• One of gaming history’s most influential and hardcore fighting series has spawned a new champion.

    Early in Street Fighter IV’s conception, Capcom made a strong point of assuring long term fans of their seminal scrapper series that core gameplay elements would be taken across, and anyone with moderate skills on the older games would automatically be right at home with SF IV.

    After a hands-on at a recent gaming event, what first struck me about SF IV was how utterly “right” the new caricature-esque visuals looked. They might make the characters you’ve known and loved look a bit like spitting image puppets, but when you see the range of subtle expressions during the more intense fights, you’ll start to appreciate the sheer amount of work that Capcom’s SF team have put into it.

    Street Fighter IV

    Kicking off in Arcade Mode the game allows you to pick a character in time-honoured fashion from the standard SF EX roster. For old skoolers there’s the usual Ken, Ryu, Chun Li, Blanka, Dhalsim etc but there are a few other newer characters added to the pool of fighters you can pick from the beginning, with more fighters unlocked as you progress.

    Setting the game up in Medium Difficulty mode should give you a moderate challenge if you’re not quite as much of a hardcore player. Easy mode is a bit too easy, and hard (or insane) mode will royally kick you to pieces.

    Once you’ve chosen your character, it’s time to fight! Street Fighter IV is buttery-smooth both offline and online. It’s interesting to note that in a standard arcade setup, human players will join in and fight as your opponent automatically unless you switch this option off. You should. There are a lot of really mean players out there who can’t wait to humiliate you online.

    For my first foray into SF IV territory I picked Chun Li, as I always have in SF games. It was encouraging to know that most of the special moves and combos I could pull off in the recent XBLA reboot of Street Fighter II (Turbo HD) transferred across to this with no difficulty at all. Chun Li is a good all rounder with a solid combination of fast moves and devastating chained combos.

    The graphics are quite eye popping with some hilariously over-exaggerated facial gurning accompanying a good solid kick to the nether regions. If anything, the game is so slick and fast that it’ll take your breath away.

    Using my old 360 Hori stick for the job in hand proved to make the experience every bit as solidly satisfying as crouching in front of an arcade cabinet so if you have enough cash to splash on an arcade stick, I would heartily recommend you do so. Having tried the game out with both pad and stick (with separate control ‘tweaks’ for each in the game’s control panel) the 360 pad does do a surprisingly good job all things considered, but you really will notice the difference when you use a decent stick.

    Street Fighter IV has a nicely rounded training mode to hone your skills in. For complete and utter SF maniacs, you can literally plan each chained combo down to the finest pixel adjustment against the training room’s graph-paper backdrop. Working through each character’s gigantic back catalogue of moves is almost a game in itself though it’s fair to say that even button-mashers will find a lot to love in SF IV.

    Ultimately though, you’re only going to get so far in the game if you just stab away in the dark so spend some time learning a few different character’s moves before settling on the one that suits you best.

    One thing worth perfecting early on is the new Focus Attack. This allows you to absorb a heck of a lot of punishment from an opponent before directing all that energy back at them in a flurry of counter attacks. The amount of satisfaction arising from pulling off a focus attack is just mind blowing.

    Add to these the new ultra combos, devastating and long flurries of special attacks for each character, there’s plenty of new stuff to learn and though SF IV demands that you put the effort in, it rewards you with a sense of fulfilment unparalleled by any other fighting game you can buy for your 360.

    Once you’re satisfied you’re skilled enough, you can take your best moves online and start working your way through the game’s online championship modes. Matchmaking seems to be very well done, ensuring that unless you specifically request to face off against someone with better skills than you, you’re usually pitted against a matched opponent. Online play is seamless and satisfying and a very good quick way to find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

    Presentation wise, Capcom really do seem to have the measure of this generation of consoles. Everything’s so well done and instantly approachable even if you’re new to fighting games. In fact I’d go as far to say that there’s no better game to cut your teeth on if you’re a novice and haven’t dabbled with the genre before, but the game’s also scaleable if you’re the sort of person who works out every single trick and wrinkle included in a game of this ilk.

    Street Fighter IV is a game of layers. On the surface, there’s a slick and approachable scrapper but there’s just so much more to it than that. The development team seem to have taken great care to make sure that this new game in the series honours perfectly all the SF games that have gone before, while bringing a whole heap of new content and depth to a generation of gamers who expect a lot more from a game than just a brash and loud arcade scrapper.

    I could go on, but there’s really no better fighting game on the market at the moment. Some might find the graphical style a bit jarring and unrealistic, even feel that it parodies the classic graphics and characters we’ve all grown to love over the years. In all honest, the game comes completely to life the moment you hit the start button and dive in headfirst. You’ll be utterly hypnotised by SF IV in full flight so do yourself a favour, pick it up and give your thumbs a real treat with one of the most satisfying titles seen so far in 2009.

    Score: 9/10

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