Spells and wizardry on the dark streets of Sydney

Spirits roam the streets of Sydney. Grand battles between magic-wielding mages take place under your nose. Ownership of entire suburbs is claimed and contested. This is the world of Shadow Cities.

Shadow Cities is a location-based multiplayer game for your iOS device. ‘Location based game’ means the game responds to where you actually are when you are playing it. Start it up and it shows a map of you surrounding area. You can capture and defend that area and move on to do the same in surrounding suburbs. From that base you can travel to anywhere else in the world and take part in battles there.

The individual game is part of a wider story-arc in which there are two sides to a magical war, the Animators and the Architects. Set in the real world around us, Shadow Cities tells the story of magic’s return to our planet after a 600 year absence. This magic is bleeding through at certain gateways, and along with this magic comes spirits bent on our destruction. Players join a team, fight spirits, and try to lay claim to gateways as they level up to become the greatest mage in their neighbourhood.

The basic approach will be familiar to anyone who has played a massive multi-player game. You undertake quests and battle foes to gain experience which allows you to undertake more advanced quests and, well, battle more advanced foes. While the basic features are familiar there are two elements which make Shadow Cities stand out. The first is the use of the interface. Almost everything you do in the game involves casting spells; and spells are cast by drawing rune-like figures on the screen. This is a really nice use of the touch-screen interface.

The second, of course, is that fact that it is local – there’s something about capturing your own suburb that is just more entertaining than capturing a virtual place – and equally it seems more frustrating when someone else owns it. So the location based gaming is interesting.

As with any multi-player game, to make it work you need players. There certainly aren’t the depth of players in Sydney that you’ll find in many US cities, but there do seem to be a few people playing.

Shadow Cities has received a great deal of critical praise from around the world. The New York Times wrote last year:

Shadow Cities isn’t just the future of mobile gaming. It may actually be the most interesting, innovative, provocative and far-reaching video game in the world right now, on any system.

So would I recommend it? Well the basic game is free so I’d recommend taking a look at it if you’re interested in seeing a clever implementation of a game using the GPS and touch-sensitive screen features of an iPad or iPhone. It’s also fun to take a look at an alternate reality view of Sydney. Ultimately, though, I found the game itself is just a bit of a grind – there’s not enough character in the spirits or the story-line to be really captivating and I wasn’t interested enough to become an active participant in the team-based battles. It is, however, the team-based battles which provide the depth and character that has made this game so popular elsewhere and leveraged it beyond merely being interesting technology. So if you could see yourself as a senior mage leading hordes of spell-casting wizards into battle, this may well be the game for you.

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