F.I.S.T. has all the trademarks of a good metroidvania: a sprawling map that can only be fully explored through acquiring new abilities and backtracking, an evolving combat system, plenty of boss fights, and hidden items to find. It also looks pretty swish at points, its dieselpunk aesthetic allowing the artists to create some beautiful vistas despite the 2D gameplay and viewpoint.
So why did I simply not feel the love for F.I.S.T., a game that on paper I should have really enjoyed?
I haven't seen all that F.I.S.T. has to offer, but my lack of enthusiasm after four hours or so is down to two key things: combat and that magical sense of exploration found in the very best metroidvanias.
Combat in F.I.S.T. centres on whichever oversized weapon/tool you are carrying, be it a fist, drill, or whip. A skill tree lets you unlock new moves and abilities, with the best of these using SP and EP. These two meters are filled during combat and via items/repair stations, and in theory it all should make for in-depth and fun combat.
Sadly, enemy encounters often feel like a slog. Frequently you'll be locked into a room and be required to clear out all your foes before being allowed to progress. For a combat-heavy game, my key issue is the block/parry system. It just doesn't really feel fit for purpose, resulting in a reliance on the dash mechanic, which isn't as useful as a proper dodge/counter would be, especially when taking on multiple baddies.
Maybe my expectations were wrong, but the combat ends up feeling a bit disjointed and too evasive, rather than fluid and aggressive. Things might improve later on, but a good few hours in it's not enjoyable enough for a core part of the game.
If you've seen any footage of F.I.S.T. in action you'll have seen that it can be a gorgeous game, the backgrounds in particular being standouts. Unfortunately these smart visuals don't translate to a world I want to explore. Whereas genre stablemates Ori and Axiom Verge excel at delivering worlds that feel exciting to discover, and are almost organic in their expansion, F.I.S.T. has the sense of being bolted together.
On the positive side, movement around this world is the clear highlight of the game, with rabbit hero Rayton handling the platforming superbly. A few abilities in and he can nip about with the kind of panache and expertise missing in the combat. So far it's the game's saving grace, although I do wish the secrets were a little more exciting than platforming to a grate and bashing through it.
Your fondness towards F.I.S.T. might be greater than mine if you can gel with the combat, but if you're after a stunning metroidvania, there are better options. Both Ori games are significantly better, while Axiom Verge and its sequel offer more retro-skewed action and better exploration.
Version tested: PS5. Also on PS4 and coming to PC. Code supplied by the publisher.