Note: Minor early-game spoilers feature in this review, so if you want to go in totally blind, skip down to the conclusion.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of here before we begin. At this point in the year, the “Cloud Version” suffix is nothing new — and neither are the criticisms. The Forgotten City is a seriously brilliant little time loop narrative game, but there are always going to be the same big provisos: you need a strong internet connection to play this, and despite costing the same as the PC version, there’s no guarantee how long you’ll have access before the servers are shut down.
Even with a good internet connection, The Forgotten City has a couple of “seamless” loading screens that freeze the action and the momentum for a few seconds, and most annoyingly, if you leave the game running for three minutes (say, to go to the bathroom, or grab a drink) it’ll boot you back to the start screen without saving. You’ll never lose too much progress, but it’s irritating all the same.
However, with the usual Cloud Version caveats out of the way, now we can get to the heart of this review: The Forgotten City is absolutely worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of time loop games like The Sexy Brutale and Outer Wilds, intricately woven narratives, and/or ancient history.
The Forgotten City has all of them, you see. You, a modern-day person (you get to pick your name and your “body type”, which is to say your gender as expressed by your hands and pronouns) get teleported back to 65AD, to a small Roman town that’s under some kind of curse.
If any one person breaks “The Golden Rule”, everyone in the town will instantly be turned into a gold statue — a fact backed up by the gold statues scattered throughout the homes and streets, and the warnings they somehow had the time to carve before getting transformed. The inhabitants don’t exactly know what “The Golden Rule” is, though, so they’re living in fear, hedging their bets, and trying not to commit any sins. But it’s only a matter of time before someone breaks it, accidentally or not.
And guess what? It’s a video game, so it’s YOUR problem to solve. A quick meeting with the Magistrate, who’s basically the Mayor of this town of 20 people, tells you all you need to know to get started: Someone is about to break the Golden Rule. You need to find out who, and stop them.
Thus begins the story, but the twists don’t stop there. You probably won’t be too surprised to know that everyone in town has secrets bubbling beneath their outwardly-friendly exterior, and like all time loop games, there are plenty of domino effect choices you can make, and overarching mysteries to solve.
Where The Forgotten City sets itself apart from other time loop games is in its well-judged size. Twelve Minutes was too small and too repetitive, turning the time loop mechanic into a chore; Outer Wilds is brilliant but sometimes overwhelming with its solar system-sized world. It’s hard to give a time loop game the right amount of scope, and to walk the line between exhaustingly large and restrictively small.
The Forgotten City, on the other hand, has plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, but it’s contained to a single, small town with only 20-ish inhabitants, and it has exactly the right amount of stuff to do, as well as a neat system for repeating your previous successes without having to repeat them exactly. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, because you’ll be able to complete the game in around eight or so loops (maybe a few more, if you’re a completionist), which is just the right amount that you never feel overfamiliar with the re-trodden territory. It’s a 6-8 hour game, making it perfect to play over a few evenings or a weekend.
The other thing that The Forgotten City does a little differently is piggybacking on someone else’s game. It began life as a Skyrim mod, making history as the first ever mod to win a Writers’ Guild award for its script — and it’s not hard to see why. It’s remarkably well-written, with a cast of voice actors that do a damn fine job of bringing the characters to life, with plenty of personality and a range of accents to represent their different backgrounds. (Also, be aware that there are some pretty creepy moments, if you’re sensitive to jump scares — only a couple, but enough to make you anxious.)
But, uh, you’ve played Skyrim, right? Let’s just say it’s… loveably janky, to the point where it’s spawned plenty of memey recreations in which people loudly have conversations with themselves while walking, and randomly accuse you of crimes because you accidentally picked up a carrot.
Good news: The Forgotten City maintains a lot of this charming jank, albeit to a lesser, more bearable extent. The facial animations are occasionally subtle and expressive, but just a smidge closer to “meat puppet” than “human mouth and eyes”. Occasionally, a character will say something weird for no reason, or stare at you for a long, awkward moment before beginning their dialogue. And yes, you can scale hills by jumping a lot. But it doesn’t matter — if anything, it makes the game so much better, because it almost feels like you’re playing Skyrim for the first time.
And hey, the story gets more than a little goofy in places (including some incredible moments of self-aware humour), and you’ll have moments of extreme exposition dump, but all that’s part of what make it utterly, utterly wonderful to play. There are plenty of reasons this game was elevated from Skyrim mod to fully-fledged release, and we really think you should find them out for yourself.
And this cloud version delivers the experience admirably, albeit with the aforementioned issues that crop up with any ‘Cloud Version’ Switch game. It’s pretty, but it’ll be prettier on PC; it runs well on a stable internet connection, but it’s definitely nice not to have to worry about something you can’t control. And we have to admit, there’s something uncomfortable about knowing you paid twenty or thirty bucks for a game that might well be unplayable in who-knows-how-many years.
If you don’t mind the caveats, though, The Forgotten City is so, so good.
The Forgotten City is a brilliant piece of narrative work that feels like a time capsule of Skyrim’s jank, revitalised with a gripping story that’s just long enough that it never loses momentum. It is, as always, hard to fully recommend a Cloud Version of a game that’s available elsewhere in a more concrete form, but if you’re accepting of the associated ‘risks’, this is a well-presented and brilliant time loop game and well worth a play.