Hands-on / Street Fighter IV

Earlier this week we were promised Street Fighter IV would arrive this winter. In fact the quote was something along the lines of ‘when it’s snowing outside, expect some Street Fighter action to warm you up.’ So imagine my surprise when I looked out the window the morning of the Eurogamer Expo, and saw snow over the rooftops of London; a little preview of winter on the day we finally get our hands on Street Fighter IV.

Strolling into the venue, it was immediately apparent what games people are most excited about. Call of Duty and Gears 2 were the most popular, as evidenced by healthy queues and waits of 20 minutes. But Street Fighter IV wasn’t far behind, with a constant throng of people queueing to play and gathering around to watch. Both the console and arcade versions of the game were available to play, so it was possible to directly compare the two, and barring the obvious control differences, the game looks and plays the same. The same kind of awesome.

The first thing that hits you is the visual style. Now I’ve dribbled over screenshots and trailers for this game for months now, but seeing it running on a decent HD setup is a completely different experience. This game looks fantastic. The colours are vibrant, the animation is ultra-smooth and the 3D character models look great. It’s a bit of a departure, style-wise, but one that works, and works well.

All the familiar SF II: Championship Edition gang are present, along with 4 new guys, El Fuerte, Abel, Crimson Viper and big fat blob Rufus. The console version promises to offer an ever increasing roster of playable characters including Sakura, Cammie, Fei Long, Dan and the end-boss Seth. Of the new characters El Fuerte was most popular at the show. Surprisingly he has no ranged attack, but he’s powerful and quick and beat me senseless when I came up against him, finishing me off with a spectacular Ultra Combo.

Ultra Combos become available as your Revenge Gauge fills up. The more hits you take, the more the gauge fills. You can unleash an Ultra Combo when the Revenge Gauge reaches half way, but the most powerful attack comes from filling the gauge all the way to the top. It’s a feature that sets up an interesting risk/reward dynamic for those brave enough to try and exploit it. One new gameplay aspect I didn’t get time to explore fully is the focus attack. Basically a countering system, it’s accompanied visually by that cool inky-ness they had going on in the trailers. It’s relatively easy to pull off, but will no doubt be tough as nails to fully master.

I played mainly as Ken and it was as comfortable as an old shoe. Not much has changed, just the odd tweak here and there. All those special moves you perfected years ago survive intact and the whole thing has a familiar feel. Which brings me to the only criticism I can level at the game. At times it is a little too familiar. Producer Yoshinoro Ono has been clear that one of the intentions of the game was to win back all the lapsed gamers, those that stopped playing while SFII was still in arcades and bedrooms, and that is fair enough. Indeed, it would be wrong of me to claim that my enthusiasm for the game isn’t at least a little bit fueled by nostalgia. But there may be those who after spending 17 years with various iterations of the game demand a little more. Only more time spent with the intricacies of the game will tell.

Despite this minor misgiving, even after my limited time with the game it was hard not to fall in love with Street Fighter IV. The mixture of gorgeous visuals and tried and tested gameplay makes for the best fighter I have played in a very long time. More than anything, it’s just great fun. And I know I am not alone in feeling this way, because of all the games on show at this year’s Eurogamer Expo, and believe me there was a ton of fantastic stuff, Street Fighter IV had by far the most smiling faces walking away from it.