Shinkū Hadōken!

Street Fighter IV came out on PC just over a week ago and I have been playing almost nothing else since then. As a result I have taken a break from writing about BattleForge but will return to it and finish part 4 at some point. In the meantime these are my thoughts on the most hotly anticipated fighting game on PC in a long time [1].

First I should probably say that this is my first Street Fighter game, I’m not one of those people that grew up on it [2] so this is Street Fighter IV from the perspective of one who is not going to complain that they nerfed Chun-Li’s spinning bird kick (or some such complaint).

A lack of a demo for a game always worries me, even with top end hardware you can’t know if a particular game will make unreasonable demands on your system. This would normally put me off, a game has to be pretty special (or cheap) for me buy without any idea of how well it would run. Fortunately Capcom released a benchmark tool which is where I got my early impressions of this game. I wasn’t too interested in Street Fighter when I first heard about it but when the benchmark tool came along I downloaded it anyway. It renders three fights (without the hud) and gives you a score based on average frame rate, it lets you adjust the graphics settings as well [3], so you can certainly make sure it is playable. The question on my mind when I ran it was “will this be another Assassin’s Creed? Will it be a console port that uses far to much processing power for how it looks?” It seems today a lot of developers can not be bothered to take the time to make their code run well on a PC, an XBox is only as powerful as a fairly low range (if not budget) home computer so why are so many ports running badly? Well as it turns out the rolling demo was smooth as silk, even when I turned all of the settings all the way up there was only minimal slowdown and only on the close ups. It should run on a wide range of hardware as well, with the settings all the way down I was getting over 300 frames a second at 1280×1024 resolution.

StreetFighterIV 01

At this point I would have considered buying purely based on how well it ran just to prove that it is worth a developer spending time on a port rather than the half arsed jobs they normally do, but it was the animation of the fights themselves that really caught my eye. It really is beautiful. The bright colours, the detail of the backgrounds (any stills you have seen don’t do them justice) and the frankly insane special moves, this game is clearly so different from the grey/brown generic shooter which is all we seem to get these days that it had to be worth a look.

A few weeks passed and it appeared on Steam with a Pre-purchase offer of £26.99, I was a bit miffed at that as Amazon are offering it at £17.99 but I really hate looking for disks each time I play so after a day or two thinking about it I went with the more expensive option [4]. After a long wait the game has now been released, but what is it like?

StreetFighterIV 02

I’ll start with the bad. It uses Games for Windows LIVE! which in my opinion is one of the worst things to happen to PC Gaming in a long time. Microsoft have done a lot of good for PC gaming, with DirectX being the best example, but now they seem to just want control. I still wouldn’t mind using GFWL if it was better, but not letting you access your save games unless you are on-line is bloody stupid, particularly when they are on your hard drive! The only other GFWL game I have is Fallout 3 and I disabled it with that one but with Street Fighter IV you don’t have that option. It won’t let you do the single player without at least an off-line account and for on-line play it is a requirement. Signing in each time is a necessary to save settings as well, which brings me to my second downside, why do they assume that I have an XBox 360 controller? I don’t have one and don’t want one. Though it is possible to set it up for any other controller they haven’t made it as easy as they could. Mouse support for the menus would have been nice as well. By this point I am starting to wonder if they put the effort I thought they did into this port…

StreetFighterIV 04

It turns out they have, once you get past the niggles there is a brilliant game behind it. It runs just as well as the benchmark and is quite playable if you are new to the game as the CPU has a wide range of skill levels, and I think it must have a very high skill ceiling as I can’t get past stage four on medium, some of the combos are impossible for me to pull off in the training mode (against a dummy who just stands there) let alone in a battle against the CPU. To start with I was getting a bit frustrated but once you learn the basic moves this does pass and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. I recommend heading into the trials challenge mode as it teaches you all the moves one at a time. It also is worth noting that a lot of the complicated combos are more for show than anything else.

Apparently I have spent 18 hours on the game since release which is astounding, I completed Bioshock in about that amount of time but here I have only unlocked one additional character. Even if you complete the arcade and challenge modes there is still on-line (or in-the-room) multi-player left to enjoy. Whilst all the characters are fairly different they do fall into three main types. Projectile throwers like Ryu, those with only close combat and throws like Zangief and Abel and “charge” characters like Chun-Li and Blanka [5], these boundaries are crossed by most of the characters though so they can’t entirely be split up like that.

StreetFighterIV 05

Gameplay is much like the Street Fighter Alpha series (or so I understand), hitting and blocking charges up a meter that can be used to perform more powerful attacks, EX attacks use up 1/4 of this bar and a Super uses all of it. Super moves are hard to pull of in a fight however and need complicated movements of the D-Pad/Stick, if you manage it it is well worth it though. As well as the Super Bar there is a second which is new in Street Fighter IV called the Revenge or Ultra, this charges up as you take damage and allows for the most powerful attacks in the game, these attacks are often an extended version of the Super attack for the character and are the only occasion during the fight that the camera will move from its pseudo 2D view. Also new in Street Fighter IV are Focus attacks, these are an attack that is charged up and can absorb a single hit without being interrupted, they should be useful for blocking as well as attacking but I have not got the hang of when to use that yet. The best place to find out about the moves and combos is a strategy guide as with a mere 18 hours under my belt I am far from an expert. The best one I have found is can be viewed here.

On-line is a bit hit and miss in terms of lag for me and the GFWL matchmaking does not seem to help matters, it only displays three matches at once and they don’t seem to be related to ping or anything useful like that. The custom search is better but still I think you are best organising games with people in your friends list. It may be a problem with my internet connection, the fact I am using wifi, or my opponents connection but I have not played many lag free games on-line, the Steam forums have many a theory and suggestion. I expect it will get better when there are more people playing on-line as it will be easier to find a more local game. I expect many of those new to the series are spending most of their time practising against the CPU so as not to make a fool of themselves on-line [6] so I would think numbers will pick up in a week or so.

StreetFighterIV 03

Where the game really excels is when you plug two game-pads into the same computer, yes I know this is normally in the realm of console gaming but if you already have a PC why spend £300 on an XBox360? To have long term fun in this game playing against other people is a must as the AI is a little predictable [7], don’t get me wrong, playing the CPU is very fun and it is what most of my time has been spend doing so far, but it can’t compare to getting a few friends round [8] and playing winner stays on. If you can move your computer to the telly in the lounge so much the better.

Faults aside, most of them were minor and with the user interface rather than gameplay anyway, this is a very solid game. The few reviews it has so far have been hugely positive and I can’t see it getting many bad ones. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to enjoy this and if you are I don’t think you will be disappointed, it plays like the 2D fighters of old but is rendered in glorious 3D and high resolution textures. In my opinion this is a more than worthy update. If you are from the UK and want a match my LIVE! ID is jon hill987.


[1] And the only fighting game on PC in a long time.
[2] In fact it is only my second fighting game, the first being Tekken 2, which I played on both in an arcade and on Playstation at a friends house when I was younger. Later bought a copy which I use with an emulator and played it quite a bit with friends whilst at University, we even got some Apple Schnapps in for an all-nighter after it was mentioned in Shaun of the Dead.
[3] There are a lot of options for a console port as well. Too often they limit you to choosing your resolution, and when you can change things it has to be before the game is loaded, but with this one you can even change AA levels in game.
[4] It is now £29.99 on Steam, the price recommended by Capcom. I still don’t see why Valve stick to the RRP when Amazon feel they can ignore it. I’m sure they (Valve) would make more money if they were at least close to what Amazon and other retailers will sell it for.
[5] My current favourite is Blanka, when I learn to play him I might try and write a walk-through without using the Street Fighter terminology the rest of them assume you already know.
[6] I know I am.
[7] Despite being predictable the CPU can still win on harder levels due to inhuman reaction times. This is no different then Unreal Tournament where the skill level doesn’t really effect their strategy, which is always poor, but instead makes them faster and better shot. Predictability is inherent in nearly all AI at the moment and is very hard to get around.
[8] Preferably some that haven’t played Street Fighter if you don’t want to be shown up.


5 Responses to “Shinkū Hadōken!”

  1. July 14, 2009 at 21:59

    Nice. Both the write-up and the game.

    I wont’ be buying it but I do see it in a better light now. Maybe I’ll download the benchmark.

    I played Street Fighter II at some point when I was younger, and more recently bought the Virtual Console version on the Wii, played it for a while but eventually just stopped playing. I love the idea behind beat-’em-ups but they always just seem to devolve into button mashing for me. (More to do with my skill level than the game.)

    More recently I have enjoyed Super Smash Bros. Brawl a fair bit, the moves seem easier to perform and there’s lots of smacking people of the edge. :mrgreen:

    Re. point 4, retail companies buy in bulk and buy a set number for a set price, whereas I assume Valve operate on individual unit price since stock numbers aren’t an issue. That may be incorrect but would help explain some things.

    As for GFWL, I have fortunately not encountered a game with it yet, although it sounds a terrible system. What benefit are we supposed to be getting for losing control of the save games?

  2. July 15, 2009 at 15:07

    I used to think these games were button mashers as well. Playing Tekken 2 a lot convinced me otherwise. The only worrying thing about that is it means I am probably wrong about those skating games which I still think are button mashers…

    As for buying in bulk I think that Valve do this as well. I remember they actually ran out of stock during the Mount and Blade sale which implies they have a certain number to sell. Of course no-one is telling (particularly Valve) so we will never know.

    As for GFWL, don’t get me started, it took great restraint to write this article, as it is the GFWL rant has taken over a lot of what was going to be a proper review (Looks like I still just don’t know how to write them). I suppose the one benefit is that it is Microsoft running the matchmaking servers rather than the developer so they should in theory stay running long after the developer has lost interest in the game.

  3. July 15, 2009 at 15:20

    Funny you should mention Skating games actually, I haven’t gotten on with many, but I really liked the first Tony Hawks for the PS1. And for that one at least, it isn’t a button masher once you get sufficiently practised, mainly because the points you get for tricks go down the more you use them.

    Mount & Blade was to do with serial numbers which probably just ran out because they didn’t foresee the demand. Since most games don’t use a serial number I would assume that it was an isolated case. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes though.

    I didn’t think it took over the review (something I am very poor at), more reviewers should mention the extra bits tacked onto games. If they are required to play then poor design can make the good game inside hard to find.

  4. September 1, 2009 at 19:53

    I finally got around to trying this out (on Metaboli), I’m not doing very well though…

    I’ve played some matches against the CPU and the millisecond I get close to them they pull off a perfect throw. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m slow to react at the best of times and playing with the keyboard seems to accentuate my problem. I’ve found it hard to find the right keys and performing the down-diagonal-left\right sweep feels really strange and slows me down further. I’ll probably have to wait until I decide to get a controller, which is starting to seem more and more likely.

    That said it looks very good, and runs smooth even on reasonable settings. There looks to be a lot of options and I’m sure if I could play well there would be a lot to keep me interested.

  5. September 2, 2009 at 09:33

    Let me know your LIVE ID (probably shouldn’t post it here, PM me on the PCG forums or something) and I’ll give you a game. You will probably find it easier against an average human player than a poor CPU as despite the tactics being poor the CPU always has split second reaction times and as I am below average…

    You may also find a “charge” character (Blanka, Chun-Li, M.Bison and E.Honda) easier to play on the keyboard.

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