F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch might have an utterly incomprehensible title, but it fits neatly into the action-adventure Metroidvania genre. It’s a game that stars a gruff-talking Ex-Spec Ops bunny wielding a giant robotic fist to free his fellow ‘Fluffizens’ from the evil machinations of the Machine Legion. It’s a delightfully stupid concept.
Despite the ludicrous set-up, developer TiGames doesn’t play the game for laughs; they are taking the nonsensical plot very seriously indeed. This makes the game all the more brilliant in my opinion. Having a fluffy bunny who sounds like he smokes fifty a day deliver the line “One fur all and all fur one” with straight-faced deadpan intent is worth the price of the game alone. Fortunately, for those less enamoured with unintended humour, there’s plenty of brilliant gameplay to be enjoyed too.
Rayton, the aforementioned bad-ass bunny, is on a mission to free Torch City from an army of robots. To do this he’ll have to do everything you’d expect from a competent Metroidvania. That is: explore a labyrinthine map and get thoroughly lost, find plenty of secret short cuts and hidden power-ups, and to fight a multitude of enemies and increasingly vast bosses. F.I.S.T. delivers on all those counts.
Torch City is vast and varied, a diesel-punk industrial monstrosity filled with prisons, sinister labs, sewers and ancient ruins. Just when you think you’ve uncovered everything, you’ll find a vent that leads you on an adventure to discover another massive chunk of game to explore. Rayton is fast and responsive, while the power-ups come thick and fast to ensure the massive map is a joy to explore. After only half an hour, Rayton will be double jumping, wall climbing and dashing in a joyful expression of virtual free running.
Combat is accessible and satisfyingly bombastic. You’ll start off with Ray’s robotic fist – ideal for juggling foes into a frenetic air-combo – but there are two further primary weapons to add to your arsenal. To say more would be to spoil the surprise, but in true Metroidvania magic each new weapon provides you with new means to traverse the environment, opening up routes that you didn’t even know existed. Combos are lengthy and spectacular, sparks fly as robotic wolves and frogs are eviscerated in a cloud of cogs. Timings are generous and the controls straightforward, ensuring that F.I.S.T. is an ideal choice for those new to the genre.
Indeed, I found F.I.S.T. to be somewhat on the easy side. Those used some modern Metroidvanias that demand precision timing and much player frustration may be a little disappointed. However, I really like the reasonable level of challenge. The save points are plentiful and well-placed, and the number of health drops available to you is refreshing. This is a game that TiGames clearly wants to be enjoyed and played through to completion by the majority of players. Thanks to the spot-on difficulty curve, I’d say that they had achieved their goal.
Visually F.I.S.T can be a little marmite, by which I mean brown and stodgy like an early Xbox 360 game, not ‘love it or hate it’. Unreal Engine 4 provides a satisfyingly detailed 3D environment for the player to explore through traditional 2D means and, on occasion, the results are impressive. For example, seeing a vast-neon soaked city rise up out of the background is a spectacular moment. Yet, too often, the game relies on very similar looking levels made up of brown and grey corridors and tunnels.
Character models are a little hit and miss too. Many of the animals you mee don’t look particularly furry, and some don’t even look particularly like animals. It’s as if every denizen of Torch City applies copious hair gel to their bodies on a regular basis. Perhaps the fashion for these furry folk is to spike every bit of their fur into a rock solid lump? Either way, the results of this can be, especially for the bears, borderline terrifying. Sometimes it felt like I should try to punch the evil looking red panda rather than the metal army stood next to him. Talking of the metal army, the visuals for the tech and machinery are much more successful, the copious bosses that stand between you and the end of the game all being packed full of detail. They are a delight to beat seven shades of scrap out of.
So far so good, right? It’s a shame then that, at the time of review, the excellence of F.I.S.T is undermined by technical issues. To put it bluntly, F.I.S.T needs a right good patch. The frame rate can frequently drop on PS4, the game briefly pausing whilst it frantically tries to load in new assets. These pauses even crop up in combat, turning the once smooth character animation into jerky marionettes.
The technical issues are most prevalent when you are returning to an area to quickly traverse it and find a secret – the game simply can’t keep up at times. There were even a few occasions where I had to wait a few seconds levitating in blank space whilst the environment emerged into existence. It was a surreal experience, and not just because of the macho bunny.