It's the final day of E3 2008, and we took the opportunity to duck into Capcom's booth to try out Street Fighter IV, which is apparently already available in Japanese arcades and will soon be making its way stateside. We had a chance to try out the arcade version of the game in a few head-to-head matches as well as to run through the single-player game and take on the final boss, Seth.
When you're playing the game for the first time, it's easy to draw comparisons between it and the Street Fighter III line of games and the Street Fighter EX line of games. The game's pacing seems to resemble a cross between the later EX games and a slightly slower version of the Street Fighter III series (namely the last one, Third Strike), while it also has forward dashes that move a preset distance (rather than free-running) and it uses counter-able two-button throws using the jab (light punch) and short (light kick) buttons, like Third Strike. However, as we've mentioned previously, Street Fighter IV does not have Street Fighter III's parry system, but rather, a new "focus" system that is activated by pressing the strong (medium punch) and forward (medium kick) buttons simultaneously, which can be used to execute a focus attack. The starting animation on the focus attack lets your character withstand a single incoming hit from your enemy without flinching, but your character can't withstand multiple attacks--instead, the attack is intended as a quick counter for a careless one-hit attack, though you can also press and hold the buttons to fully charge your focus attack to make it unblockable. Though we primarily played against other players who, like us, were unfamiliar with the game, and against computer-controlled opponents set on easy difficulty, we can imagine that the focus system, like Street Fighter III's parrying system, will encourage cautious gameplay with plenty of one-off tentative poking attacks to avoid being countered, rather than rampant, full-on offense.
While we unfortunately didn't have a chance to try out any of the new characters, we did have a few runs with returning characters Guile and M. Bison (also known in the American version of Street Fighter II as "Barlog," and better known to Street Fighter faithful simply as "Boxer"). While Guile has all the bits and pieces of his classic Street Fighter II arsenal--sonic boom projectiles, the flash kick, the poking low forward kick, the hopping knee kick that can move him forward even while charging back for another sonic boom, and the standing forward sobat kick--he, like every other version in every other game after Street Fighter II, seems slower and doesn't have the tight, devastating offense of his Street Fighter II version that diehard Guile fans continue to long for, though considering how powerful he once was, that may be just as well. M. Bison also has his classic arsenal from the Super Street Fighter II Turbo days, including his chargeable dashing punches, his dashing ground punch (which must be blocked "low"), his leaping headbutt attack, and his turning punches, which can be executed by pressing and holding all three punch buttons or all three kick buttons--and which, if timed properly, can be used to sneak through certain incoming attacks from your enemies, such as projectile attacks. M. Bison's crouching strong (medium punch) is an excellent close-range poke that can easily be turned into a combination attack, and by getting in close and mixing up jabs with other attacks, he seems to be able to take the sting out of poorly timed focus attacks, which may counter one of his early pokes but will then get torn apart by the follow-up. However, carelessly tossing out turn punches, which still have a brief recovery time after you perform them, seems like a great way to get plastered by an opponent making smart use of focus attacks to counter.
Fortunately, we spent the majority of our time playing against rather dumb opponents in the single-player arcade mode, which was apparently set to "easy." We were able to run through the computerized opponents fairly quickly without much trouble as you'd expect from an arcade game, with only minor resistance from Chun-Li, who was billed as our "rival," though since we were playing against computer-controlled opponents, it was generally easy enough to crush her too. We reached Seth, who, despite his mundane-sounding name, was a tall, nearly naked muscle-man with pale blue skin and a shimmering, glassy orb in place of his abdomen whose fighting stance is reminiscent of Gill (the boss of the Street Fighter III series). When you fight him, he appears in a brief cinematic sequence sitting on a throne before descending to the floor to take you on. Seth apparently has the power to use certain abilities of other characters, such as the stretchy limbs of the Indian warrior Dhalsim and an exaggerated version of Ken's fiery dragon punch attack. However, Seth also has his own unique powers, such as the ability to create a localized air vacuum that sucks you in closer to him before he pummels you. Unfortunately, Seth beat us down and we didn't have a chance to go after a rematch, but in case you were wondering, it's probably safe to expect a single-player game with a bunch of pushover opponents once you hit the boss...much like in most modern arcade fighting games. In Street Fighter IV, like in any good fighting game, two-player competition will still be where it's at.