Straight up: you’ll have to forgive me if some of the nuance of Shadow Cities [Free] -- one of the newest geo-centric MMO games available on the App Store -- has evaded me. It’s not good at telling you what it is and how you’re supposed to interact with it. Although, a lot of that might have to do with the fact that I don't exactly live in a dense metropolitan area, rendering the location awareness of the game moot since there's no one around me playing.
The PR isn’t much better, though the press releases and the buzz around it are the things that drew our attention in the first place. Shadow Cities is billed as a PVP-centric ARG that uses wherever you are as the game’s map. Like an MMO, it supposedly offers a cool and deep leveling system and a ton of missions and ‘activities.’
That's real high-concept stuff. What I actually see is a weird, blacked-out Google Maps-style world with little purple, blue, red, and green orbs floating around like neon snowflakes. With a couple of flicks of my wrists, my orange orb can decimate these other colored orbs. Then, I get experience points and, I guess, the implied promise of further orb decimation.
It seems like the point of the game revolves around killing these orbs. With each victory, I come closer to dominating my urban center, which happens to be a small city deep in the American south. I don’t see any progress bars or anything of that sort, though, so I’ll just assume that the forthcoming tyranny will take some time to seed.
In Shadow Cities, you play as a mage of one of two sides. I picked the “tech priest”-type of dudes assuming that the meld of man, psychic powers, and machines would fair better against the earthy, organic types of mages. I don’t think there’s a substantial difference in what “team” you pick. At least, I don’t get that impression.
There are two chat rooms available to you once you start the game. It isn’t, at least here, specific to your urban center. The guys talking in the chat are from my state in general and they’re looking for people to battle because app hasn’t reached the kind of critical and consumer response that it needs to flourish and become more than a proof of concept that sounds neat in press releases.
Over on the game’s official blog, proof of stuff that can happen in the game can be found. Earlier in May, users were encouraged to join battle groups, which are, essentially, global communities of 100 mages assigned to a country. There was a campaign in which one team won over another by keeping large cities to themselves, while destroying the other team’s big cities. That sounds pretty cool, actually.
I’d like to get a sense of that scale, but through the app, I can’t. I just see city streets and AI-controlled wisps of color that dance around my orange wisp. I destroy these wisps and then more generate and then I destroy them. If I could see where my battle is going, how my individual fights are factoring into a larger picture, or if I actually felt like I was interacting with a larger world, Shadow Cities would click better with me.
There's a lot of promise here. I mean, think about it. Just by whipping out your phone and spending the 15 seconds it takes to crush an orb, you could be helping to decide the fate of a global battle. That's heavy, man, and fun-sounding idea to boot. Or, additionally, if you live in a dense area, this could be like Yelp!, except with mage battles. You walk into a store some jerk checked-in to and then BOOM -- you take him out.
I should note that the studio behind Shadow Cities, Grey Area, is behind the project and willing to keep iterating on top of the existing software. Gamasutra caught up with its CEO recently and he said as much, adding some specifics on new mechanics being added in the future:
"We want to develop it further and enable people to interact in the way that they want," he said, "we’ve been really conscious and paying attention how people want to create the battles... that’s what people want to do: strategize, plan, raid locations together, and all of that, so it’s definitely in the works, if you will.”
Cool. Come next update, I hope someone, anyone, around here picks up the game so I can put a spell all over his face.
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