This is a guest review by Rejaq
To see the future we have to look to the past.
That could be the whole design philosophy surrounding the new Street Fighter IV, an impressive blend of what has gone before and new ideas that combine into a very satisfying whole that just shies away from greatness due to some gameplay niggles.
Set in the gap between the SF2 and SF3 series, M. Bison is defeated, presumed dead, Shadaloo is destroyed and the world is a much better place as the characters go back to lives outside of beating seven shades out of each other. Ken returns to running his company, Chun Li is in the midst of tying up the loose ends of the Shadaloo Empire, Sagat still dreams of revenge and so on. Still darkness beats like a foetid heart as Shadaloo's S.I.N. still stains all things.
Now the rest is over and the World Warriors return, some to find their past, others to face the future, still more to prove themselves worthy and one to find the best meals around the world. A new tournament is about to begin a new set of challengers are to step up alongside those who have come before and the fate of the world may again hang on the gap between an attack being made and landing.
SFIV kicks off with a superb intro, those who have seen the trailers will be aware of elements from it but this is longer and sets the tone with a visceral visual style and a thumping soundtrack to keep things running. It sets the tone and gives you a foreshadowing of what is to come.
Arcade mode is as always the main draw of the title, with a number of options that can be chosen and a nifty little online interrupt feature that you can set to on or off. For those after a true arcade feel, the online interrupt feature allows others to challenge you while you are in the middle of a single player game, the single player game is paused while you play against the challenger and once that is over you are returned to the single player game. Setting up the style of challenge you like is easy, intuitive and familiar - one of the major elements of SFIV is that whilst there are a lot of improvements most are not readily visible. As always, once you have chosen your character, you move through the rounds defeat your opponents; face off against your rival before going toe to toe with the end game boss Seth, head of S.I.N the secret weapons development branch of the former Shadaloo and move stealing martial artist.
Each character has an intro movie and an ending movie rendered in the familiar style of anime, a number of them interlock to add another little bit to the back story of why things are the way they are. In-game graphics start with beautifully rendered backgrounds - some of which are familiar from before some are all new - that are never quite the same each time and have some small bits and pieces that can be destroyed. Whilst the game plane is flat, and the fighters move back and forth as if fencing, the backgrounds are fully three-dimensional providing a good contrast, with various special moves and combo's breaking you out of the plane. A number of the characters are exaggerated, with bulging muscles, rippling torsos and so on - not to be left out Chun Li is suitable bolstered in the chest department. Motion is fluid and animation is pretty much excellent with only a few stutterings when things get super-busy.
Music is fantastic, with the final stage theme being a personal favourite. Each warrior has their own theme as do many of the stages, with riffs and reprises all the way through, adding to the feel of what has been whilst cranking things up further. Sounds are also exaggerated and you know when you have taken or given a lot of damage as there are environmental effects that give a little edge to it all as well as being DualShock enabled so you feel the impacts as well as hear them. Voice work is a little sparse, the odd line here and there and the intros and endings plus bits and bobs in game such as the announcement of special moves -- a Hadoken would not be the same without it. The lines at times are cheesy and over the top but the cast make even these sound as they should. It all blends in well.
In addition to the main arcade mode, you get the vs. mode, where you can have player and CPU controlled opponents in various combinations battle out against each other, there is a standard style practice mode and a challenge mode that sets goals for performing certain challenges such as learning a characters moves and there is a gallery and player/character stats pages to keep everyone happy so you can see just what you have achieved.
For the most part the game plays well with a hefty chunk of moves, options, combos and new features. The most interesting one being focus attack, where you charge up a deadly move and unleash it upon your opponent, charged long enough it is unblockable. Add in that you can abort a special move to perform one of these it offers a new level of tactics where you have to keep an eye on your opponent rather than just keep spamming the same attack pattern, which is kind of defeated at times by the AI.
Generally it is well pitched offering a graduated challenge curve but there are times when it just seems to have almost given up. Seth the über end boss has multiple styles and is just too damn hard for mere mortals. As in SF2, if you win the first round of combat against Seth then the AI ramps the challenge up, usually to a level where you feel that the only way to defeat him is by pure luck - this includes the easiest mode. Even the original Bison gave you an impression that he could be defeated by graft and skill, Seth just pulls off move after move after move.
This is not restricted to just Seth but he is by far the worst offender. Sagat, C.Viper and Abel all do a great imitations of button spammers. It can get very tired of being anywhere near Abel and suddenly being grabbed and flung sideways - again.
The worst point though is in the "rival" matches. Some are horrifically difficult where as others are so simple you wonder why Sagat against Ryu is over quickly as Sagat unleashes a series of Tiger Fires and Uppercuts that leave no room to breath, whilst El Fuerte does a series of Benny Hill impressions against Blanka and gets mauled. Further more some of the choices of rivals are odd, such as Blanka's rival El Fuerte. It seem to be based on the latter wearing a mask and Blanka not liking that! Bewildering.
The new characters do however fit in nicely, El Fuerte, Rufus, Abel and C. Viper all have strengths and depths that work, I can see some becoming favourites. Their move sets are powerful, they have stories that work and some are just damn fun to play. As you would expect over time you can unlock other characters, slowly revealing the hidden faces, adding to how well you do elsewhere.
Anyone who has played any SF2 or 3 title will be able to pick up and play, the moves are mostly there and all it takes is to familiarise yourself with the configuration on the PS3 - though you can set it up to almost match the setup of the SNES games. In game responses are crisp and do what they should when they should and pulling off an Ultra-Combo is satisfying when you do so. It should be mentioned that the combo system has been ungraded, with gauges building as you dish out and receive damage, allowing even a nearly dead fighter one last chance at victory.
Despite the flaws - and many may not see them as flaws - there is a verve, a swagger to Street Fighter IV that over comes them. With the rocking soundtrack, the at times beautifully crafted interleaving story and the juxtaposition between graphical styles in the movies and the game engine all conspire to make this a staggeringly satisfying game to play and enjoy. With the integrated online play you never quite know when a challenge will come along, frequently at the worst time. This is a game that has taken the best of now, inserted it into the best of then and given us something that is just a tad special. This is retro-play at its finest whilst proving that you can go back and meet the future.