The Old City: Leviathan
Every description I have seen of The Old City: Leviathan has been…cryptic to say in the least. Most games strive to tell you all about their features, how you can do this or that. The Old City however, does not. In fact, the most prominent points in its description are that it focuses entirely on the story, and that the objective is simply to understand. This intrigued me enough to buy and play it, so now I’m able to give others a little more insight as to what exactly this game is.
If you believe gameplay is king, The Old City will disappoint you. There’s almost nothing that you can interact with in the environment. Just doors to open and notes to read. There are no platform puzzles, no weapons, no combat, no enemies. If you have no interest whatsoever in philosophy, the definition of truth, and how the mind works, you will likely find it very boring.
What I discovered is that The Old City is a story where you start in the middle with no background information, and the sole narrator is most likely insane. This is not just me guessing; right after you begin the game, you will see a screen that simply says: “You are about to inhabit a broken mind. Not everything you see or hear is trustworthy.”
I will admit that I spent the first half hour wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. I didn’t know where I was, who I was suppose to be playing, or what was going on. There were no NPCs standing around, helpfully informing me on what was going on. Only what I was seeing and a voice saying things that didn’t make sense. It was eerie to say in the least.
As I began exploring the vast labyrinth of tunnels and corridors further, I began playing a little game in my head you could probably call “You know you’re crazy when”. For example, “you know you’re crazy when you write the same phrase over and over again on the walls.”
Or “you know you’re crazy when you draw creepy eyes all over the room.”
But then, stranger things began happening (if you can believe that). Words on walls would change as I stepped closer, or would simply appear on walls that had been blank before.
“Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.”
― Ray Bradbury
I’d walk down one corridor, only to later come back and find it sealed. An area would contain nothing special at first, but later would be filled with bodies.
“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
― Philip K. Dick, VALIS
I was beginning to think that I had missed some reference to horror and that something was going to jump out at me at any moment. But The Old City doesn’t employ any scare tactics, it’s not a horror game. There was a definite sense of unease though.
Then the dreams began, or at least I think that’s where they were. Ones that always began with a visit to a child’s room. From there I would be transported somewhere beautiful and fantastical.
“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”
― John Lennon
Back and forth, I would travel between reality and the dream world. Or was reality even real? All the while the narrator would keep talking, saying things that might make sense or might not. I’d find notes left by others that began to fill in details about this world. But perhaps they weren’t real either, but figments of the character’s imagination just like the wall writing.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
― Albert Einstein
Everything was beautiful and enigmatic. Brutal and desolate. Somehow, it was beginning to make some sense too.
“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
― Tim Burton
As I neared the end, I already had some theories as to what was going on. I can’t tell them to you without spoilers, so I will only say this: this games asks you to question what truth is and how it affects people. It also asks you to inspect your conceptions about insanity and whether reality is such a concrete thing.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
The Old City is also one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. There is an incredible amount of attention to detail; you won’t see a misplaced plant or rock anywhere. There’s a reason I took over 80 screenshots during a single play-through. Ryan Cooper, the narrator, also does some of the best voice acting I have ever heard.
While I finished the game in only 5 hours, it’s given me things to think about days and weeks after. I’d highly recommend playing through the story yourself and coming up with your own interpretations.
“In a mad world, only the mad are sane.”
― Akira Kurosawa