The Forgotten City hadn’t been on my radar until I heard a couple of end-of-year podcasts make a plug for it; seemed up my alley, I figured I should give it a try. And I’m glad I did!

Partly because it’s a puzzle game in a format that I’m not used to and that I enjoy. It’s basically a detective game: you’re wandering around a town, talking to people, learning what problems people have and working to solve them. And, of course, those smaller puzzles are all placed in the context of a frame puzzle, or rather two frame puzzles: one overt one and the general puzzle of where this city and its unique rules came from.

And it’s really well done! They put this in the context of a time loop story; that means that you don’t have to worry about messing up, if you do something that precludes a possibility that you want, you can always do that on another loop. The time loop also informs the frame stories of what’s going on: in this city, if one person sins, everybody dies, and that’s what triggers the loop. So you get to poke at the question of what “sin” means in this context, while having the loop also serve to support your investigations.


Of course, time loops aren’t great if you spend lots of time either replaying stuff that you know how to do or waiting for things to happen; that was the big reason why I bounced off of Outer Wilds. The designers of The Forgotten City were clearly very conscious of that possibility, and they worked around it in a couple of ways.

At a basic level, you simply don’t have to loop all that often. The game doesn’t contain much in the way of a clockwork mechanisms, so you don’t spend time waiting for the right events to occur; and most of the time you’re doing stuff that isn’t likely to trigger the loop, either. So you spend most of your time poking around and making progress in your investigations; it’s reassuring to have the loop as an escape hatch, but it doesn’t get in your way.

That doesn’t solve the problem of having to redo actions at the start of the loop. The Forbidden City solves that in the most shameless way possible; I won’t go into details because it’s kind of charming to see how the developers solved that issue, but it’s great to see a game whose developers are clearly prioritizing player experience over some sort of narrative purity, and who do that while having a bit of fun with the gaminess of the situation.


So, basically, what you end up with is a game that has the parts of adventure games / RPGs where you’re wandering around a town, poking your nose in places, and talking to people. And, of course, that leads to side quests, but not too many of them, and they’re not the sorts of by-the-numbers fetch quests and what not that RPGs frequently have too many of. (There’s one section of the game that has a bit of combat, but that’s not something that you have to worry about in the majority of your time with the game.)

The premise of the game works well, and leads to a nice set of puzzles. And the game respects your time, both by providing time-saving affordances, as I mentioned above, and also by simply not being very long. (I don’t think I spent as long as ten hours on it, more like six or eight.)

More games like this one, please; sure, I like big theatrical games, but I also like games that know what they’re doing, do it well, and don’t waste your time in the process.

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