GDC 08: Street Fighter 4 Impressions

It is truly a thing of beauty.

In motion, Street Fighter IV looks amazing.

While screenshots may capture the game's core appearance and some goofy facial expressions, mere snapshots cannot convey all the nuances contained within its presentation; the silky smooth animation, the billowing of fabric, the subtle environment destruction. It looks like someone magically transformed Street Fighter II into 3D without losing any minor detail or subtlety in the process, and then took it to the next level. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Oh, and the game is only halfway complete.

Fortunately, Street Fighter IV isn't just another pretty face in the crowd. It also plays really well, and anyone familiar with the series should feel right at home. Within seconds of parking myself in front of the six-button arcade cabinet and selecting unofficial series mascot Ryu as my fighter, I was throwing fireballs and hurricane-kicking my way across the stage. Familiar cries of "hadoken" and "shoryuken" blared from the speakers, while cries of anguish emanated from my real-life opponent.

Those cries of anguish weren't due to my skill, by the way. Engaged in another conversation, he just hadn't realized the match had begun. Once he started fighting back, any misconception I had of being a dominating force in Street Fighter went out the window. The good news is that my humiliating defeat, and the several that followed, were presented in high-definition glory thanks to the cabinet's snazzy widescreen display.

Rest assured, Street Fighter IV is, well, Street Fighter. The shift to 3D graphics haven't impacted the gameplay at all, and the title's look and feel draws heavily from Street Fighter II. With three punch and three kick buttons of varying strength, the controls will be instantly familiar to almost anyone with traditional fighting game experience.

A total of ten characters have been revealed so far--eight returning, two new--with no word on the final number. Most of the old standbys are back, including Ken, Ryu, Blanka, Guile, and Chun-Li.

While returning characters retain many of their old moves, they are, of course, being reworked and modified. In fact, the entire game is constantly being tweaked as the developers experiment with different mechanics. Capcom USA is very heavily involved with these changes, offering feedback on a frequent basis.

As such, it's difficult to talk about the deeper gameplay mechanics, as they are in a constant state of flux. At this point, a combo meter at the bottom of the screen slowly builds with each successful attack, while a revenge meter grows every time an enemy connects with an attack of their own. A full combo meter allows players to unleash a flashy Super Combo if they know the move, and a filled revenge meter with an extra button press can turn that into a deadlier, flashier Ultra Combo--but this is all subject to change.

It seems that Capcom is trying to appease both casual fighting fans and the more hardcore series veterans, which is a tough compromise. Still, I was able to get into the swing of things rather quickly, and while I was no match for far more experienced fighting gurus, I was certainly able to hold my own for a while.

Only three stages were on display in the build: Old Temple, Small Airfield, and Crowded Downtown. Of those, Crowded Downtown was the most complete, with a dense, dynamic backdrop that was affected in different ways by varying attacks.

For example, slamming an opponent onto the ground in Crowded Downtown shakes the letters on a sign in the background. At first, one or two letters may be slightly misaligned, but after a few more heavy impacts, only half of the sign remains. Other portions of the stage, such as hanging lanterns and poultry dangling from a vendor, sway to and fro when an attack is strong enough to cause such a reaction.

Suffice to say, even in its relatively early state, I was very impressed by Street Fighter IV. The game hits Japanese arcades this summer, with public location and balance testing set to begin shortly. Capcom is currently seeking a partner to help distribute the arcade version in North America.

No console editions have been announced, though it is widely speculated that the game will eventually hit Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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