Fighting game fans that don't have access to a current-gen console have been waiting for Street Fighter IV for a long time. Capcom's high-profile fighter continues a nearly twenty year tradition and it has finally hit the PC landscape, following a rather successful romp on the PS3 and 360. Although there are some important notes to make regarding the PC version, Street Fighter IV is still a great title and one of the most enjoyable fighting games I've played in the past few years. Capcom has managed to strip away the baggage that has accumulated around the series and returned to the franchise's roots. The result is a game that plays very much like a purified, simple fighter -- but with several modern enhancements to enrich the combat. If you've been playing Street Fighter for years, this game will feel like an old friend. If you're completely new to the scene, Street Fighter IV is a great place to start.
Street Fighter has traditionally been a game focused on one-on-one combat on a 2D plane. Over the years, the roster has evolved and various tweaks have been made to the formula, but the core components remain to this day. Street Fighter IV lets you select a character and square off against another warrior in the ring. Each character has a variety of normal attacks and Special Moves to take advantage of, but the actual gameplay boils down to a balance between raw physical skill and the mind games that play out between players.
The beauty of Street Fighter IV stems from how approachable the game is and how it can be enjoyed on so many different levels. For those gamers interested in grabbing trusty ol' Ryu and diving into the mix, things will feel natural and there's no need to obsess over learning all the subtle details and nuances that make up the fighting game experience. However, there's so much flowing beneath the surface of Street Fighter IV's mechanics that long-time fans will have plenty to learn and re-master if they want to truly understand the gameplay.
For example, one of the newest systems in Street Fighter IV is the Focus system, which allows a character to charge up an attack that will knock an opponent down if it connects properly. For a beginner, the Focus Attack isn't necessarily needed to win. He or she could simply rely on the traditional assortment of fireballs and dragon punches to get by and have a good time doing it. But if the Focus Attack seems appealing, performing it is a piece of cake -- just hold down both Medium Punch and Medium Kick together and charge it up. With a simple input, the player now has access to an attack that adds another layer to the combat.
But that's not all there is to the Focus system. Players who want to dig even deeper into the technical elements of it all will learn that the Focus Attack can also absorb a single oncoming strike without being interrupted. Although you take damage for the absorption, that damage will heal given time. In this way, the Focus Attack becomes a defensive technique as well as an offensive one and offers even more strategy for players to consider.
And there's even more. You can also cancel a Focus Attack mid-charge by dashing out of it, which can help you play tricks on your opponent. Or, you can expend a portion of your Super meter (which I'll touch on shortly) to cancel a Special Move directly into a Focus Attack. This single system depicts the broader Street Fighter IV picture: it's so easy to pick up and play but there's enough depth to keep even the most hardcore competitors satisfied.
There are a number of other systems in Street Fighter IV that players can keep track of. There are two meters that can be used during a match: the Super meter and the Ultra meter. The Super meter fills as you land attacks and fight normally, while the Ultra meter (or Revenge gauge) builds up as you take damage. You can use the Super meter to execute Super Combos, which are elaborate attacks that can be chained together with normal techniques for some spectacular combinations. On the other hand, you can use the Ultra meter to perform Ultra Combos, which are more cinematic, devastating attacks that can turn the tide of battle in your favor.
Once again, these systems can be enjoyed on a number of levels. You can -- for the most part -- ignore them if you wish, or you can just wait for your meters to be filled and then attempt a Super/Ultra Combo. But if you're interested in even more technical applications, you can use a quarter of your Super meter to perform Ex versions of Special Moves, which generally strike in different ways than the normal versions.
As you can see, there's a tremendous amount of information to consider and balance while playing, but it's easy to learn one step at a time and Street Fighter IV gives you the tools to do so. Not only is there a robust training mode for plenty of sparring (you can even record your own actions for your sparring partner and play them back to suit your needs), but Street Fighter IV also boasts a suite of Challenge modes. My favorite among the Challenges -- which include typical Survival and Time Attack offerings -- is the Trial mode, which actually teaches you introductory and advanced combos for every character. If you're curious about what Special Moves cancel into what else, or how to set yourself up for an Ultra Combo, Trial is a brilliant place to start. This mode is evidence that Capcom wanted Street Fighter IV to appeal to a new generation of gamers -- players previously unversed in the intricacies of the series.
For those new players, there are also new characters to experiment with. Besides a few unlockable fighters, Street Fighter IV introduces Abel, Crimson Viper, Rufus and El Fuerte right off the bat and each new competitor is a welcome addition to the cast. I'm particularly fond of Crimson Viper, as her design is extremely stylish and her collection of special moves makes her a (flexible) force to be reckoned with. Of course, all the classic characters are back as well, like Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and Guile. Like so many of the other elements in Street Fighter IV, the original characters feel exactly like they should and that's a good thing.
Street Fighter IV is a real blast to play. It's easy to see that plenty of effort was put into balancing and fine-tuning the game, as every match runs beautifully and controls tightly. Obviously some characters are stronger than others, as has been the case with the series for years now, but a truly skilled player can still take a weak character and do some impressive things in the ring -- much to the dismay of his or her opponent (e.g. Editor-in-Chief of IGN Guides Mark Ryan Sallee pwning the office with Dan).
Although I was hesitant regarding the muscle-filled art style of Street Fighter IV, I eventually grew to like it, which helped me see the game's character models in a much different light. The animation of each character is fluid and some of the effects for projectiles and Ultra Combos are breath-taking. Street Fighter IV is a very good-looking game and I'm happy that Capcom went with the 3D models. I'm also equally happy that the gameplay is still on a 2D plane, even though the game's visuals are all 3D. This allows for some impressive camera work during Ultra Combo execution that enhances the rush of a narrow victory against a skilled opponent.
Street Fighter IV also sports online play, but that's one of the first big differences to note about the PC version. Although Street Fighter IV comes equipped with the Championship mode that was released as a post-launch patch for the console versions, I was disappointed by the online experience. Not only were a number of the matches I played very unstable, but there were barely any players online during my play tests. And the game has been available for about a week. That's not good news for Street Fighter IV fans. Fortunately players can always fall back on local multiplayer, but does anyone actually plug in two gamepads into a PC to play with a friend?
While online isn't Street Fighter IV's best feature, there are plenty of other aspects that will keep gamers playing. Specifically the amount of unlockables. Whether you're collecting titles/icons or discovering new colors and taunts for every character, there's always something to unlock in Street Fighter IV and that's a solid incentive to keep playing. Even subtle details were well thought out, like being able to switch between English and Japanese voice acting per character
or adjusting the position of the health bars and Super/Ultra gauges on the screen. Street Fighter IV isn't just about great gameplay -- it has polish.
But Street Fighter IV isn't perfect. I was not a fan of the anime cutscenes that are present in every character's Arcade mode. You get one cutscene at the beginning and one cutscene upon completion, and they're all terrible. Keep in mind, I'm a tremendous anime junkie, but these cutscenes are almost a disgrace to anime as they are so poorly animated and tell you almost nothing about the story or the context for each character's participation in the tournament. For a game clearly designed to appeal to new players, these cutscenes are surprisingly convoluted.
And lastly, if you've grown tired of the Street Fighter formula over the years, your passion might not be rekindled with IV. As much as I enjoy it, I have to admit that this is still Street Fighter and we've been playing these games for almost twenty years. If the Street Fighter scene (or perhaps, more precisely, the fighting game scene) has bored you as of late, I don't see you finding a revolution in this one -- but it'll sure come close to bringing you around.
It's a shame that the community for the PC version is weaker, because local multiplayer is not particularly common for PC games and if the online is less-than-ideal, than you have a serious problem. This is especially true when you consider how important the multiplayer experience is for a fighting game, as you can only face the computer for so long before you start to get bored.
Even if you are interested in local multiplayer, you'll need to buy gamepads/sticks, because playing on a keyboard is virtually impossible (go figure) thanks to the difficulty in making rolling fireball motions on the arrow keys. Because of this added expense and the presently weak community support, it's safe to say that the PC version is the weakest version of Street Fighter IV, even though it runs well and boasts the same content as its console counterparts.
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