A few months back, mobile publishing giant Game Insight announced four new games for Windows Phone and Windows 10. Game Insight is best known for its city building games and of course three of the announced titles fall into that genre. But Running Shadow, the most exciting of the four, was not a city builder at all.
Running Shadow is a 3D endless running/action game set within a dark fantasy universe. Playing as a thief with a magic gauntlet, players will battle the forces of evil and complete missions spread throughout a troubled city. With impressive graphics and plenty of loot to collect and upgrade, Running Shadow is a free to play title that Windows Phone and Windows 10 gamers won't want to miss. Read on for our full impressions and hands-on video!
A City filled with shadows
The game takes place in the fictional, majestic city of Hadrion. The sprawling city has long been split into two parts: the Upper City and the Lower City. The aristocracy occupies the Upper City while the lower class struggles to get by in the Lower City. Moving between both areas covertly are the members of the Fraternity of Shadows: thieves, assassins, and mercenaries.
At the start of the game, our protagonist (a freelance thief called Shadow) stumbles across a dark ceremony performed by a cult known as the Death Deniers. These freaky freaks want to free the evil Old Gods from their prison using a mysterious magical gauntlet. One of their members touches the gauntlet and is quickly consumed by it, which the Old Gods take as a sacrifice. Not good!
The uninvited thief takes advantage of the ensuing chaos to grab the artifact for himself. Not only does he survive, but it wraps around his arm and stays there. Soon he must escape from the Death Deniers, who desperately want their possession back. He'll have to work together with the Fraternity and other well-meaning individuals in order to stop the pursuing cult once and for all.
After the voice-acted introduction, most of the story happens via (very dry) text that NPCs deliver before and after each mission. I haven't encountered another true cinematic though some missions at least have story-based objectives like eavesdropping on the Death Deniers or assassinating a particular character.
Thief on the run
Running Shadow is a 3D endless running game, similar to Spider-Man Unlimited and (to a lesser extent) the Temple Run series. Our heroic thief automatically runs forward like his life depended on it. Swiping left or right allows the dude to dodge obstacles and collect coins. When not in combat, up and down jump and slide, of course.
The Death Deniers want our hero dead, so he'll have to fight them off during his missions. Combat is simple: swipe up to attack ground-based enemies and swipe down to attack jumping foes. Fail to swipe in the correct direction and you'll take a hit. Luckily, Shadow has a life meter and can generally survive more than one attack per mission.
The game displays an arrow to tell players which direction to swipe against enemies, which is good. But you'll only see the arrow if you're in the same lane as the baddie. At times, I found myself entering an enemy's lane with too little time to read the combat arrow and react to it.
Interestingly, some enemies can't be harmed without a sufficiently high-level sword. A red sword floating above the invulnerable foe's head indicates that he should be avoided. It takes a while to save up enough gold for a new sword, but the only real penalty for not killing every enemy is a lower rating (and reward) upon mission completion.
Feats and Magic
Sometimes Shadow encounters rainbow-colored patches of ground. By swiping in a specific direction on these patches, players will perform an acrobatic "feat" such as flips or running on the wall. These add a little dramatic touch to the gameplay as well as boosting your score.
The heroic thief can also cast magic spells, but only when he has enough mana and only on specific enemies. Each spell has a unique swiping motion, such as a downward swipe or an "S" shape. The game doesn't really give you enough time to pull the more complex spells off, which is a shame.
Missions to run
Although Running Shadow is an endless running game, it feels much more like a full-sized console title than typical endless runners. Players select missions from a map screen, each with different objectives and rewards. Completing these earns you experience that contributes towards leveling up, unlocking new missions, items, and abilities.
Individual missions have varying goals, such as killing a certain number of enemies, collecting gold coins or mana, or finding a specific artifact. The level will loop endlessly until you complete the objective. Once you accomplish what you set out to do, a portal opens up and you'll complete the mission.
Some missions require a specific level of weapon or armor to play. If you haven't upgraded your equipment enough, you'll have to grind other missions for the gold that those upgrades will cost. The game gets pretty grindy as a result.
Free to play adventuring
Like all of Game Insight's titles, Running Shadow is free to play. This one doesn't use an energy mechanic, thankfully. But you do have a limited number of revives. There's no penalty for dying other than losing whatever you picked up during a mission. Using a revive will continue mid-mission so that you can avoid losing the loot.
I imagine that tougher missions could be quite difficult to beat without using revives, but early in the game it's not a problem. You get a free revive every time you level up. If you find yourself needing more, you can buy some via IAP.
The game also has a variety of weapons, armor, and clothing to purchase and upgrade. These will change your hero's appearance (I think) and improve his stats. Most can be bought with gold, the soft currency. Premium items require in-app purchases for real money, although the IAP system doesn't seem to be working just yet.
Running Shadow on Windows Phone
The Windows Phone version of the game mostly looks quite good, but it does have a few issues. Most obviously, the view distance is too low during gameplay. Buildings and other background objects frequently pop into view as you play, which can be distracting. If the engine can't handle a better draw distance, the developers should add fog or something to make the pop-up less noticeable.
Less distractingly, much of the text is too tiny – even on my large Lumia 1520 phone. Mission descriptions and especially mid-game dialog should be much larger and easier to read. Right now, it feels like the game was designed for tablets and not optimized for phones.
Running Shadow is available on both Windows Phone and Windows 10. Disappointingly, neither version supports cloud saves at present. Given that Game Insight's Cloud Raiders has Facebook login support, it's odd that another big title like this would launch without it. Hopefully, they update the Windows versions with proper cross-platform cloud save support soon.
Seeing as how Gameloft dropped the ball with Spider-man Unlimited by ceasing to update it, Running Shadow fills a nice niche in the mobile Windows gaming lineup. It feels like a simplified Assassin's Creed with more fantasy elements. Running short missions for gold and other rewards and building up your equipment between missions is pretty addictive. As long as Game Insight continues to update the game like it did with Cloud Raiders, this one should develop a loyal following on Windows platforms.
Please Note: While Running Shadow is available for low-memory Windows Phones, we couldn't get it to run with reliability. The game installed fine on the Lumia 635 but the game crashed upon launch. If you have any luck playing Running Shadow on a low-memory Windows Phone, let us know in the comments below.