Do you remember Skyrim, the RPG from Bethesda which has appeared on pretty much every platform in the universe – including as a ‘choose your own adventure’ on Alexa devices? Well, if you played it on PC and dabbled around with the various mods you could install, you may have been one of the three million people who downloaded and experienced The Forgotten City. Due to the incredible reception and demand for it to become its own game, Modern Storyteller has brilliantly re-imagined it on all platforms (Switch later this year) as a stand-alone experience, expanding on the original concept and script to deliver the definitive edition.
Modern Storyteller is a small indie team created on the back of the original mod’s success, with the original solo developer forming a studio to create the re-imagined stand-alone title over four years. This is their first commercial release but I sincerely hope it’s not their last as there’s a lot of talent and creative ideas on show within this game. The publisher is Dear Villagers, the publishing branch of Plug In Digital (formally known as Playdius).
If you purchase the game on PSN (tomorrow), you get both the PS4 and PS5 versions (same with Xbox One/Series) – I’ve obtained the platinum in both versions of the game running on my PS5 and also played the PS4 version on a base PS4 console to see how it holds up. I’ll avoid all spoilers outside of the opening few minutes and the concept (which is on the store page), as this is a game you really need to play and experience yourself without any guides or hints.
After being saved by a mysterious stranger, pulled out of the river before you drowned, you have been tasked with looking for her colleague in the ruins of an old Roman city that’s hidden within a mountain. As you explore the ancient architecture, occupied by highly detailed solid gold statues, you come across a mysterious portal. Seeing as you can’t return the way you came in, you jump into this magical doorway in hopes that it’ll lead you back outside, however, things aren’t quite as straightforward…
As you emerge from the portal, things look eerily familiar yet different. You look around and realise that you’re still within the enclosed walls of the hidden Roman city, only the buildings look as good as new rather than the derelict condition they were in a few moments ago – what’s going on? Before long, you discover that you’ve been transported back in time two thousand years, back when the city was populated by 23 Romans who were trapped within the walls of this strange self-enclosed city decorated with majestic golden statues.
This city is unlike any you’ve ever heard of, the small community is being overlooked by their God, a God who despises human treachery. Should anyone commit a crime within this mysterious location, such as stealing, murder, threatening someone else, or starting a fight, everyone will be killed as “the many shall suffer for the sins of the one!” As such, you’ve been asked to look around the city, talk to the locals, and discover who is going to break the Golden Rule and trigger the genocide – But, it’s not as easy as it may sound…
The Forgotten City is a first-person RPG game with a hint of combat and a lot of exploration and investigation. The main concept revolves around time travel and trial and error (initially). The day plays out over the course of about an hour or so, with the events unfolding in a set pattern that leads to a sin taking place and everyone dying. However, you can get involved and alter the path and direction the game goes in by interacting with people, changing their minds, helping them out, and stopping crimes and events from happening due to prior knowledge.
When a crime is committed, the Magistrate runs and opens a portal in the temple you arrived in – jumping into this will send you back to the morning of the same day, before any events have taken place, allowing you to use what you’ve just witnessed to alter the future, save lives, and say different things to people during conversation. This concept reminded me of games like Majoras Mask and Shadow of Destiny, moving through time to efficiently line up a chain of events that push the narrative in different directions and towards one of the four endings.
We also can’t ignore the similarity to the classic Groundhog Day movie (and game), especially when you’re trying to get info or help from certain people and you fail, only to trigger the cycle again so you can change the answers you give in order to get a different outcome.
There is a lot going on in The Forgotten City, the day you’ve appeared is a day in which a new magistrate is being voted for, so there are slimy politicians trying to get votes by any means possible, a young girl has gone missing, a mysterious stranger has infiltrated the city (not you), and someone is about to kill themselves, it’s all rather frantic and a race against time. Thankfully, once you’ve discovered the solutions to certain events, you can ask one of the citizens to carry out the actions required when you leap through time, so you can get on with doing other things.
I love The Forgotten City, the story is very interesting, the characters all have their own personality and great voice acting, and working out how to unlock all the trophies was very rewarding and satisfying. The first time I played through it, I had leapt through time around fifteen times over the course of seven hours, talking to everyone and exploring all possible conversation options and pathways (or so I thought). Upon finishing the game, I realised I still had two endings I’d not found and a bunch of trophies, forcing me to sit down and think about what I was going to do on my next playthrough.
One of the great things about the experience is that there isn’t only a single way to complete the many tasks given to you throughout the story. One such objective is for you to steal an item that you can use the next time you reset the day in order to save someone’s life. However, if you steal it then you damn everyone and you’ll have to run to the portal as you’ve just broken the Golden Rule. So, you can either do that or you can go and look for chests so you can buy the item from the seller, thus allowing you to carry on without a forced reset.
There are other moments like this as well, either sweet-talking with a woman to obtain an item or simply finding it hidden in a chest, paying to gain entry into a building or discovering another way to drop in uninvited, and either using blackmail and threats to change someone’s mind or utilising everything you’ve seen up until that point to settle the dispute through your words instead. A lot of these more passive approaches are also linked to various trophies, so it forces you to think outside of the box and change your playstyle on subsequent playthroughs.
Is it scary?
This may seem like a silly thing to say, but The Forgotten City really creeped me out the first time I played it, all because of the golden statues. Have you ever seen Doctor Who? Do you know about the Weeping Angels? Well, the various golden statues act in a similar way, only without moving their bodies. Basically, I jumped on more than one occasion whilst playing it at night, on my own, as I really don’t like it when inanimate objects move!
There is combat within The Forgotten City, combat which actually had me a little anxious and on-edge the first time I had to use it. At one point within the game, you obtain a magical bow that can turn anything the arrows touch into gold. However, after obtaining it you find yourself trapped within a building that is inhabited by ungodly creatures (I don’t want to spoil what they are). These abominations charge at you, arms flailing as they scream. Two shots to the chest or one to the head and you’ll stop them in their tracks as they convert into solid gold!
Now the fun part, anything you turn into Gold also has physics, meaning you can kick them into other people/creatures and knock them over like ten pin bowling pins! There are a few areas with combat within the game, but the main focus is on the exploration and investigation gameplay, rather than combat, as the game encourages you to run whenever things get too nasty. Obviously, outside of these designated combat areas, you need to be careful who you aim your bow at. Thou shall not kill… If you do accidentally (or intentionally) turn one of the citizens into gold, I’m afraid that breaks the (aptly named) Golden Rule.
When you start the game, you can pick from four various backgrounds for your character. One lets you run faster, another gives you more health, and one of them gives you a gun with ten bullets. If you opt to have the firearm, you have no way of gaining more bullets in the future, but you start the game with a deadly weapon. Just like the bow, you don’t want to use this weapon on an innocent person. However, sometimes you just need to blow off some steam or trigger the time portal, so being able to easily shoot people isn’t always a bad idea…
I can’t stress this enough, you should play and enjoy The Forgotten City without looking at any guides or walkthroughs. Sure, if you know what you’re doing, you can finish the game and obtain the platinum within a couple of hours, but talking to everyone and working out the various solutions is really satisfying and a major part of the experience. There’s a trophy for completing the game in as few resets as you can, I managed this with only two trips through the portal – something which required me to carefully plan out everything I was going to do so that I got as much done as I could before forcing the portal to appear. When the trophy popped, I was so proud of myself!
There are other trophies that offer a similar challenge such as completing the game without using the portal (not even once), obtaining all four endings, solving all disputes in one playthrough through talking, and discovering various religious symbols. A lot of the trophies are missable, requiring you to start again or load a save should you mess up an answer or loop too many times, but the game encourages you to soldier on and not reload should you make a mistake, use that knowledge as a guide on what you can change when you start the day over. Plus, messing up is sometimes required, changing what you can say or do the next day.
The Forgotten City has an interesting photo mode that allows you to switch between many different filters. However, instead of simply pressing the Share Button to take a picture, you have to press the Cross button which will then proceed to bring up the ‘share’ options (to Twitter or as a message) with the image already selected. This is a fun idea, as it pushes you to share the pictures you take, but it’s a pain if you just want the image on your console. You can just press Share and take an image whilst in photo mode but the guidelines and UI remain on the screen – it should, in my opinion, fade away after a few seconds.
Additionally, just like Journey to the Savage Planet, pushing down on the D-Pad lets you scroll through the various filters during gameplay, allowing you to actually play the game with any of the filters active! Not many games do this so I had fun messing about on subsequent playthroughs.
Although the photo mode works fine on the PS5 version (taking you to the share options), the PS4 version via BC doesn’t actually work. When you press Cross, it brings up the share menu at the bottom (as if you’ve just pressed the share button) but doesn’t assign or save the image. This may be because it’s a different process on the PS4 to the PS5? Either way, if you have a PS5, the photo mode ‘currently’ only correctly works in the PS5 version.
I stated at the beginning of this review that I played both the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game on both the PS5 and a regular PS4 – there was a reason for this. First of all, let’s talk about the performance. The PS5 version was mostly a solid (I presume) 60fps, the game was smooth and had no major issues as I worked my way slowly through the game. However, once I started my speedrun playthrough, efficiently triggering everything with the least amount of loops, the game started to suffer from framerate issues – this was the same in the PS4 version via both BC and natively on a PS4 console. I believe the developers are putting out a patch that addresses the performance though.
Similarly, the game pauses when you enter a new region so it can load in the data, rather than seamlessly streaming it in. There aren’t many places that do this, around 3 or 4 areas on the map, and it’s not too bad on the PS5 as it’s around 2-4 seconds to load. However, on the PS4 and via the BC edition, these loading pauses last around 10-20 seconds, pulling you out of the immersion and atmosphere. It’s a shame as the areas this happens in are corridors or doorways, so it would have been better if the developers had managed to use that area as a disguised loading pathway as other games do.
There are also a number of ghost walls, which you can walk through and enter the out-of-bounds areas, the animations are sometimes a little janky, and the menu is a little clunky to use, sometimes not triggering the next part of a quest correctly as it’s not recognised you’ve picked up or looked at an object. But, there was nothing that broke the game, although I did have to reload a previous save a few times, especially when…
I stated above that there’s a long loading time on the PS4 which is also there on the PS5, but not as long. Well, if you’re running all over the place like I was to get everything done, you can sometimes run through the loading sections before the world has loaded. For example, at one point you have to go down below a temple to break into a building – this is a loading point. I ran into it, as I knew where I was going, leading to me falling to my death into a void as the game didn’t load the cavern and simply let me drop. Then, when I loaded the autosave, I was at the save point with, once again, no floor, so I had to load one of the other autosaves (thankfully there are around five autosaves).
Another issue, which I’ve touched on above, is the task menu and the guidance you get throughout the game. For the most part, this worked fine, offering a checklist of things to do so you don’t get lost or unsure of what to do next. But, a few times I noticed that it had objectives still active which I had already completed, and very vague information on what to do next. I spent about an hour trying to find the third ending, thinking it was related to a quest I had as unsolved, only to figure out I’d actually completed that mission a while ago but it was still set as active (and had nothing to do with the ending).
However, just like the world holes, these trigger issues didn’t break the game, it just made it a little confusing at times. But, I do like that it doesn’t simply hold your hand and pinpoint everything you have to do – it gives you hints and an objective, but how you complete that goal is up to you, even if it’s not via a method listed in the tasks.
**Update – Version 1.01 has just been downloaded for the PS4, listing a bunch of fixes and adjustments. I never encountered any of the issues listed in my playthrough, and the photo mode still doesn’t work via BC.**
Aside from the loading stutter/long pause and non-loading areas if you’re too fast on the PS5, I must applaud the small team for the world they created. The game looks beautiful, utilising accurate historical designs for the statues and architecture, spanning a few cultures and civilisations. The character models are also very well done, with each character being unique and recognisable by their looks, voice, attitude, and personality. I would have liked a bit more interaction with some of the NPCs you run into, but in terms of the game, everyone has their role and adapts to the things you do and say perfectly.
Although not a major aspect of the game, as I believe there’s a way to actually bypass it all together (unless going for the platinum), the combat holds up quite well. The magical bow is an interesting idea, as is being able to kick the statued enemies into one another and crush them under the weight of their bodies. The actual bow mechanics are a little frustrating when you’re backed in a corner, but I believe that’s intentional. You can’t just quickly tap the button, you have to hold R2 to pull the arrow back, then release it to fire, meaning it takes around 1-2 seconds to shoot. This is why aiming for the head is essential, one-shot kills them.
I don’t think the PS5 version is fully taking advantage of everything the PS5 can do as there’s no trigger or haptic support (from what I can recall), and the file size (once installed) is slightly bigger on the PS5, which is unusual.
Also, the game supports inverting the y-axis on both platforms but it doesn’t remember your choice, for some reason. If you set it to invert then it’ll be inverted until you restart the game, then it’ll be non-inverted. You simply have to turn it back on again, but this is an issue that should be fixed soon, I imagine.
Ironically, The Forgotten City is a game I’ll never forget – it’s a brilliant narrative adventure that requires you to think about how your actions will affect others in order to achieve your goal. I never played the original mod but if it was even half as good as this, I can see why it was universally praised by the three million people who played it – it’s a very unique and well-executed concept combined with an interesting narrative, fun gameplay, satisfying multi-possibility solutions, and trophies that push you to change the way you play the game. All-in-all, it’s a fantastic experience that is best played with no guides or walkthrough, simply set aside a few hours and see if you can solve the many small events which lead up to the big mystery.
As stated previously, buying the game on the PS4 or PS5 grants you access to both copies, as does the Xbox One and Series consoles. There is no cross-save or import feature on the PS4/5, so if you wish to get two platinum then you’ll have to play through the game twice – which is what I did as I really enjoyed it. Also, all versions ask you not to spoil the game for others by not recording past a certain point (which I feel they should have been more clear about as I have no idea what point they mean!). But, the game itself doesn’t block you from taking pictures, streaming or recording videos, it just asks you to be mindful of ruining the ending for other people.
Here’s a short video showing you the various filters which you can use in Photo Mode or general gameplay:
The Forgotten City
- - Very interesting story which requires you to think and plan your actions if going for all the trophies
- - Beautiful looking game, you can even play with the photo mode filters active
- - The voice acting is great and each character has their own personality
- - Encourages replays in order to unlock all the trophies
- - Allows you to play the game however you want
- - There are a few technical issues on both the PS4 and PS5
- - The loading times are quite long on the PS4 and can be an issue if you rush through them too fast on the PS5