F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch Review: A Strong Core Masks Deeper Issues
At its core, F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is a strong Metroidvania. It plays beautifully, with tight controls, interesting environments, and a varied combat system. It builds an interesting world with beautiful environments and has a terrific soundtrack too. There’s a lot to like. That makes it even more frustrating when F.I.S.T. makes so many choices that undercut it.
Rise Of The Machines
Six years ago, the Machine Legion moved into Torch City, destroying the resistance and making the furtizens living there second-class citizens. Rayton fought for his city but has since given up that life, just trying to get by in this new world. That all changes when his best friend is taken. Now he has to get him back, using weapons salvaged from his old mech to get the job done.
The world of F.I.S.T. is vibrant and has a great cyberpunk meets talking animals feel that works. I’m less enamored with the cast and the actual story, though. It just feels very safe for a game of this nature. While the voice acting is fine, there’s nothing particularly interesting about any of these characters. I feel like you could tell great stories in Torch City. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.
Survive The Night
F.I.S.T. drops you into a city swarming with enemies ready to take you down. Like most Metroidvanias, you’ll regularly have an objective as you explore Torch City and beyond, but as your abilities grow, your freedom to check out side paths and find unlockables will grow. What can easily seem like a linear game opens up somewhat as time goes on.
These upgrades come in many forms. Over time you’ll get the ability to dash through the air, double jump, dash in new directions, and much more. You’ll also receive new weapons, which give you way more options in battle.
The Machine Legion isn’t content to sit back and let you have your way with things, however. A variety of enemies roam the streets, and most will attack on sight. These enemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some attack with swords, dashing around the screen and proving a nuisance. Others carry giant shields which make it hard to attack them head-on. Some have guns, and there are even smaller flying enemies firing at you from the sky.
Three Weapons Keep Things Fresh
You’re not without resources to deal with these enemies. In the early parts of the game, you’ll mostly fight with a giant fist. This is good for melee attacks and also allows you to grab things and toss them at enemies or even grab some enemies and toss them at each other. You’ll quickly get upgrades such as a rechargeable healing item and a set of batons that can deflect projectiles. Over time though, you’ll unlock two additional main weapons.
A giant drill not only can be great for getting through certain doors, but it also proves powerful in combat. This thing can wreck certain foes, though it’s slower than the fist. You’ll also eventually find a pair of electric whips, great for fast strikes and which work great on your mechanized opponents. Each of these three weapons offers an upgrade path which opens up a ton of combos and moves for use in combat. Each of these weapons also allows you to reach new areas.
Are You Up To The Challenge?
While this makes for an exciting combat system with a lot of options, there are issues. F.I.S.T. is a very difficult game. Even standard enemies are more than capable of killing you if you let your guard down even a little bit. Regular saves usually keep you from losing much progress, but I died a lot during my time with F.I.S.T.
Unlike in many games, your opponents here aren’t content to come at you one or two at a time. Instead, they like to attack all at once. This is sometimes exciting but more often highlights why so many games don’t do this. It gets hard to find patterns and makes combat frustrating more often than it is exciting.
If regular enemies are so dangerous, you know bosses are even more so. These battles can be a ton of fun, as hard as they often are. Too often, though, they end up relying on gimmicks which can get old very quickly. F.I.S.T. is a big fan of the sort of boss who ends up with a surprise second stage, or who has backup show up as soon as you’ve completed the fight or when you’re about to. Unfortunately, when multiple bosses show up together, you end up with the same issues of them not being well-coordinated that you see in regular encounters.
The balance in F.I.S.T. just feels off. There are no difficulty choices or options to help players who may be struggling. You can theoretically go in search of upgrade items, but these don’t seem to be doled out at an appropriate pace. New moves aren’t too expensive, but items that upgrade things like your special move meter or your health are very rare and take forever to get enough of. If you want to go back and search for more upgrades with new moves or weapons, you can sometimes do so. You’ll often have to travel through huge areas with nothing new in them, though. You eventually unlock a fast travel system, but its locations are so spread out that you’ll still have long treks ahead of you to get many places.
The difficulty isn’t confined to combat either. There are some very tough platforming sections and some challenging puzzles in many of the locations you’ll be sent. These mostly feel fair, though. I definitely found myself stumped by a puzzle here and there, but with enough thought about how my abilities could interact with things, I always made my way through. F.I.S.T. does a great job of using your abilities to solve puzzles. Likewise, the platforming definitely got hard at times, but you’re given regular save points to limit frustration. These sections will push many players, but you don’t have to be a god of platformers to get through them.
Even outside of the game’s balance, though, there are strange decisions. Like forced stealth sequences which take away the game’s biggest strength. This is the sort of unforced error that games should have figured out years ago. In a game so defined by your abilities and combat, taking that away doesn’t provide welcome variety; it just annoys.
With deep and challenging combat and tight controls, F.I.S.T. often provides a welcome challenge. That’s why it’s such a shame that slow progression and poor design choices hold it back from reaching its full potential. Still, at its best, F.I.S.T. is a memorable Metroidvania with variety and depth. If you’re up for the challenge and willing to deal with these issues, there’s definitely a good time to be had.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC; Publisher: TiGames; Developer: bilibili; Players: 1; Released: September 7th, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torchreview provided by the publisher.