need to know going in that you’ll be experiencing a kind of murder mystery — and quite an unusual one at that. The Forgotten City plays with time and uses the idea of being able to restart the day over and over again in ingenious ways. It does literally nothing mechanically that you won’t have seen before, but it does it to a standard that I think will surprise most people, especially considering the independent nature of its design.
And let’s just talk about that for a moment, shall we. The Forgotten City was made largely by one man — Nick Pearce — who took the game as far as he could, then sought support from a small team of like-minded developers. As the team took The Forgotten City closer to retail, Pearce apparently shouldered much of the workload, with Wikipedia suggesting that he toiled until the point of hallucination to avoid “crunching” his colleagues. That’s ethics, man.
Speaking of ethics, that’s really what The Forgotten City is all about. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but aside from a few moments where I felt that my potential dialogue choices weren’t quite as nuanced as I would have liked, this is a game that really can test your moral and ethical position. What’s more, it does so in a modern, interesting way that I think speaks volumes about the agility of a team this size.
There are, of course, multiple endings to unlock and there’s very little combat to wade through, but thanks to engaging dialogue, several branching stories to unfold, some spooky bits and a lot of really interesting historical context, The Forgotten City just kept me absolutely glued to my console. Even more remarkable for me is the fact that I not only revisited the game to obtain all four endings, but I also went back after that to close down several “intriguing” achievements that suggested they would lead me to new places.
In closing, if you’re looking for something challenging — more so because of what it says and how it was created than because of how it plays – and rewarding, that also supports a small, passionate developer and delivers a hand-crafted, better-than AAA experience, The Forgotten City is what you want. Alternatively, there’s always going to be another cookie-cut sequel, but just like the really low quality biscuits you can buy from your supermarket shelves — they won’t really satisfy you. Go for the full fat experience, you only live once!