Street Fighter IV - Review

Street Fighter IV, Xbox 360 - £19.99 in store at HMV (10% Student discount available)
Street Fighter IV, PS3 - £19.99 in store at HMV (10% Student discount available)

Review by Fig-D

Figuring out whether or not you'll enjoy Street Fighter IV is a fairly simple process:

Did you play Street Fighter II?
Did you like it?

Now, just about every game enthusiast born before 1990 will answer "yes" to the first question, but the real question is whether or not you enjoyed it. Did you throw a large portion of your pocket money into a dingy machine peppered with chewed gum and cigarette burns? Did you rent the game for your SNES or Mega Drive and lose an entire weekend beating up your childhood friends? If "yes" then you'll probably get a kick out of Street Fighter IV.

Street Fighter IV definitely appeals primarily to the old Street Fighter II fans. The kind of guys that aren't necessarily a part of the competitive scene, but know their hadokens from their shoryukens. Everything familiar to fans of Street Fighter II is here. The characters, the moves, the music, everything. Old school Street Fighter fans will be happy to hear that the entire cast of Super Street Fighter II is here, as well as a few Turbo and Alpha veterans and new additions Abel, C. Viper, Rufus, El Fuerte, Seth and the in-game debut of Ryu and Ken's master, Gouken. All the characters perform just like you remember from SFII, with the addition of Super Moves and EX Moves from Street Fighter Alpha and III respectively, and the new characters are solid additions to the cast. If you and your buddies haven't played a fighting game since SFII then you can hop right in and play it like it's 1992. In this respect I'd say that the game is "casual friendly," but there is a lot of depth hidden underneath the Street Fighter 2.5 exterior.

New to Street Fighter IV are the Ultra Moves. As opposed to your Super Meter, which fills up as you perform attacks, the Revenge Meter fills as you are struck by your opponent. Once the Revenge Meter is half full your character can perform a dazzling Ultra Move in which the camera zooms around to get the best view of the action as you deliver a series of punishing blows to your unlucky foe. Most Ultra Moves are basically flashier versions of a character's Super Move, but they're all a ton of fun to watch and can really turn the tide of an otherwise one-sided fight.

One of the biggest additions to the game is the Focus Attack system. By holding down the medium punch and medium kicks buttons your character will start an animation in which they gain a black, brushstroke-like outline. This move can be charged by holding the buttons down longer until it results in an unblockable attack that crumples your opponent. While charging this move your character can absorb one hit from his or her opponent, but will be completely vulnerable to throws and special Focus Attack breaking moves. The attack that's absorbed will still do damage, but this damage will be recovered after a couple seconds unless the damage would normally KO you or if you are hit by another attack that you fail you block or absorb. You can cancel the Focus Attack at any time during its charge by dashing forward or backward (quickly tapping forward or back twice). The Focus Attack opens up a variety of options to keep your opponent guessing and gives you some good defensive tools. However, the Focus Attack is not just a defensive mechanism. By using half of your character's super meter you can use the Focus Attack to "Focus Cancel" another move. This is tricky at first, and not all attacks can be focus canceled, but this technique can lead to some very damaging combos.

On the subject of combos, we encounter an aspect of the game that is definitely NOT "casual friendly." I am referring to what the game calls "links." The idea of canceling one attack into another is second nature in Street Fighter. Crouching medium kick into hadoken, for example. You press down followed by the medium kick button and then as the animation for the kick is coming out you do the command for the hadoken (fireball). The hadoken will cancel the end of the kick's animation and the two attacks will combo into each other. Timing is important, but not all that strict. Links on the other hand involve attacking at the exact moment the animation for the previous attack ends. A moment too early and the linked attack won't come out. A moment too late and the linked attack won't combo. Many of these links have an input window as small as one frame. Street Fighter IV runs at 60 frames per second folks, so that's 1/60 of a second. Its not impossible. In fact, if you take the time and effort then you can train yourself to perform these links on command, but most won't bother.

The single player offering in Street Fighter IV isn't bad, but this sort of game wasn't made for the single player experience. The presentation is good and the gameplay is as solid as it is in any other mode but the story is absolutely atrocious, the voices are cringe worthy, the anime intro and outro sequences are subpar and the AI ranges from dumb-as-rocks to Skynet levels of synthetic evil. Extras are about what you would expect from a high profile title such as this one: training mode, gallery, movie viewer, time trials (which unlock titles, colors, and taunts), survival mode (which also unlock titles, colors, and taunts) and "Challenge Mode" in which you are presented with a series of combos that increase in difficulty as you go along (which unlock character specific titles). Alternate costumes are also available as extras, but must be purchased from Xbox LIVE or the PSN Store.

The game's stand out feature is its online play and its where you're going to be spending most of your time. The game is very well balanced. In Street Fighter III the competitive aspect of the game eventually boiled down to using 2 or 3 characters. Capcom took note and made sure that no matter who your favorite character is, you've got a fighting chance. There are some stand outs, such as Sagat and Ryu, but overall it is a much more balanced title than their previous effort. The net code used by SFIV is good, but not up to the standard set by Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Don't even think about taking those link combos I discussed earlier online. A five bar connection is almost perfect, with a spot of input lag here and there. Four bar connections will definitely be afflicted by some amount of input lag, but most fans won't notice and the game remains smooth. Three bar connections can get choppy, while two and one bar connections are basically unplayable. Unfortunately, multiplayer lobbies, a core feature in HD Remix, are not included in SFIV. The recently released "Power Up Pack" has added Championship Mode to the online component of the game, offering tournament-style game play with double blind character selection and the ability to view your opponent's disconnect percentage (a problem that plagued the game's standard ranked online matches), but for some reason lobbies remain absent. This free DLC is definitely a step in the right direction and will hopefully be a sign of things to come.

Gripes and nit-picks aside, Street Fighter IV is a marvelous return to form for the 2D fighting genre. The gameplay is rock solid, the character balance is well done, the graphics are easy on the eyes, the character animation is smooth, the presentation is top notch and most of all, it's fun.

No big surpise really