Shadow Cities casts location gaming spell over Europe

Shadow Cities (press image)Last month Om waxed lyrical about Shadow Cities, a location-aware, network-friendly iPhone game that he suggested was a great indicator of where things could go in the future. To quote:

It uses your real-life locations (with maps like you’ve never seen before) and real people, and puts them in a game-like environment. It doesn’t need any typing; touch is what makes it fun. And since it’s connected, it uses your social graph to build a whole new immersive experience. Though it’s made for an iPhone, I believe this is an app that foretells the future of applications that really put an iPad to work, and in process, create magic.

The game was launched in North America in May, but now a whole lot more people are about to get the chance to see what he was talking about, since — as of today — it’s available in Europe.

Shadow Cities, which is free to download from iTunes, is a multiplayer roleplaying game that uses the real world as its playing surface. That manifests itself by your phone picking up your location and dotting missions and activities around your neighborhood. You complete missions by moving to the next location and playing through the touch interface (gestures, actions and so on).

While the feel and backstory (which involves a resurgence of magic into the modern world) might not necessarily grip you, the game itself is intriguing mixture of ideas. I got started from the comfort of my office and was quickly prompted to get out onto the streets and chase down various missions and targets… eventually, as the game progresses, you team up with or battle against other players in your local area.

Shadow Cities screengrabAt first glance the whole thing might sound like a car crash of too-trendy, funding-friendly concepts. And there is that danger, since it does, after all, graft bits of geolocation, presence, gamification and mobile together. Yet rather than create some hideous Frankenstein’s monster, teetering around sucking up venture capital and providing nothing of merit, Shadow Cities manages to be engaging and enjoyable — if you’ve got the time and energy to play.

Moving to 13 European countries so swiftly after the American launch might seem rapid, but in fact it actually marks a move back toward the home territory of creators Grey Area, which is based in Finland. Last year the company raised $2.5 million from a trio of investors (Index, London and Initial Capital), and they’re clearly trying to build an innovative and usable system.

In fact, in its ambition and zeitgeistiness, Grey Area’s work reminds me of another Index investment, Mind Candy. That London-based studio now runs the successful children’s game Moshi Monsters but it started off with a deep, complex and sometimes confusing game called Perplex City. There was a certain real-world-meets-virtual-world quality that links the two. Funnily enough, back in 2007 GigaOM even suggested that Perplex City might make an awesome iPhone game by building on the functions of the device.

Anyway, I suppose we’ll have to wait to see if Shadow Cities becomes a serious hit — in the meantime, see what you think and drop a comment: it’s available on iTunes now.