F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch (2021)

F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch is a Metroidvania game made by Shanghai developer TiGames, and released first on PlayStation recently (coming to PC in future). The team is about 20 people.

With a Metacritic score of 81, this game is in my opinion a good example of a new breed of Chinese games that are successfully establishing a beachhead in the premium console space. And now it’s not so far-fetched to envision a future where Chinese developers can ship successful $70 AAA titles cross-platform, competing with the biggest console franchises.

I’m not heavy into this genre, and during my first hour with F.I.S.T. I was not too impressed. I didn’t like the grimy dieselpunk art style, and the starting weapon, the eponymous giant fist felt too slow. At this particular moment, I felt I was playing the game more due to professional curiosity (and a natural desire to support a Chinese title).

But the game does open up over the next few hours, as you unlock new abilities, including traversal abilities like double jump and wall jump that are staples of the genre. (I would argue that perhaps these abilities can be unlocked even earlier – at the cost of a more accelerated learning curve for players new to the genre.) And once you acquire the second weapon (out of 3 total), the game’s combat system fully reveals its deep combo-chaining potential (seemingly inspired by action games and fighting games).

Probably around the 10 hour mark of my playthrough, I was fully hooked on the game. I felt compelled to explore every corner of the map, and practiced every boss fight like how I would approach a Soulsbourne game. The game is quite hard – there were few boss fights that I completed in 1-3 tries, and many took me practicing up to an hour to crack.

I ended my first playthrough at the 26 hour mark. I still didn’t care much about the game’s narrative – but I was completely sold on the combat and level design. There are some really fun and intuitive puzzle elements to the levels – an area focused on puzzle gameplay that unlocks very late in the game is especially memorable – and I was impressed by the mileage that the level design got out of a single mechanic.

What’s most impressive about the game – and I’m paraphrasing a line from a Chinese review I had read – is that I don’t need to go out of my way to hype up this game because it’s made by Chinese devs. The game’s quality speaks for itself, and while it’s maybe not at the very peak of the Metroidvania genre, it is a very competent entry with a super-rich combat system. The production feels very mature and there doesn’t seem to be many rookie mistakes (I will complain about the font-size feeling too small for couch-play).

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