For all of their convoluted relationships, quests and all the arbitrary specifics of their canonical stories, the only thing that puzzles me about Namco’s fighting game mythologies is how some people actually manage to care about them. But they do, and Soul Calibur‘s habit of dropping in guest characters has long been a source of acute pain for those who can wrap their heads around the game’s tale of two swords better than I can.
If you claim to be fan of video games, and the names Ryu and Ken mean nothing to you then I put it to you, dear reader, that you are in fact a charlatan. However, you would be forgiven at displaying some surprise at seeing one of the best known franchises on PC. It’s not usually a platform that sees a lot of beat-em-up action, but Capcom being proud members of the PC Gaming Alliance resulted in them seeing fit to release the latest iteration of the long running series on Windows. Is it any good? I wish it was as easy enough for a one word answer. But it isn’t, luckily for my word count.
So the first thing you’ll probably notice about this transition to our platform of choice is the quality of the conversion. This certainly is not a lazy port like Capcom’s pre Lost Planet stuff. Of course it helps that the arcade version was itself based on Intel CPU technology, but it runs very well on all manner of systems and looks particularly unique. Rather than trying to take the much loved gameplay into 3D and risk wrecking everything, Capcom have wisely stuck with a 2D fighting gameplay system, but using 3D character models. This makes for some very satisfying action and making hits feel very visceral and sufficiently brutal. There’s some nice little touches throughout the visuals too, such as eyes bulging and the facial expressions of every character when you’re knocking them senseless. Special moves like Ryu’s fireball and Chun Li’s Hurricaine Kick are suitably thrown kicking and screaming into the 21st century, looking especially pretty and physical in their 2009 iterations. Another fantastic descision by Capcom is bringing back some of the classic stages from the older Street Fighter games and making sure that they too get a lovely lick of paint – there’s something comfortably familiar about seeing Blanka’s jungle again, only now with far more depth in those trees and that oasis in the background. As an added bonus for PC gamers, they’ve even thoughtfully included a couple of graphics filters for you to play with, although admittedly these are pretty superfluous. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
Street Fighter 4 offers several gameplay modes. Along with the usual Arcade mode and Versus mode there’s also a Challenge mode featuring Survival and Time Attack and Trial flavours, featuring a series of ever increasing challenges for you to test your skill with each of the 26 characters in the game. This provides a lot of replay value and indeed there’s a heck of a lot to do, as long as you’re willing to put in the time. And of course the big addition for this iteration is the inclusion of Online Play. Yes, you can finally go online and find out if your Sagat really can beat Ryu in China. This is probably the area of the game you’ll spend the most time in – a ranking system has been introduced including a ‘Championship Mode’ where you are placed against other players with ever increasing skill. Luckily you get points whether you win or lose – which is handy meaning you can rank up even if you are rubbish.
However there are some flaws with Street Fighter 4 – and they’re the type that really niggle at you. The first one is the difficulty. For some reason Street Fighter 4 seems to ignore the fact that there are some people, such as your reviewer, who are not that good at Beat-em-Ups, especially on the PC where the genre is not really a regular staple. Arcade mode seems to be stupidly hard even on Medium. And unfortunately completing it is required to unlock all the characters. Having to turn it down all the way to Very Easy feels a bit demeaning but unless you’ve really mastered the moves in this game you might have to do the same. The last boss is almost infuriating if you pick the wrong character even after you’ve adjusted the difficulty. Along the same lines then – the new characters aren’t really that good. A luchador chef and a fat American may have novelty value for a while but they soon become annoying. Not nearly as annoying as that announcer, whom for some reason you can’t turn off, but they just don’t feel like they have the same long term appeal as the classic cast.
Of course, another thing to point out should be really obvious – but if you’re thinking of playing Street Fighter 4 on a keyboard you might want to get your head checked. Due the nature of the game you’ll be wanting a joypad, but sometimes the new Ultra Combos are still incredibly tricky to pull off. Many times the game seemed to decide to decree my input of the Ultra and Special combos as correct only if it felt like it. Luckily there are arcade sticks available, and I would hazard that they may be worth a try, but to get them for one game may be a bit much. And finally on the problems side, it does use Games for Windows Live, which might be an issue if you have problems with it like Chris has lately, but it does mean you can get some nice extra costumes via DLC – for a price, that is…
So overall, Street Fighter 4 is a bit of a double edged sword. Is it the best beat-em-up on PC? Of course, but it’s not like it has any competition. Still, it’s a very enjoyable game, especially online. It has a very steep learning curve if you’re not used to beat-em-ups but is still really good fun. Definitely worth a punt if you are that way inclined, but occasionally the frustration might see you causing more damage to the joypad than your opponent.