It's been out for console for a while, but it just recently hit the PC, so it's new to me!
Street Fighter 4, which unintuitively enough is actually something like the 10th Street Fighter (and that's only if you don't count the puzzle fighters or the marvel/snk crossovers), continues the somewhat annoying tradition of attempting to inject plot into a game where the only REAL plot is "I'm this guy and I have to beat up everybody else." Of course, sometimes it's fun to check out the backstory of what fighting game characters are up to, to try to learn their motivations... but any such inquisitiveness is quickly bitchslapped right out of any casual gamer who isn't looking to spend hours decoding the temporal mishmash which is the street fighter release order vs chronology. See, First there was Street Fighter, Then Street Fighter 2, which then had 2 "revisions" of itself, then the third street fighter series was Street Fighter Alpha which actually is set BEFORE Street Fighter 2 (I shit you not, I did not know this until today when I looked all this mess up, because frankly the art design in the alpha games turned me the hell off, not to mention I got tired of having to listen to unwashed teens at the arcade creaming their jeans over whatever the hell this "Akuma" thing is), which then had a revision and a sequel. Then came the fourth trilogy, Street Fighter 3 and its revision and sequel, which came after Street fighter 2, so at least they were trying to maintain the numeric progression. But then they had to go and muck THAT up as well by having Street Fighter 4 happen BETWEEN 2 and 3!
Trust me, just forget the plot. The plot is "You are this one guy and you have to beat up everybody else." I should have stuck with that.
Alright, mindscrambling plot-knots aside, the game is actually fun as hell. The last street fighter game I tried was Capcom Vs SNK 2, which made me want to murder people because SNK refused to port capcom's control scheme into their gaming system. Don't even get me started on the retardation that ensued with multiple "grooves" available for characters, ugh. That could be its own article right there.
I was immensely relieved to be able to pick Ryu and find all his moves and buttons exactly right the hell where I expected them to be. It felt like slipping on an old, comfy pair of gloves that fit your hands perfectly. The controls feel like Street Fighter 2 but even more natural and smooth. Of course there were one or two little learning stumbling blocks, like I had to figure out that throws are now accomplished by hitting both "light" attack buttons at once, instead of just being automatic when you get close. There's also a new "focus attack" ability (both medium attack buttons) that seems to be some kind of DOA-esque fake opening with a counter attack, but I can't quite get the hang of it. They've also got buildup guages that have come to be standard in the fighting game industry nowadays, divided into two meters, one for supercharging normal attacks and a "revenge" gauge that lets you unleash "ultra combo" type moves which builds up by you getting beat on. For those of us who have forgotten (perhaps voluntarily) their childhoods, there's also a built in list of moves available for you to peruse at any time.
The developers of the game took an interesting approach - in a world where games are making ever more and more strenuous demands for more polygons, higher resolution textures and arbitrarily incremented shader models, SF4 has opted for a reasonable amount of polygons, fairly low resolution textures that are then run through an industrial strength post-processing routine a half dozen times that actually makes the whole affair rather pleasing to the eye when it's in motion (but makes screenshots look a little like ass warmed over). Many of the more powerful attacks also cause graphical effects reminiscent of brush strokes or ink spatters. Really, it all feels halfway to being cel-shaded but still retains the depth of the third dimension, and framerates are easily maintained very high, which is important in a game that relies so very much on reflexes. You can also tell the model designers and motion coders had a lot of fun with what they were doing and were not just going through the motions like that other set of 3D street fighter games that we all agreed never to speak of again 10 years ago. It should be noted, as well, that while everything is rendered in 3D, the gameplay is still limited to a two-dimensional plane, so there's no dodging to the sides and whatnot a-la Soulcalibur.
The game features 27 characters to choose from (though 10 or 11 or so have to be "unlocked" by doing the funky chicken dance at midnight on the south side of a spruce tree or whatever the hell passes for "reasonable expectations for unlocking requirements" these days), and contain a good number of old favorites as well as a handful of newcomers - a mostly grapple-based MMA fighter named Abel, a business-suit bitch with a wierd uniboob named Crimson Viper, a spastic luchador-come-gourmet-chef named El Fuerte, and my new favoritest character in the whole wide world, an extremely obese kung fu biker named Rufus.
Rufus is just awesome in a can. Or rather, in an oversized yellow spandex biker's jumpsuit. I love the character design, the unconventional attacks, and I especially love how they chose to wobble his belly. Mai Shiranui and DOA's breast physics have got NOTHING on Rufus' belly wobbling. It makes me laugh until I cry. The writing on his dialog (especially his meandering, stream-of-consciousness victory quotations) is just hilarious. There's no "You must defeat sheng long to stand a chance," here. No, you get to hear about this one crazy time he put bananas in his peanut butter sandwich and was like "whoa."
The standard Arcade mode doesn't take that long to beat, consisting as it does of 6 random matches, a "rival" fight, and the boss battle. Playing by yourself you'll probably be ready to play something else in 2 hours or less, but you'll come back some other time. As with every other fighting game, the real joy is in getting some friends together and beating the snot out of each other in versus mode. And since the PC version supports Windows Live, if you really want to you can subject yourself to playing against random sugar-injected 14 year olds around the world.
All in all, I found it a very enjoyable game worth owning, particularly if you game with friends who also like fighting games. It also makes me salivate for a potential Marvel vs Capcom 3 written with this engine, which if they can take the custom tie-ins from MVC1 and the incredible number of characters from MVC2 and combine them with the artistry and control scheme of SF4, I am fairly certain would constitute the most incredible thing to hit the fighting game scene since Mugen.
Grade: B+ Also, is it just me, or do Chun Li's thighs get bigger and bigger with every single game? I swear, her hips are like 3 feet across now.