Replay Value: 9.5
Capcom's been on a roll this generation, with Devil May Cry 4, Dead Rising, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD, super Street Fighter II Turbo HD, and now Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter IV is the game we've all been waiting for 12 years! It's been 12 years since we were given Street Fighter III, and ten years since the release of SFIII's final iteration dubbed 3rd Strike. At the end of 2007, after much speculation, Capcom finally broke their silence and announced the fourth Street Fighter game. And now, just a little over a year later, it's finally here ready to be played on your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.
If you were with us during E3 2008, you should be well aware of how much I loved Street Fighter IV. I repeatedly returned to Capcom's booth for numerous plays, and I often stayed there longer than I should have, but that is just a testament of Street Fighter's appeal even today. It's been 16 years since I first laid my hands on a copy of Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES, and going into Street Fighter IV, with the recent Super Turbo HD fresh on my mind, means the game has a high pedestal to reach.
And it reaches that pedestal just fine. In fact, Street Fighter IV does exactly what it was set out to do, bring Street Fighter II's gameplay, with Street Fighter III's fluidity, and add a fantastic game engine that ties it all up. The game is both accessible and extremely deep, not making any sacrifices in order to compete with the more button-mash friendly games such as Tekken, Virtua Fighter, and especially Dead or Alive. That is not to say those games are button mashers, but there are a handful of fighters in each game that allow such 'tactics'. Street Fighter IV does not. And that's what sets Street Fighter apart from other franchises.
The game boasts a fantastic line-up of characters which includes most of the Super Street Fighter II Turbo cast, including Akuma, but excluding T. Hawk and DeeJay, in addition to new faces such as Abel, Crimson Viper, Rufus, El Fuerte, Seth, and Gouken. An assortment of Alpha characters have also made their way into Street Fighter IV, such as Dan, Sakura, Gen, and Rose. A total of 25 characters can be found in Street Fighter IV, but you only start off with 16 and have to unlock the rest by playing through the arcade mode. You should also know that despite being called Street Fighter IV, the game actually takes place in between the events of Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III.
Which leads me to where Street Fighter IV does something very right; the stories. Each character you choose has an animated introduction to his/her story, as well as a proper ending, a common oversight with other fighters these days. And each fighter also has a main rival that he/she will encounter during the tournament, for example Ryu's main rival is Sagat, Ken's main rival is Rufus, and so on. These "rival battles" feature an in-game cutscene where the fighters exchange a few words before the fight begins, helping you understand a little more about the rivalry between them. And it's things like this that make you want to play through Street Fighter IV with every fighter, just so you can see their entire story, as well as unlock the rest of the game's fighters.
Super combos are now joined with Ultras, which are massively powerful and cinematic attacks that use up the character's yellow Ultra gauge (a gauge that fills up when you are attacked), as opposed to the EX/Super gauge. Where as Super Combos are done by double-maneuvering and the use of any attack button, Ultra Combos work the same way, except they require a simultaneous press of low, medium, and high attack. For those not using joysticks, the game allows you to fully remap the controller, and also includes a Three-Punch and Three-Kick option. EX Specials still exist too, and pulling them off requires the same motion as the regular move, but with a three-punch or three-kick.
For the Street Fighter III fray, parrying continues to exist but in the form of Focus Attacks, which enable your fighters to absorb an attack and immediately counter with another one. A Focus Attack can be executed by pressing both medium attacks simultaneously, or configuring the Focus premap in the controller options. Use of the Focus Attack doesn't limit to simply parrying and countering, as Focus Attacks can be used solely as an offensive maneuver. They can be charged for a massive, unblockable blow that'll leave your opponent falling to his knees, leaving him susceptible to an additional attack. The more you play around with the Focus Attack, the more use you'll find out of it - it becomes particularly useful on fighters who have a tendency to abuse their defenses and block everything.
A variety of challenge modes exist, including Survival, Time Attack, and Trial. Survival and Time Attack should be obvious; one requires surviving a gauntlet of opponents with one life-bar, the other requires beating off as many opponents as possible, both modes will also have certain modifiers enabled to the fights and feature Normal and Hard difficulties. Trial Mode is a series of practices challenge, which many newcomers and rusty players should enter to learn the ways of the game. Lastly, online gameplay is good for two gamers, and while the netcode isn't as great as Super Turbo HD's was, it's still really solid and surely makes for an enjoyable experience.
Visually, Street Fighter IV is striking to look at. It's barrage of colors strike the senses in the best possible way. Despite being a three-dimensional title, the gameplay is purely two-dimensional, so no side-stepping or any other movement besides going left and right. The graphics are extremely vivid, with a unique art style that utilizes black shading and tones, for a look that cannot be mistaken for anything else out there. The framerate doesn't chug no matter how hectic the action gets, which accentuates just how nice and smooth the animations are. While you may have seen some weird gameplay screenshots of awkward facial expressions, you don't see any of that while actually playing the game, unless you pause the action specifically to look for it. And the backgrounds, in true Street Fighter fashion, are fascinating, more so than ever before. Some are totally new, while others pay homage to the stages of past games.
Unfortunately, the one gripe I have is that the audio is a bit of a soft spot. First, and foremost, the game's theme song "Indestructible" is not only abysmal, but absolutely does not fit in with the context of the content. It is a Rock and R&B-ish tune with a singer that has an uncanny similarity to the voice of Craig David. The lyrics are cheesy and painful to listen to, and not only does the song play during the opening sequence, but also at the main menu, and even during the fights. The other audio gripe I have is some of the English voice acting, which many expected to have some faults...but couldn't someone look at the voice work and say "that doesn't sound good"? Yes, the game does have the option for Japanese voice overs too, but I don't speak Japanese or pickup on its tonal delivery, so I don't know how much better it is. On the other hand, the soundtrack is really good, blending new songs with remixed classics, and the sound effects sound solid, too. And there is a custom soundtrack option, too! Still, the game could've paid a bit more attention to the voice work.
Audio aside, Street Fighter IV is without question the best fighting game available right now, yes, better than Virtua Fighter 5. It boasts the amazing fluidity, balance, and appeal of Street Fighter II and III, with a great sense of reward. With unique stories per character, this is a game you'll actually want to play through with every fighter and unlock the remaining ones. There's a ton of depth to explore within the game's mechanics, such as the introduction of Ultras and Focus Attacks. Visually, the game looks really nice. It may not feature the most detailed characters that push the power of your HD console, but they certainly get the job done. But most importantly, it's the online gameplay and the overall value for your dollar where Street Fighter IV really wins.