I love a good time loop. There’s a certain something to exploring a setting over and over, while you work out all of its different layers. It should come as no surprise then, that I was keen to dive into The Forgotten City: a time loop game released last year. Players are made to solve a mystery in an ancient Roman city that is governed by a single law: do not commit a sin. You’re summoned because someone is about to break this golden rule, and you need to find out who so that you can prevent the collapse of the city. To that end, you’ll repeat the same day until you discover the culprit, as you unravel the many secrets of the mysterious city.
The Forgotten City has a huge amount of appeal for me, but I think it might be able to win over those who aren’t normally into time loops. Normally the fun of these games, for me, comes from slowly untangling everything as I work my way through leads. I don’t want to be directed, and games like this are perfectly happy to let me run around in their playground of discovery. However, a more curated experience that leads the player on a focused roller coaster ride is also present. In this way, players that want more structure aren’t made to wander aimlessly hoping they’ll find something of interest, which can be the most frustrating part of open-ended exploration.
There’s a lot of smart design going on under the hood in The Forgotten City, hence why I think people should give it a look. And I’m only making a point about this because I think anyone with even the tiniest kernel of interest should play the game before reading the remainder of my post. I know I normally only give a light spoiler warning in my writing, but I’m about to ruin one of the later game quests, so if anything I’ve said thus far has piqued your interest please stop reading. Trust me – you want to go in with as little information as possible. With that in mind, consider yourself warned for incoming spoilers.
Are you still here? I’m serious. Turn thy scrungle bungus around, play the game, and come back after you finish.
As players start their investigation in The Forgotten City, they’ll be given a few leads. However, it won’t take long before they find themselves embroiled in the thick of everyone’s problems. This is a relatively small community of about 20 people, and, just like you’d find in any other small town, everyone is up in everyone else’s shit. Luckily for you, doing favours for these people is the best way to win their trust. And once you’ve gained someone’s trust they’re a lot more forthcoming with information, which can aid in your investigation. As such, players will do a lot of running around as they unlock the complex spiderweb of dependencies that sits between them and the information they need.
Figuring out all of these different inter-woven quests can be quite enjoyable, but it also points to one of the biggest drawbacks of time loops: repetition. There’s a joy to uncovering how to help someone, but having to redo everything in a subsequent loop is tedious. Really tedious. I’d go as far as saying that it’s worse than having to repeat entire sections of a level that you’re struggling with because you can’t get past one particularly prickly part. However, it’s even more trivial in The Forgotten City because all you’re doing is clicking through a bunch of text menus.
To that end, The Forgotten City has a solution to reduce the omnipresent repetition that is as simple as it is genius. At the start of every loop you’re greeted by the village farmer Galerius. He’s always friendly, and serves as your initial introduction to the world. However, on subsequent loops you can cut him off, and send him around the village in your stead doing quests you’ve already completed. This massively reduces the amount of time that players need to spend on repeated content allowing them to focus on the next part of their investigation. Good stuff.
Having Galerius run errands isn’t just about saving time though, as it folds into one of The Forgotten City’s later quests. There’s an election happening in town, and the player needs to figure out how to get Galerius elected. As the village farmer, most don’t view him as being fit to lead. However, the fickle residence of the township are easily swayed. When you send Galerius out to solve all of their problems, they’ll attribute the actions to him instead of you. They don’t have a reason to know that you told him what to do, so he appears like some kind of problem solving giga chad. This allows players to get him elected if they can help enough people through Galerius in a single loop. It’s super cheesey, but weaves the mechanics and storytelling of The Forgotten City together really nicely.
It feels as though Galerius acting as the player’s personal goofer was such an obvious solution to a common problem of time loop games. Repeating content over and over can become tedious quickly, and that’s detrimental to the player’s overall enjoyment of the title. By offloading tasks that need to be completed every loop onto an NPC, the player is freed up to focus on moving forward, without being penalized. What’s even cooler is how The Forgotten City ties this together with one of its later questlines. I don’t know if I’ll see something like this happen in future time loop games, but damn it if I wasn’t impressed by it here.
Sounds like a really interesting game. Think I might have to check it out.
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It’s on gamepass, and I know you have an active sub lol
B-b-b-but I’m too busy playing shitty rhythm games.
Seriously though, good to know, Im going to go install it now.
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Oh heck yeah! I love games that make strong use of time travel, and time loop games in particular! Forgotten City was really good, and definitely had a tight design. I remember watching a video…I think it was Game Maker’s Toolkit?…that did a good analysis of the game’s branching quests. While I still prefer Outer Wilds, I echo your recommendation of Forgotten City wholeheartedly.
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While I can’t say for certain if it was Mark Brown’s video that you watched, I can say that he does indeed have a video covering that very topic. I actually watched it after I finished writing my post. It was one of the few times where I was sold enough by the elevator pitch for a game he covered in his year end video, without having already played it myself.
You’re an Outer Wilds fan too? Well dang. Looks like I can’t make another recommendation – you’ve already played what are quite possibly the 2 best time loop games to come out in the last several years.
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