The Old City: Leviathan Review
When I sat down to play PostMod Softworks’ The Old City: Leviathan, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had unjust expectations of a survival horror game in the same vein as Amnesia. I was playing at night — lights off, headphones on — and I must admit I spent the first ten minutes turning around to check corridors as if a monster was going to jump out and wreck me any second.
This fear was based heavily on the tone the environments set, along with how incredible the sound design is. The music and sound effects fit so perfectly with the world of The Old City: Leviathan that it adds a new dimension to the game. That being said, after the second level I realized this game was less survival horror and more like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or The Stanley Parable. However the term “walking simulator” doesn’t really apply here. If you treat this game like a walking simulator you can breeze through the levels (the exits are mostly clearly labeled as they tend to be in the real world) and be done with the game and confused as hell in an hour or two. And that’s what makes The Old City: Leviathan so interesting.
It’s almost a guarantee that you are going to have to play this game twice. On the pause screen you can see a section labeled “Solomon’s Notes”. This section remained grayed out to me for the entire playthrough; I didn’t find a single one. I gleaned what I could from reading papers left on walls and listening to the narration, but at the end of my first playthrough I was left in an aura of awe and confusion. You can walk through The Old City: Leviathan and look at things, but really it is an exploration game in the truest sense of the word. You may come to a room that has a visible exit or staircase leading into the abyss. Survival horror has conditioned me to take the exit because it’s safe. In The Old City you must choose the staircase. That staircase will lead you to something — that staircase has a story to tell you.
I won’t divulge anything about the story because that is the entirety of the game (aside from ogling some of the gorgeous environments). But the fact that it is possible to traverse the game and miss 95% of the story is going to be polarizing. People are either going to view that as a terrible design blunder or as an intriguing directive choice. Whether intentional or not, it makes a commentary on the way gamers have been conditioned to wait for content to be presented to them. The player will most likely finish The Lost City: Leviathan and feel compelled to play it again and alter the style of play. And there’s something to be said for a game so captivating that it will linger in your thoughts until you return to your computer to boot it up for that second run, this time with a thirst to take the staircase.
Overall, I highly recommend The Old City: Leviathan. The graphics are great, the sound and voice acting are phenomenal and while the gameplay may seem lacking, the imposed restrictions are likely clear design choices. The story leaves itself open to interpretation and will likely send you running to Wikipedia to read about simple things like “Leviathan” or “Solomon” hoping to better grasp metaphors and allegories. The Old City: Leviathan is part one of three, so perhaps you aren’t meant to fully grasp the entirety of the story. But there’s enough story there that you are going to be telling your friends to sit down and have a go so that you have someone to debate the logistics and narrative with. This game is a rare breed, some will hate it and others will love it — but my honest opinion is that this is an intriguing development for a gaming industry that is perhaps getting tired of formulaic run and guns.
- + Fantastic visuals
- + Great sound design and music
- + Intriguing story and premise
- – One-dimensional gameplay