Strategy games love history. First-person shooters have made every major war in the 20th-century videogameable. The Assassin’s Creed games are a popcorn history, with Hollywood-style Leonardo da Vinci and other famous figures. Sometimes an RPG is set in medieval Europe or feudal Japan. While I don’t deny that video games about the past exist, they are certainly outnumbered by video games about the present, future, and games about Elfs.
This is a strange thing. While I don’t want to question why historical fiction is so important in TV, movies and books, it’s not my intention to say that it hasn’t been under-represented in games. The Forgotten City is a great historical videogame that was released in 2021.
The city is first seen in its ruins. It was once a Roman settlement, but it is now hidden underground. There are many crumbling stones, fallen pillars and strange statues. You can then travel back in history to 65 CE, or somewhere close to it, to see what it looked like before the disaster struck. At its best, this is historical fiction: it can travel back in time and show us the things we were before they happened.
The Forgotten City developers worked closely with an archaeologist and a historian to ensure that the details were accurate. Garum, a salty fish sauce that Romans loved, is found in many settlements. Also, the settlement has purple carrots rather than orange. This change probably occurred in the 17th century. This is also why public toilets are so horrifying. You can even find accurate graffiti on the toilets, which reads: “Whoever urinates here must see a doctor.”
The Forgotten City doesn’t offer edutainment. However, it does sneak some facts into your mind. It is a complex mystery laced with mythology. Some of these statues whisper to you, while others are reincarnated from previous generations. People will assume that you are an oracle if you mention events that have not yet occurred. Repurposed Greek stones are used to build the temples of the Roman gods. Then there’s time travel.
The Forgotten City doubles down on temporal trickery by launching you back to the modern-day and then jamming your brain into a time loop that will return you to the point of your arrival if you fail to prevent the bad things from happening. It is clever in how it manages that time loop. This is why I loved it so much.
I have a very low tolerance for repetition. Although I admire many people’s opinions, Outer Wilds was not for me. I could not handle how its loops required you to return to your previous location, jump again, and so forth. Majora’s Mask was also not completed by me. The Forgotten City will go to great lengths to decrease the time spent doing things you’ve done before.
For starters, you keep all your items from one loop to the next, and things that really should have limited quantities–medicine, for instance–never run out. You can treat anyone in any loop once you have the right cure. It won’t take much effort on your part.
Galerius, a Briton, who greets you at the door each day, is so helpful that he will go and complete it, even if someone approaches him and says, “No time for explanation, but you must go here and finish this or someone will be killed.” He’ll gladly jog to finish the tasks he has accumulated.
He also recognizes that you are in a hurry and gives you a prototype pulley for use on the zip-lines he has placed around the city. Although ropeways were used to cross rivers in China for many years, they are still very useful. Although the settlement is small, it is a city in the philosophical rather than the actual physical sense. However, the ability to glide through the air is breathtaking.
The game’s history is what is responsible for the lack of speedbumps. You can see this in a Noclip documentary on The Forgotten City’s creation. It was inspired by a Skyrim mod and resembled a new temple with an older temple. In a way, the millions of Skyrim players were playing the mod to test the standalone game. The Forgotten City’s paths have been worn down by time and many people. It’s an excellent example of historical games that can be played even if you don’t care about time loops, authentic Roman graffiti, toilets and swearing.