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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Street Fighter IV (Playstation 3)

Capcom's legendary Street Fighter franchise has become somewhat of a niche experience over the past few years. With the release of Street Fighter IV it has largely returned to its roots. Gone are the many elaborate stacks of special moves and combos, esoteric techniques and other hardcore trappings that intimidated newcomers. Instead, a streamlined fighting system allows for plenty of depth while simplifying the command structure. This makes SFIV a much more accessible and fun title gamers of all abilities should enjoy. It's very similar to the classic installments in that the action takes place in 2D, but the game concedes to modern visuals with robust 3D backgrounds and impressive between-fight animations. It creates an impressive synthesis of old and new that make for a title that will please both casual and hardcore Street Fighter fans with an impressive list of modes, features and extras thrown in.

It's been more than a decade since the last official Street Fighter title was released and nearly 25 years have passed since the first game hit arcades. While its taken Capcom quite a long time to release a new installment, Street Fighter IV was largely worth waiting for. The game takes most of the familiar characters including Ryu, Chun-Li, Zangief, Bison, Guile, Sakura and other from the classic SFII. Many of the characters introduced in later installment are missing, but Capcom has added several new ones like the rotund Rufus, mysterious agent C. Viper and the somewhat odd Abel, to name a few. They're mostly decent additions to the franchise, but not nearly as memorable as the original cast. It's a mixed bag in this department, but the game balance works out in the end. With so many familiar faces, its only natural that the gameplay has been streamlines and rebalanced to become more newbie friendly. Most of the elaborate, multi-tiered combo systems and nearly impenetrable moves commands are gone in favor of a simpler approach that's closer to the legendary SFII than more recent installments like the Alpha and SFIII series. There are still ultra and super combos, throwing moves and a few new twists like the Focus attacks, but SFIV stays true to the most popular series more often than not. Capcom deserves credit for sticking to its guns and not overdoing it this time. This makes SFIV easily the most accessible title in the series to come out in a long time, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of depth either. SFIV attempts to navigate the gap between casual and hardcore gaming and the good news is that It mostly succeeds in its goal of bringing the series back to its roots, but there's enough technique here to satisfy the hardcore gamer. There are many allusions to previous games, making it a largely nostalgic experience though there are some concessions to modern gaming such as online leaderboards and networked play modes. Capcom's developers have successfully struck a balance between classic and current game design approaches.

These are merely extras added onto the main gameplay, which hasn't changed all that much from the origins of the series. You still battle it out against a rival in a two or three round fight where the winner is determined by who has the best strategies, technical skill and timing to damage opponents. The game includes about 20 classic fighters in all, though many of these have to be unlocked before you can play them, which is annoying. Before each round begins, you can set the level of difficulty and number of rounds you want to play. Once you get into the ring, you'll find yourself in familiar territory - the size of each level is about the same as previous games and the action takes place in a strictly 2D plane. Despite some 3D cut-scenese and intros, its strictly an old-school affair so you won't have to worry about moving around in 3D space. While this might not seem like a step forward, the highly polished graphics and visuals definitely look sleek on HD screens, with impressive animations and beautifully rendered backgrounds creating an impressive visual appearance throughout. The game's slickly animated look mixes comic-book style character design with 3D lighting effects and backdrops to create a unique looking title that melds the best of classic Capcom hand-drawn artwork with a modern look. It's design is consistent with previous games in the series, making it feel and play like a natural progression for the franchise. This design approach plays to the series' strengths and, as evidenced by other series' misguided attempts to transition to full 3D, was probably the smartest aesthetic decision Capcom could have made.

The main portion of SFIV's single-player one on one fighting mode is quite enjoyable, and thanks to its difficult end-boss, challenging as well. However, the game doesn't merely offer this arcade-style play and offers robust online and multiplayer modes that add to the depth. These modes also allow you to collect bonus items such as medals that can be viewed in the Gallery section, which makes them worth playing. Players can participate in Network Battles or play against local players in ranked matches using the game's Battle Request mode. Entering these modes is quite simple and the player-matching system allows you to go against opponents of any skill level and ability. The drawback to this approach is apparent early on, as battles are usually either ridiculously easy or nearly impossible. It makes for an occasionally frustrating experience, but with some experience and skill you can battle your way up the rankings, earn bonus features and even see yourself on the leaderboards. A good strategy is to switch up your tactics, make your attacks less predictable and charge your special bars to unleash them when you need them. Another key thing to remember is to not lock yourself into a specific character in this mode, since you can get more victories if you use different characters.

Since it mirrors the pacing and play mechanics of the standard game. It comes as no surprise that SFIV's online mode is just as enjoyable as its off-line counterpart. Network play delivers the same pace and energy as the main game modes. You can choose the number of rounds, which language you'll use and set up private matches against friends if you like. It's lack of lag or slowdown means SFIV doesn't really suffer from the same drawbacks as many other fighting games do online, making the experience as smooth and intense as if you're battling an opponent head-to-head on an arcade machine. The game also includes several other extra modes for players who want to go deeper into the mechanics and strategies of battle or refine their skills. The most interesting of this is the Challenge mode which challenges you to train in various ways while building your skills up. SFIV's Challenge modes are actually divided into three unique sections that offer different approaches to training. In Survival Mode, the objective is to defeat as many opponents as possible on a single energy bar, which can be quite difficult but also rewarding. There's also a time trial mode that is similar, but implements a timer where you have to defeat each opponent before the time runs out. Finally, players can face off against the Trial mode, where they have to perform each character's move sets and special attacks in order to progress. In addition to the Challenge modes, SFIV also includes an extensive training mode where you can practice your moves in a non-combat setting, which should help you master the arts. In this mode, you can set your opponents' stances, change your attacks and see how much damage the attacks do, which can really be quite helpful as well. All of these modes combine to make for an incredibly deep and challenging game that lives up to the high standards set by its predecessors while going several steps further.

One of the most important areas in any fighting game are its controls and SFIV does an excellent job in this department. Those familiar with the series' classic installments should feel right at home with the game's command structure and button layouts, which stay true to form. Three basic kick and punch buttons are implemented as well as numerous special moves. Most players should have little trouble with the game's interface, which is straightforward. The character roster is filled with famous characters, and many of their famous moves are included as well. Everything players might remember from the SFII days from Ryu's Hadoken, Blanka's electric attack, Chun-Li's famous kicks, Sagat's tiger punches and Guile's Sonic Booms are included with many implementing the same move lists to perform. However, this installment includes a few twists on the gameplay you remember. At the bottom of the screen, you'll find a new Revenge Gauge indicator which allows you to perform a special powerful attack when your character's health falls below 50%. Each character can also perform unique attacks using their Super Combo gauges. This gradually increases as you hit opponents with special moves, and can then be used to perform devastating Ultra Combo moves. To counter these moves, you can use the Heavy Armor technique, which blocks damage and also gives you a window to launch a counter move. Players can also attack using Focus attacks, which can be used simply by holding down the medium punch and kick buttons and charging them up. These attacks can inflict a lot of damage, but are relatively simple to understand and use, which helps to keep SFIV's all-important balance intact for the most part. There are a few issues that we faced, most notably with end boss Seth who comes at players with unexpected fury and power. Even more annoying, he mixes fighting styles of others randomly and without any errors, making him extremely difficult to beat. This makes for a frustrating experience, especially when you consider that you need to beat him in order to unlock additional characters, making this task a trial by fire that you'll endure more than enjoy. Aside from this, the other characters are fairly well-balanced between strengths and weaknesses, making their battles fare better overall.

The game's controls are fairly decent if you use the standard PS3 controller. Using the control pads are a waster, but the analog pads are much better and allow you to perform half-circle moves and combos much easier. The four face buttons are problematic, though using a third-party controller improves things. Obviously, the ideal controller to use is an arcade style fighting joystick. Using one of these really helps to bring the arcade-experience alive and is where, honestly, the true arcade-spirit of SFIV truly comes to life. The game's been designed with this in mind, and while you can use a regular controller, which offers adequate feedback for performing moves, you'll basically be missing a key part of the overall experience. However, no matter which controller you do end up using, the game's tight gameplay mechanics and truly responsive interface makes for a truly excellent fighting experience that lives up to the highly playable and incredibly addictive legacy set by the previous games. Character movement and response is just as you'd remember from the 2D games, and Capcom's decision not to mess with the success by keeping to the basics in the control department can be seen as a good one. Instead of messing around with 3D dodge moves or different planes of attack, SFIV's straightforward fighting approach means you can concentrate on the combat and tactics exclusively, making for a superb experience that blends the classic feel of SFII with a few modern and sophisticated touches to create a game that feels and controls exactly as you'd expect from the Street Fighter series. While many gamers were justifiably worried that Capcom wouldn't be able to make a game that had that 'SF feel', these largely vanish once you get your hands on the controls and discover that SFIV lives up to its legacy.

In most aspects, Capcom has done a superb job in restoring its franchise, but there are a few minor issues. Aesthetically, the new paint-style approach looks fantastic and does an admirable job of bringing the classic hand-drawn SF look to HD but some of the backgrounds can look a little glitchy at points. Its choice of music is also somewhat annoying, with the high-energy pop music soundtrack making a kind of disconnect from the somewhat gritty fighting action at certain points. The biggest problem, as mentioned earlier is the end boss Seth, who seems to be insanely difficult for no good reason, making the end of each fighter's journey an unfortunately frustrating experience. However, these flaws aren't enough to make the overall experience less than satisfying - just minor issues in an otherwise superb comeback for the series. There's no question the Street Fighter IV represents a solid return for this storied franchise, and its solid play mechanics, great controls and inspired illustrative visuals brings the series forward without losing the essence of what makes the franchise so enduring. Capcom's approach of using the traditional play mechanics and transposing them onto a newly fashioned 3D background is surprisingly effective, with many of the familiar characters and their moves returning in all their fist-pumping glory. While its difficult to compare SFIV against more robust, true 3D fighting games on the system like Namco's Soul Calibur IV and Sega's Virtua Fighter V, this is still a remarkable game that effectively delivers a satisfying modern take on this storied franchise.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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