Also On: PS5, PC
While award shows are never really my thing, as a person who?s interested in what’s on the horizon for gaming I will reluctantly watch The Game Awards. In 2020?s iteration, a trailer was showcased in which an anthropomorphic rabbit with a mechanical arm was dishing out a beating to mechanized soldiers. The trailer alluded that the arm can transform into a drill as well as a whip and these transformations can be done on the fly creating devastating combos. My interest was piqued, further delving would reveal the title was a metroidvania set in a dieselpunk world that prior to launch had some quite a pedigree. TiGames? sophomore title was selected to be part of Sony?s China Hero Project, an incubator program that assists titles developed in China to enter their native as well as the global markets. The Game Awards trailer indicated that the title would release in Spring of 2021, but that season came and went without a peep from the title. However, the title would launch several months later in the Fall.
Torch City is a city home to various species of furitzens (the game?s term…not mine). A variety which includes but not only, bears, rabbits, raccoons. The city currently is under the oppressive rule of the Legion, a group of robotic dogs creatures. Recently a mysterious object has been found which put the forces of the Legion on high alert, furthering their cruelty to the furitzens of Torch City. Pushed to the brink, Rayton (or ?Ray? for short) a rabbit who has lived in seclusion after a failed resistance is forced to literally pick up arm and take on the Legion again.
Ray?s quest to push back will have him traversing through 16 regions of Torch city and it?s surrounding areas. The environments include the old neighborhoods, a posh-er region controlled by the rat gang, Legion complexes including their bases and prison. Each area is interconnected and chock full of hidden nooks and crannies to explore. Collectibles are abundant and acquisition will have it?s rewards. Each region has a distinct personality, however a majority of these regions are patrolled by the mechanical forces of the Legion. Given the title is a metroidvania, a healthy amount of traversal will be required as well as some backtrack to unlock areas once newer powers have been acquired. To this end the game does feature fast travel systems, although the two are not interconnected thus require some trudgery if you need to get to areas not covered by either fast travel systems.
The arsenal Ray uses to fight the oppressive Legion is admittedly less than optimal, but you have to fight with what you got. Starting off with a mechanical arm pulled from an exo armored he used in his days as a resistance fighter, he will eventually find additional attachments such as a drill and a whip which has it?s own set of moves and specials, that can also be switched on the fly to dole out all sorts of hurt to Torch City?s mechanical oppressors. Gadgets can also be picked up that can allow Ray to heal in the field, distract, parry and greatly damage foes. The arm?s specials and gadgets usage are limited by meters and the game fills these bars by a risk/reward system. The special bar can be filled by aggressively attacking enemies, any incompletely filled special bar energy will decrease when there is a lull in the action. The special bar can be refilled by performing execution moves on weakened opponents. This mechanic will force the player’s hands as if they want to play it safe or go in and get an extra stock of special bar so they can have another opportunity to heal or deal massive damage to the enemy.
The gameplay is extremely satisfying and enemy encounters can be quite challenging. I never quite found rhyme or reason as to whether or not certain units had specific weaknesses to certain weapons. Brute forcing would lead to success eventually, repeated failures would force me to watch the unskippable boss intro scene ad nauseam. My playstyle also led to an over-reliance with the healing gadget and the projectile gadget, leaving the distraction and parrying mostly under-utilized. Speaking of parrying, in what I felt was an odd decision…abilities such as parrying without the use of a gadget and the ability to dash through enemies and their projectiles are gated as unlockables with the latter being a pretty late game acquisition. This decision meant you have to adjust your playstyle later into your time with this title, whereas these abilities were base abilities in other titles.
The game?s visuals and mechanics are quite excellent, however there were noticeable issues with the PS4 version (the game is also cross buy on the PS5, however this review was done on a PS4 Pro). While this feels like a nitpick, the fur on all the animal models felt off and ?patchy?, thus rendering the best looking creatures being the purely mechanical Legion characters. Many times I would experience slow downs during traversal even if there are no enemies around. Another frequent occurrence was foreground objects would experience a delay in loading leaving Ray standing in an empty space. The enemy spawning is rather somewhat non-traditional compared to other titles which triggers respawns upon re-entering an area. In the late game, previously traversed areas would be sparsely occupied making the game?s many combat-centric trophies harder to acquire. The game?s story was pretty straight forward, but it tried to create a larger world that it doesn?t adequately pay off. Concepts like the ?All Fur Society? and a certain species clan are alluded to but never elaborated on properly.
Despite the word salad definition of it?s acronym (Seriously what does Forged in Shadow Torch mean really?), F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is a competent and challenging title for fans of metroidvanias. I was definitely invested into the plight of the furtizens of Torch City and would love to see the conflict which led to the current situation explored in some means. If this is the first title to come out of the China Hero Project, I am definitely interested in the other titles they are curating.
Note: bilibili provided us with a F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch PS4/PS5 code for review purposes.