Published on September 26th, 2022 | by Nathan Misa
F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch PS5 Review @FISTthegame @PLAION
Summary: An excellent Metroidvania adventure with intense combat, rewarding exploration and a visually immersive dieselpunk world.
Hop, Skip, Punch
F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch, the inaugural effort of Shanghai-based game developer TiGames, is one hell of an introduction.
After an under-the-radar release on consoles late last year (and a PC launch later), I thought it was time to check out all the fuss behind the B-movie-esque title – and I’m very glad I did.
With backing from major publisher Bilibili and PlayStation’s China Hero Project, F.I.S.T.’s presentation and polish is nothing short of exemplary, and it constantly surprised me from start to finish.
F.I.S.T is an action-adventure Metroidvania game with all of the genre’s staples – a large, interconnected world map, 2.5D side scrolling platforming, non-linear progression and lots of tantalizing gates and secrets blocked off until you acquire special tools, weapons or abilities, which encourages that ever-addictive formula of memorising blocked areas to return later for goodies. What makes F.I.S.T stand out from the crowd immediately is its unique dieselpunk artstyle, impressive graphics, slick movement and fighting systems, and a simple, but quickly captivating story.
You play as Rayton, a grizzled anthropomorphic rabbit with a gravelly voice and world weary attitude. Rayton is a furtizen (everyone in the game is an animal) of Torch City, which is under the oppression of the Machine Legion, robotic tyrants that have built over every bit of green and turned the city into a labyrinthe of claustrophobic alleyways, heavily-guarded industrial zones, steam-powered towers, and dismal prison blocks. When Rayton’s war buddy Urso is arrested by the Iron Dogs, he’s spurned back into action, grabbing his power armour and giant mechanical fist to liberate Torch City. What follows is an action-packed adventure through an East-Asia-inspired dystopian landscape packed full of details to admire, secrets to uncover, and a sprawling map to cover.
It’s true the story isn’t as revolutionary as Rayton’s past as a war hero – the driving force of the plot is established rather briskly – but the game’s excellent pacing of its narrative and use of flashbacks and environmental storytelling, coupled with high-quality cutscenes, great character animations and a well-acted English voice-cast helps turn a simple plot into a high-stakes, emotional journey, and I couldn’t help but get attached to the straight-laced Ray very quickly.
F.I.S.T is also filled with interesting and likable characters, each with their own charming interactions and attitudes towards the Legion and Ray. These NPCs can be found in safe zones and while smashing your way through hostile Legion-controlled zones, and provide additional lore, commentary and funny anecdotes, with some acting as item vendors or reward givers for side-objectives. My favourite was the pipsqueak mouse Flip, the ever-boastful scavenger and self-proclaimed Prince of Thieves who laughs in the face of the dangers of the Legion… but who constantly needs your help anyway.
It’s also true the main cast, such as the old and wise racoon sensei Master Wu, femme fatale cat Lady Q and the bumbling but loveable bear mechanic Urso are rather by-the-books, but the decent writing and colourful designs helps F.I.S.T punch above its weight in the story department. The fact most characters are also fully voiced and have unique dialogue and animations provides an extra level of detail that I really appreciated, in between all the usual Metroidvania staples of tense fighting, puzzle-solving and back-tracking.
Speaking of back-tracking, the setting of Torch City is well-designed both on a gameplay and narrative level. Divided into distinct zones connected through various main and secret passageways, the place is absolutely filled with alternate pathways, tantalising collectibles just out of easy reach, and off-the-beaten path secrets to encourage exploration and reasons to return to previous zones later (you can fast-travel and access safe zone areas, too). The puzzles and environmental hazards are straightforward but fun to overcome, and never feel like they overstayed their welcome, and plenty of levels tell their own little stories or allude to later events and are fun to find – if you’re like me and scan everything with a fine tooth comb.
One thing I soon discovered and immensely appreciated was that Torch City feels alive. Yes, it’s filled with dangerous, murderous robots and plenty of cold and clinical factories and enemy bases, but it’s also dense with towering skyscrapers, grimy ghettos, neon-lit town centers populated by witty anthromophic animals of all kinds, and impossibly complex, futuristic machinery that help bring its unique dieselpunk aesthetic to life. The closest comparison I can think of is a grimdark anglamation of Midgard from Final Fantasy VII and the furry citizens of the 2016 film Zootopia.
All of this wonderful effort in Torch City’s level design is amplified by the moment-to-moment platforming in F.I.S.T, which is extremely satisfying. Rayton can jump, dash, glide, and scale walls with speed and style, and use his fist to smash open grates, walls and gates to navigate through the urban maze of Torch City. Responsive controls make each action easy and slick to execute, and the varied environments of each section of the map are filled with items to find, enemies to beat down and secrets to uncover, encouraging and rewarding exploration. I was also constantly surprised at how many times I was able to hop into smaller passageways or closed-off areas that seemed just out of reach; with good timing, persistence and experimentation, Rayton’s platforming ability can often exceed what initially seems possible.
Brawling is equally impactful and rewarding thanks to a multitude of unlockable abilities, combat scenarios and weapons. Rayton’s suit at the beginning of the game is equipped with a giant mechanical fist which you can use to beat down robotic enemies and smash open specific doors and gates. You’re at first limited to basic light and heavy attacks and throwing, but later you can beat down enemies with an impressive number of multi-hit combos and get a drill and whip that can be used to glide and swing, each with their own unique ability tree. Add in limited-use gear such as a homing rocket and energy rods for parrying, and special attacks and executions, and your average battle against the goons naturally involves into something more involved and intense; from mid-game you’ll be dodging bullet hell-esque environmental hazards in addition to tougher, bigger robots that pack a punch and can take more too. The bosses are equally as challenging and diverse in danger, which makes for thrilling, nail-biting victories; thankfully, you’re reverted to the nearest checkpoint should you lose, rather than having to trek all the way back through the map, which saves on time and frustration compared to other Metroidvanias.
The gradual introduction of new weapons and abilities in F.I.S.T provides a finely-tuned sense of progression through Torch City’s sprawling map that feels rewarding and satisfying. You can spend the scraps you collect from the many fallen enemies you beat into the concrete to unlock new movesets for each of your three main offensive tools (Fist, Drill, and Whip), or to increase the diversity of combos you can dish out in combat, upgrade your HP or ability and special move points, or purchase new, very cool paintjobs for your gear and unlockable music in the hub town of Joffre Street. Many of these items are also found within the world or granted from NPCs, making it well worth your while to spend time exploring beyond the next main objective marker.
Visually, F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch looks a step above its contemporaries in the side–scrolling 2.5D Metroidvania sub-genre. It’s a modern, full-fat Unreal Engine game with stellar art-design, and that combination makes for a graphically impressive experience. On PlayStation 5, the game runs at a full 60 frames-per-second at 4K resolution and was a feast for the eyes, particularly while traversing the neon-lit city-scape sections in the Joffre Street and Old Town zones. The landscapes underneath and outside of the city, such as the claustrophobic sewers and ancient temples, were equally as visually arresting. Some of my favourite parts are the hand-crafted character animations, such as Rayton begrudgingly taking a cold shower at save-points to recover his health, or showing off his power armoured fist after getting a nifty new paint-job; combined, it all added a level of polish that, frankly, rivals many triple-A titles.
The sound design is also impressive and adds to the grim atmosphere of Torch City, with melancholy Chinese and jazz-inspired tunes while exploring the safe zones, and foreboding industrial tracks in the darker areas of the game, though if I had one criticism, it’s that some tracks are fairly short and loop to the point of being grating (such as the starting Old Town track). The English and Chinese voice-cast, as mentioned, is excellent and just another example of the understated production values F.I.S.T offers in spades across its 25+ hour playtime (with more if you engage in the side content and collectibles).
The Final Verdict
F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is one of the most fun side-scrolling, exploration based games I’ve played in a long time, and fans of the Metroidvania genre will revel in what it has to offer.
The game is filled with alluring, interconnected locales to explore, fun characters indulge in, and challenging enemies to overcome and a satisfying arsenal of diverse combos, weapons and abilities. It’s also more graphically impressive than one would initially expect, making for a nice surprise and first game debut from TiGames, who definitely deserve attention from here on out. The dieselpunk aesthetic also deserves major praise; there’s not enough of it on the market!
While F.I.S.T won’t win any rewards for originality or innovation, it does everything it sets out to do very well, with a level of polish and care that clearly shows the developer’s vision and passion behind their first major release. If you’re looking for a refreshing palate cleanser from the wave of open-world, triple-A titles flooding the market, F.I.S.T’s exciting combat, rewarding platforming and highly polished visuals makes for an absolute blast of a gaming experience.