Review: Street Fighter IV
It's been around about a decade since we last saw a Street Fighter game and it was definitely a very exciting, yet quite surprising, revelation when Street Fighter IV was announced for the next-gen consoles. It had a lot of work to do in order to get back into the game. Did it succeed?
- Worth The Time?Yes, in every possible way.
- Things LovedThe awesome roster of characters, the brilliant gameplay, the addition of Ultra Combos, the fluidity to the game, it's incredibly skillful and well-balanced, the graphics and visual effects are out of this world, the sound is amazing, there's a ton of content.
- Things HatedIt's frustrating online that a selfish player disconnecting doesn't give you a Victory, enemy AI can be heavily erratic due to having so many difficulty levels to choose from, some of the unlocks require rather ridiculous criteria.
- RecommendationAll fighting game fans, and every gamer who remotely enjoyed the original Street Fighter titles should not hesitate to get this.
- Name: Street Fighter IV
- Genre: Fighting
- Players: 1-2
- Multiplayer: Online (2 players)
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (PC version releasing in June)
- Developer: Capcom, Dimps
- Publisher: Capcom
- Price: R550
- Reviewed On: PS3
It’s been around about a decade since we last saw a Street Fighter game and it was definitely a very exciting, yet quite surprising, revelation when Street Fighter IV was announced for the next-gen consoles. It had a lot of work to do in order to get back into the game. It needed to recover from a ten year break and deliver everything the series was good for, especially since by today standards 2D fighters are considered outdated. There were mixed opinions when it revealed more of itself to the public, and some hardcore fans of the series, like myself, were starting to have doubts regarding Street Fighter IV. The only question is: can a ten year old 2D game really make a comeback against the likes of today’s 3D fighters?
Street Fighter IV came out of nowhere, roughly eight years after the controversial Street Fighter 3, declaring itself the true sequel to Street Fighter 2. The game takes the character cast and play style of SF2, combines them with some elements of Street Fighter 3 and despite the series being about twenty years old now, it somehow manages to outdo everything the series has done before and proves the theory that truly good things are good forever. Before I even begin, I’ll have to make the following statement: if you’re one for nostalgia, be warned that Street Fighter IV is like nothing you’ve seen before.
The story continues where SF2 left off, but unfortunately playing the Arcade mode gives you next to no idea of what is actually going on (even if you’ve actually been following the previous games’ stories). The introduction and ending cutscenes are done in a very poorly animated style (which is quite puzzling considering that the in-game graphics and pre-rendered footage is excellent) and most of them give absolutely no indication of what’s going on with the story or why the characters entered the tournament in the first place. Fortunately, when it comes to fighting games, we’re not here for the story and it’s time to move on to the actual game.
The game features 25 characters including the 8 world warriors, the 4 original bosses, 4 new characters, another 7 returning characters and 2 new bosses including Gouken (Ryu and Ken’s master), whose been a long-time joke in the series, and Seth; the boss of this game. The cast is not quite as big as a game like Tekken, but the characters are all extremely well designed and deep. While the 19 returning characters are a welcome sight indeed, the new characters actually stand out from the rest. Seth and Gouken are fine, but the 4 new main characters seem out of place compared to the rest of the cast. Most notably is Rufus, an incredibly obese fighter who happens to be one of the fastest characters in the game. What I’m trying to say is that you can immediately see who the new characters are as they are just different from the rest of the cast in so many ways. Nevertheless, Street Fighter IV is one of the most balanced fighters in recent history as even low tier characters (technically weaker), in the hands of a skilled player can still beat the best of the lot. The difference between the high tier and low tier characters is much smaller than in the previous game in the series, Street Fighter 3: Third Strike.
Street Fighter IV comes across as the ultimate fighting package. For starters, when entering the game, there is no installation time. The install is optional, but reccomended because it reduces loading times significantly, and it can be found in the system menu. The game packs all the goods a fighting game should and you’ll never feel like you’re missing any content. There is the standard Arcade, training, versus and online (which I will get to later) modes and the game’s big single player mode: challenge mode.
Challenge mode consists of Time Trial, Survival and Character Trial. The first two are self explanatory, but Trial is one of the game’s greatest modes. In this mode you select a character and, through 5 levels, you’re given a crash course of the character covering everything from basic moves to their advanced combos. It progressively gets more challenging each level, but all in all, it’s a very well done single player mode that is bound to teach you many great new techniques. There’s even a hard Trial mode with 5 more challenges that can really let you further master your favourite character.
All modes have a lot of play time to them and also do well to educate you on the various moves and combos of the characters, but here’s where the game’s first gameplay problem kicks in: the enemy AI. I understand how difficult it is to program great AI for fighting games, but Street Fighter IV’s AI is senseless. Not only is the AI very, very tough to beat, even on the easiest difficulty, (this meaning that there’s no compensation for new comers, despite this being the developers’ approach) but they also seem to be out there solely to punish you. The slightest mistake on your part will result in the enemy dealing heavy damage to you, and to most newcomers, you’re going to make a lot of these mistakes. What’s more, is that the difficulty of the CPU opponents also seems to vary heavily depending on the characters they play as. To elaborate, some characters, like Ken, will be a complete walkover once you get the hang of the game, while others, like Blanka, will practically destroy you. In the end, playing against the AI will not make you better, but rather force you to resort to cheap tactics and abuse certain moves.
It also comes across as extremely unfair that the game forces you to finish Arcade mode several times and complete both Time Trial and Survival in order to unlock all the characters and costumes. Some of the characters, like Akuma and Gouken, have extremely confusing and stupid unlock criteria and needless to say that if you haven’t read a guide on the internet you might never unlock them on your own. For example, to unlock Gouken, you need to complete Arcade without losing a single match, using a character you’ve beaten it with before, and while playing you need to get one perfect, five first strikes and three Ultra Combo (explained later) finishes. On top of this, you still have to defeat Gouken himself after this in order to unlock him, and failing to do so, results in you having to start the entire process over again.
Despite the complaints in unlocking the stuff, there are a huge number of goodies to unlock. Aside from the concept art and whatnot, every character has ten different colour costumes and ten different taunts to unlock. On top of this, you can purchase an additional costume for each character (available in each of the ten colours) off PSN/Xbox Live. There’s a great amount of content here, but it’s just unfortunate that you have to go through so much hell just to unlock it all.
For the most part, Street Fighter IV plays like a hybrid of Street Fighter 2 and 3. It’s kind of like Street Fighter 2 Turbo (and it’s characters) with some of SF3’s finer elements mixed with some new ideas to create the perfect balance between new and old. For new comers, Street Fighter is played on a 2D plane, despite the 3D graphics, and the game controls with six buttons which comprise of light, medium and heavy kicks and punches. Every character has normal moves from one button inputs, special moves which require a directional movement plus a button, and finally super and ultra moves. Each character has a Super Gauge that builds up as you fight, as well as a newly added Revenge Meter which builds up as you take damage. The Super Gauge consists of four bars. You can execute a powered up special move called an EX Move, which takes up one bar or you can use all four bars to do your characters Super Combo. Once your Revenge bar fills up half way, you have access to your characters Ultra Combo which deals damage based on how full your Revenge bar is. The Ultra Combos are the new additions to the game and all of them are special attacks that lead into cinematic finishes if they connect.
It’s all of what you expected from a Street Fighter game with the two big differences being the Ultra Combos and Focus Attacks. Focus Attacks are the replacement to the Parry System of Street Fighter 3. Any character can perform a chargeable Focus Attack by holding down mid punch and mid kick. While charging a Focus Attack, your character can absorb a single attack, and once released, the attack will crumple stun your opponent allowing you to follow up with combos. The Focus Attacks add new mind games into the mix and they allow the Ultra Combos to be used effectively as they can’t be combo’d into any normal attack. The Ultra Combos seem controversial at first. They can do up to 60% of your health bar when your Revenge meter is fully charged, and the fact that you can only get them when you’re on low HP makes it seem like the game is rewarding you for losing. Super Combos don’t come as easily and aren’t as damaging which might lead you to believe that the Ultra Combo System is broken and too noob friendly. However, once you really get into the game and get better, you’ll see how well they were thought out and implemented into the game. As I mentioned earlier, Street Figher IV is extraordinarily balanced, and Ultra Combos can only be effectively landed by taking a risk and playing well, which makes it feel rewarding rather than cheap when you win using one. Both Ultra Combos and Focus Attacks are great additions to the game and really open doors to new playstyles in Street Fighter IV.
As I said above, Street Fighter is still as deep as ever. The input system has been loosened up a bit which makes the controls much more responsive and allows you to perform the difficult moves more easily, but Street Fighter still has one debatable problem. Some of the inputs are ridiculously hard to do under pressure which leads to mastery of inputs being a massive part of the game. Street Fighter has always been like this and while player skill is a big factor, it will require a lot of playing before difficult inputs come naturally. I wouldn’t have expected Street Fighter to compromise the long time fans by making the inputs too easy, but it makes it quite difficult for newcomers and even for hardcore fighting fans to get into this game.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the stock (PS3/Xbox360) controllers themselves. The PS3’s tiny D-Pad can cause you to screw up inputs occasionally and the close proximity of the analogue sticks can result in you bumping them accidentally opening you up for an attack. The PS3’s triggers are also pressure sensitive which is not good for a fighting game where you might need to rapidly press a button. On the other side, the Xbox controller might have more space, but the D-Pad can be very unresponsive at times, which means that no matter which console you have, you’re going to be held back by the controller. If you really want to improve, then you’d probably want to get yourself an Arcade Stick, but the price tag on a good one will put off most people. You could also get yourself a Street Fighter IV fightpad, which is a specially designed controller for fighting games, which is a better option than the controllers. Eventually you will become used to the stock controllers, but even then you will still have your occasional screw up.
The graphics in this game are very impressive and quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. The art style is a unique cartoony 3D which really gives the game its own personality. The characters are very nicely detailed with slightly unrealistic proportions, thick outlines and the animations are extremely fluid and awesome, still remaining true to the classic 2D style of the previous games. There is a massive selection of stages to fight in and each have animated backgrounds, giving them a life of their own. Some even have interactive environments although these don’t feature very often and don’t get in the way of gameplay at all. Perhaps there is one complaint about the stages, in that they are very wide in relation to the characters which may favour hit-and-run tactics, but in the end, this needed to be done in order to balance out some of the characters and it works well once you get used to it.
The online component of this game is the best to be featured in a fighting game. Your profile can be customised with a title and icon, and since there are 300+ of each, there’s no shortage of customisation here. The online has no lag based input delay (even for us in South Africa) which usually makes fighters impossible to play online. Instead, there is a very small natural input delay to balance things out between the host and challenger. However, if there is lag between the two, then the game will stuck often, which is annoying, but still manages to be playable. The key difference between this and other online fighters is that because there’s no input delay, skill is still a dominant factor online and lag abusing tactics can easily be gotten around. You’re still much better off playing against local South Africans though.
The online also has a great ranking system as well. Every time you complete a match, you will earn medals based on feats you performed during the match, and since you’ll always get a few for winning you’re profile is constantly updated. If you play Ranked Matches, the game will award you Battle Points, based on the Rank of the opponent defeated, which is a good way of keeping score. Playing private matches is as simple as hosting and inviting friends. Private Matches will not give you Battle Points, but will still affect your rank and medals. Overall the online is fantastic, but there are two problems that come with it. The first is that the character select is open (there’s no blind character select) which allows players to wait for their opponent to choose and then counter pick. There is a 30 second time limit and once you pick you can’t reselect until the next match, which helps to solve this, but you do get the occasional worm who abuses this system. This issue is more targeted at the inexperienced players though, because those who know their Street Fighter will be able to adapt to any situation and, like I said, the game is very balanced. The other problem is that if you disconnect during a match, even if you’ve taken the final blow, the match will cancel itself denying the victory to the winner. You can’t quit during a match, but you will get some idiots who will purposely disconnect during a ranked match to avoid a loss.
Street Fighter IV is just phenomenal. It has its little share of flaws, but the overall experience and game itself just eradicates the initial issues you’ll have with it. It’s hard to believe how a game can make a return after a decade and still easily join today’s standards and completely revive the entire franchise it left behind. Street Fighter IV has surpassed everything the series has done before and has reached the peak of its perfection. There is just so little that could be done to improve the game, because it has more than enough great content, a fantastic online mode, addictive as hell gameplay and is overall a truly brilliant title. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.