The Writing’s Block

HIGH The refreshing premise. 

LOW The narrative lacks depth.  

WTF Why does jumping trigger a QTE?

Some games don’t focus on winning or losing, or even on providing ‘challenging’ gameplay, but instead dedicate themselves to the embodiment of fictional narratives or emotionally resonating experiences.

One title that fits this description is 2017’s What Remains of Edith Finch. It didn’t stick to a single playstyle throughout its running time, but instead crafted a variety of gameplay sections that were congruent with the minds of the characters we were inhabiting. There are certainly other titles like this — it’s just one example — but the point is that there is a class of games that aspire to this kind of experience.

Since I’m a big fan of this style, Forgotten Fields initially won me over with similar aspirations. It presents itself as interactive fiction, and is a bit tricky to define with conventional descriptors. Let’s say that it’s essentially a third-person adventure with differing camera perspectives, including first-person and cinematic interfaces.

Gameplay takes a variety of forms — one time I was point-and-clicking, another time I had to accurately throw objects via a first-person perspective, and yet another time an interactive cutscene unfolded while I was asked to make dialogue choices. It appeared to me as if Forgotten Fields sought to transcend genre conventions, which is a move I applaud.

However, while I recognize the attempt here, the quality of gameplay varies between tedious and repetitive, technically unpolished and comically terrible. For example, there are QTE sections, but each requires only a single button press without lasting consequences for failing. (I do recommend failing, though, for it often provides comedic spectacle.)

Some stages are barely functional, both in terms of production and design — if the player doesn’t follow their objective as directed, it can lead to buggy situations that will require a reload. When Forgotten Fields is functional, the experience is only skin-deep. Dialogue options, for example, have little effect other than to rearrange the order in which a player will see the text.

However, it’s obvious that Forgotten Fields wants to be an emotionally resonant experience and games like it can often deliver valuable experiences without much focus on traditional gameplay. In Forgotten Fields’ case, the emphasis is on its interactive narrative.

The story stars Sid, an unsuccessful, lonely and depressed writer struggling with a new book proposal as he suffers from writer’s block. The first scene effectively conveys his life’s tedium as we instruct Sid to shower, make tea and get the latest email from his PC revealing few book sales and looming deadlines.

From this point, Forgotten Fields begins to parallel the lived universe of Sid with the fictional universe of his book idea. Thus, the day inspires new directions for the book and this, in turn, allows Sid to reflect on the state of his life. The central conflict is whether he can be happy with his unstable life as a writer, or whether he would actually prefer something different.

This setup initially constitutes a charming premise and makes the otherwise-poor gameplay meaningful in a new way. Unfortunately, Forgotten Fields’ story is simply too light.

Sid’s reflections on life are portrayed as deeply philosophical, but what we mostly get is the cliché story of his fictional novel — little more than the usual fantasy-themed tropes. There are attempts at in-depth and life-changing conversations here, but it doesn’t reach what, to me, would seem like an appropriately mature level. I suppose it works better if such shortcomings parallel Sid’s shortcomings as a writer, but that’s not how I’ve interpreted it.

With not much of value in the narrative or the gameplay, Forgotten Fields’ merits are some pretty virtual environments and an original soundtrack that often takes the spotlight. There are ways in which Forgotten Fields could have worked as an emotionally powerful experience, but these avenues go under-explored and the result is something that I can’t recommend, even to enthusiasts of this particular genre-transcending premise.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Frostwood Interactive and published by Dino Digital. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: Forgotten Fields has no ESRB rating. There is no visually explicit content, but the game is aimed at mature audiences as it features existential questions about aging.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Forgotten Fields is fully subtitled. These subtitles are not resizable, however. No audio is required for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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