The Old City: Leviathan

So I made a silly assumption when starting this game. I assumed it was a game. PostMod Softworks’ The Old City: Leviathan is not so much a game as it is an “interactive storytelling experience”. Imagine The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Anna, or Dear Esther, but take away anything resembling a game element. So with this in mind, I’m not going to review a game this week, I’m going to review the interactive story that is The Old City: Leviathan.

Is The Old City: Leviathan a good story? Yes it is… I think. Well it probably is. The parts that I managed to piece together were pretty good. While the individual you control (who I think is called Solomon – but I could be wrong) has an inner monologue which questions life, the universe and just about everything else, you don’t really get much of the story from him. The actual landscapes, real, unreal and surreal don’t give much in the way of story either, though it does help paint the picture of the world you reside in, as well as a world you don’t.

Turns out your entire world is a sewer.
Turns out your entire world is a sewer.

The story comes mostly from pages of texts that are scattered through the world. Some are journal entries, others encyclopedia book pages or random musings. It’s from this you gather that you are a “Minotaur”. Not a literal half-bull, half-human, but an impartial mediator between three organisations formed after “The Fall” (every apocalypse gets its own name these days). Many of the fantastical places you visit have minotaur iconography and have a certain Mediterranean feel to it.

Pretty sure this place isn't real, but then neither is anything else.
Who cares if it’s real, at least it looks pretty.

Through reading all these notes in a fading world, you get a true idea of how alone you are. The only people you see are dead or made of stone and the character even admits to being an isolationist. There are constant signs of decay and destruction and the music is sparse and singular, aiding in the idea of desolation. This world, the constant talking to yourself and scattered journal notes creates an atmosphere pure loneliness. While this is done well, the game still lacks something… narrative. You don’t really know what you’re doing, you don’t know why you’re there, you have no real reason to progress. A lack of compulsion, people and driving events makes this interactive story a little dull, not to mention a slow and tedious delivery of information

Dead and a little pixelatd up close...
Dead and a little pixelated up close…

The Old City: Leviathan is more of a dawdle simulator than a walking simulator. And this isn’t just in terms of the story either. The run button (you have to constantly hold) barely gets you moving at a brisk pace. And while the world looks pretty enough except for the occasional low-resolution texture, there’s no real interaction between it and yourself. At most, a door swings open (though most just transition to a different place) or you can climb a ladder. But even then, you glide up and down seamlessly which is the same as the walking. There’s no sound of footfall, ripples in puddles or hands. You might as well be a floating eyeball. I didn’t really feel immersed because the character wasn’t even immersed. If anything, the character was a little wanky. His notes and monologues weren’t grand philosophical comments but just observations based on a narrow outlook. And while this could be intentional, it drove me further away from the story.

I struggled with this interactive story because I wanted some sense of purpose, some goal, some end point which would result in satisfaction. Ideas are scattered, stories are bogged down by mountains of text and the narrator is unreliable. When reading a novel, you want to reach end while constantly wanting to avoid it, all because you’re enjoying yourself. But I didn’t enjoy the story or the experience. Maybe that was the purpose of the experience. Not to be enjoyed, but to make you think about the sparse existence this “minotaur” has. If you’re after philosophical discourse set in an interesting, post-apocalyptic, unsettling world from the eyes of an unreliable narrator, then this is the story for you.

The Old City: Leviathan is currently available on Steam for $14.99 USD.

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The next review in three weeks will be on Endless Legend.

next time

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5 thoughts on “The Old City: Leviathan

  1. It’s interesting to read a review from someone who wasn’t as crash hot on it. I loved it, but the other podcasters weren’t as fond. Also, you play as Jonah (I checked with the creator) and at one point you actually happen upon Solomon’s corpse. It requires a fair understanding of Jewish mythology and the Old Testament to get some of the links, and yeah, it’s a hefty slog. I kind of feel almost like the game was designed for me and no one else.

    1. With that it mind, it would be interesting to replay the game after reading more of the Old Testament and Jewish mythology – I guess Jonah and the whale would be a good start (the game isn’t long and so I might just do that). But I think the main issue for me in the end was the lack of engagement and connection. I wasn’t engaged to slog through enough text to choke a whale (literal or metaphorical) and felt no connection to Jonah, who in turn was disengaged from the world himself (a really interesting idea to present in a video game). And I think I know the exact point where you come across Solomon’s corpse but I thought at the time it was a hallucination of yourself :S. I’d still recommend it to certain people based entirely on what the game is trying to do. Even now, I doubt my labelling of “interactive story” and thinking more “interactive philosophy”.

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