Modern Storyteller Multiple consoles
IF YOU could live today again, would you do anything differently? This theme has been explored in everything from films like Edge of Tomorrow to pretty much every sci-fi TV show of the 1990s looking to produce an episode on the cheap, but time loops are rarer in video games.
At first, that might seem strange – unlike a film, a time loop running on a computer can be instantly reset, making them easy to produce – until you realise that the best examples of the genre (Groundhog Day, obviously) make heavy use of cuts and rely on the viewer to fill in the repetitive details. That is harder to do in a game, where players are responsible for all of the protagonist’s actions.
The Forgotten City has a neat solution to this problem, which I will get to in a moment. The game sees you thrown back 2000 years to an underground Roman settlement, where you must attempt to solve a mystery in order to free yourself from living the same day over and over. Only then can you return to your own time.
The titular city has one very simple law, the Golden Rule: if anyone commits a sin, everyone is punished. Exactly what counts as a sin is one of the themes explored in the game, as no one in the city is exactly sure. All they know is that if someone breaks this rule, the golden statues that are littered all over the place will come to life, attacking everyone they see and turning them into gold.
“By exploring the consequences of an all-seeing authority, the game critiques modern surveillance systems”
Thanks to the time loop, you are able to escape this fate – and more importantly, keep any items you have picked up, along with any knowledge of what has happened before.
This makes for some fun puzzles to solve. Some are simple – can’t get inside a locked door? Steal the key, reset the loop and let yourself in. Some are more complex, such as a woman who seems to have been poisoned, and is about to die, without anyone breaking the Golden Rule.
Thankfully, once you have solved a puzzle, you don’t have to do it again the next loop around. The first person you meet at the start of every loop, Galerius, will happily, if slightly bewilderedly, follow your instructions to complete tasks on your behalf.
This frees you up to delve further into the plot, which had me hooked. Although set in ancient Rome, the game serves as a criticism of the panopticon concept invented by 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who designed a prison in which everyone could be watched from one location, with the intention being they would be on their best behaviour. By exploring the consequences of an all-seeing authority, it also critiques modern surveillance systems.
One slight disappointment is that the time loop in the game is a bit of a cheat – certain events trigger not at particular times each day, but when you approach a specific location – but I can forgive that.
These days, most video games are created by vast armies of developers operating in teams around the globe, so I was impressed to learn that The Forgotten City was mainly the work of just three people. They have cleverly worked within those limitations – the city you explore is more of a large town, and only hosts a couple of dozen people, while the time loop allows for scenes to be reused without feeling cheap – to create something that really shines.
Jacob also recommends…
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The definitive time-loop video game, in which hero Link has just three days to prevent the moon (which has an evil-looking face!) crashing into the planet.
The Sexy Brutale
Cavalier Game Studios
Another time-loop mystery, set in an Agatha Christie-like mansion whose inhabitants are all murdered over a 12-hour period.
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Read more at New Scientist