Review: Street Fighter IV
The first of five games (probably) called Street Fighter IV arrives.
It’s been almost ten years since the last numbered Street Fighter, Street Fighter III: Third Strike was released and here we finally have another Street Fighter game. Things have changed, both in Street Fighter IV (SF4) and the world it’s being released into, so can it still cut it?
I say SF4 has changed, obviously aesthetically, and there are a few new characters, and the odd gameplay mechanic, but in reality this is pretty much the same game you played close to 20 years ago, in Street Fighter 2. It’s still on a 2D plane, no 3D movement whatsoever, all those special moves you remember still work, hell, even the majority of the characters are the same. Of course, SF2 is largely regarded as one of the best fighters ever, so you can’t really complain too much about that, but what reasons are there to part with your cash now, in the space year 2009?
Obviously the first impression you get when you actually start playing is the game’s visuals. No longer are the characters 2D sprite based, they are now fully 3D, and quite stunning looking too. I was very sceptical when the first lot of screens came out, as I still think Street Fighter III: Third Strike looks amazing with its excellent 2D animation and I couldn’t help but think that these 3D models couldn’t hope to age as well. I’ve been won over though. Actually seeing it in motion in front of you is a wondrous sight. I honestly think the way the characters have been modelled and animated is up there with Pixar and Dreamworks as far as this style of CG goes. It’s an incredible breath of fresh air in this world of motion capture. The presentation isn’t without its negatives though.
Each character’s Arcade mode is sandwiched between an opening and closing anime cinematic which is a nice touch considering you were lucky to get some speech bubbles or still images in previous games, but the quality of the animation in these scenes is so poor, especially when compared to the quality of the 3D in game stuff, that you wish they’d paid more care. The music is passable, but nothing classic like in SF2, and the intro music is just plain awful thanks to the vocal track. Gameplay is where this game is going to live or die though, so what have they have added to the old formula?
Four new characters join the original twelve from SF2 (bosses included). C.Viper, a female agent who uses gadgets to give her the edge, Rufus, a fat kung fu fighter who wants to prove that he is the best fighter in the US, El Fuerte, a Mexican wrestler and cook, and Abel, a French mixed martial artist who is suffering from amnesia. Also unlockable after completing the arcade mode with specific characters are Cammy, Sakura, Rose, Fei-Long, Dan and Gen from previous games, and after completing certain stipulations you can unlock Akuma, Gouken (Ken and Ryu’s master), and Seth, the game’s boss.
So that’s sixteen from the off, plus six which are quite easily unlocked, and three which require a little more effort. All together that’s twenty five characters to play with. I’m a little disappointed that a few SF3 characters didn’t make the grade (Elena, Ibuki, Makoto, Yun and Yang would have fit in well), but what is here provides a wide range of tactical possibilities depending on your play style. Most people will reach for Ryu/Ken first and stick to that (just a few online matches will prove that), which is fine, but try playing through the Arcade mode with every character and you may well find an unlikely favourite.
There are a couple of new fighting mechanics implemented as well. First off, gone is the ‘Parry’ system from SF3, and in is the ‘Focus’ ability. By pressing both medium punch and kick at the same time you can charge a focus attack. During this time you can take one hit without being interrupted, any more and you will be knocked out of it, so the trick is to take the hit and then unleash the counterattack before your opponent gets another attack in. You will take damage from the absorbed attack, but this damage will recharge as long as you don’t take another hit. When used effectively it can be a very dangerous weapon, and dashing forward or backwards will cancel the focus charge further opening the possibilities for unexpected attacks.
Also added is the ‘Ultra’ meter. Much like the ‘Super’ meter, but whereas your super attack charges through your attacks, the ultra meter charges through the damage you receive. The more damage you take the higher the ultra meter will charge, you can unleash it at 50% charge, but let it charge longer and the resultant attack will be more powerful. It’s more damaging than the super attack and also when pulled off the camera pans around which makes the ultra attack fun to watch. Best used to try and finish the round, as if your enemy didn’t have a charged ultra meter beforehand, they definitely will do by the time you’re done, and no matter how close they are to death, if they hit you with their ultra you’re in trouble.
Play modes are pretty slim pickings, there’s the arcade mode as you’d expect, a training mode, and a challenge mode which is actually three modes (Time Attack, Survival and Trial mode, which has you trying to complete specific combos) and that’s about it. The challenge mode gets very difficult very quickly and won’t be for everyone, so the arcade mode is where you’ll get the most play from the single player.
Streetfighter 2: Turbo was the reason I had a SNES over the Megadrive. I was a huge fan of the game back then, but the series lost its way with the follow up games like the Alpha games, or Streetfighter: EX. Thankfully Streetfighter 4 is back on track for Capcom.
All the old characters are back and gone are the old 2D sprites. The characters are now 3D, Capcom learned their mistake from EX and it is still on a classic 2D plain. So it plays very much like a classic SF game. This means if you haven’t played a SF game since SF2, you can get into the game immediately.
The painted style of the graphics work very well, making the game look very unique, yet still keeping that essence of a SF game. The 4 new characters are very different and unique. Yet none of them seem particularly good.
El Fuerte the luchador chef, runs back and forth a lot. Abel the French amnesiac grabs people an throws them up in the air lots., Rufus the big mouthed fatty, spins lots and C Viper annoys the piss out you, before electrocuting you.
The biggest let down is the final boss Seth, who has a horribly cheap move set and is a bland looking character. If it wasn’t for Seth this game would have scored a bit higher, still this game deserves a solid eight.
Secondary Score: 8/10
It plays out as you’d expect, with the penultimate fight being against a rival and the final boss being Seth. Seth is definitely beatable, but he is very cheap. He uses a range of moves from all the characters, and almost every single one of his moves takes priority over yours, meaning he’ll more often than not interrupt your moves to throw you. It would have been far better if Capcom actually designed a boss that was a challenge for the right reasons and he does irritate, but if you’re buying SF4 for the single player alone then you’re not going to be satisfied.
The Versus mode is where it’s at, both online and off and this is where you’ll find the most joy/frustration. Playing against computer opponents is one thing, but a human opponent is a different beast. The joy comes from overcoming a particularly difficult foe in a well fought match, while the frustration comes from people who play cheaply and yet still manage to beat you, undeservedly. But it’s this rollercoaster of emotion that makes it so addictive, and it’s an excellent alternative to playing strangers in the arcade, and for the majority of the time, lag free.
There is an option which allows players to challenge you as you play through the arcade mode, much like someone walking up to your cabinet and popping in a coin. It’s probably the best way to get into matches as entering matches you find yourself often fails, but you aren’t going to advance very far in arcade mode this way. I didn’t even manage to complete a round when I did it, so frequent were the challenges.
Strange that a game that isn’t overflowing with features, and at first seems quite shallow with its 2D plane and cartoony graphics, has me struggling to keep under the word count. I’ve not even mentioned the 360’s poor dpad, or all the nice little touches like opponent specific victory quotes, the life in the backdrops or eyes bulging as characters anticipate an ultra move. It’s a testament to this games hidden depth, and I’d recommend this to any fans of fighting games. Even if you’re not a fan, there probably isn’t another fighting game series out there that is more likely to change your mind than this.