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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 14th

It's coming Rome

The question isn't where is the fourteenth door on the RPS Advent Calendar, but when is it.

Get ready to go repeatedly back in time at a bit less than 80 MPH in The Forgotten City!

Alice Bee: Boy, Garfield would really hate Mondays if Monday never ended! Somebody called Punxsutawney Phil, and watch out for that first step! Woah, I don't know if we're ever going to see the edge of tomorrow! You enjoying these pop culture time travel references? I have a few of them. The point is, time makes fools of us all, especially if said time is continually looping the same day in a strange, small community of Romans trapped in a sinkhole with the threat of instant death.

The Forgotten City is a real treasure of a detective puzzle game, first incarnated a few years ago as an extremely ambitious Skryim mod, released this year as its own glorious republic. You, an person, wash up on the side of a river and are sent into a weird ruined city full of golden statues. You're then catapulted into the past and discover that this city was once a living place inhabited by a small group of Romans - as in, Ancient Rome Romans. They had to obey the Golden Rule: if anyone committed a sin, everyone would be turned into a golden statue with magic arrows.

Lucky for you, there's a get out of jail free time portal for one person in the form of a portal. This will take you back to the start of the day - provided you can get back to the temple where the portal appears, and dodge the magic arrows that'll statue you up good on the way. In theory, your job is to stop whoever it is that is about to do a bad sin. This involves running around town finding and solving problems before they happen, including deaths, thefts and rheumatism.

This is extremely satisfying. You start to figure out the rules aside from the golden one: whatever you have on you when you travel through time, you get to keep. So if you find a big stash of money you can burn loops on purpose by stealing stuff, and become very rich for other puzzle solving purposes, for example. You'll get the key to a locked house in one run so you don't need to swan dive from a cliff to get into it any more. That kind of thing. The best bit is that once you figure out the solution to a puzzle, you don't have to do it every single time - there's a helpful bloke waiting at the top of the hill every day who will very obligingly do anything you tell him. If The Forgotten City was just a very clever puzzle box, that would be enough.

A Roman plaza in The Forgotten City

But it's not just that, because in practise you discover you're being influenced by up to three unknown forces, the Golden Rule basically allows everything up to directly nicking something or throwing a punch, so torture and extortion is fine, and that there's a whole section of this game that's a very unsettling survival horror with a magic bow.

The Forgotten City is so smart, but so compact and lean. It was made by such a small team, but they already knew their limits so didn't over-reach them. Instead they made and achieved something exactly as ambitious as it could be, to perfection. The little town you explore and get to know is actually quite beautiful, and you'd probably pay a mint for an AirBnB holiday there. The characters are as distinct and memorable as the cast of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. The puzzles as satisfying as the very best Lucasarts games. If you like dastardly crimes and weird puzzles, and Roman soldiers with big craggy character actor faces, then don't let this one slip through your fingers.

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