The beat-'em-up is dead. Really, it's been dead ever since gaming went polygonal. Early 3D attempts like Fighting Force set the tone for games like Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance and Spikeout: Battle Street, making bad cameras and generic, boring action the new hallmarks of a genre that used to have no fewer than three stand-out games in it: Taito's Double Dragon, Sega's Streets of Rage, and Capcom's Final Fight. Fresh for 2006, Capcom has a new take on its series, the curse-filled fist-fest Final Fight: Streetwise. But all this game manages to do is further nail the genre's coffin closed, while sullying the good name of an arcade classic along the way.
Streetwise puts you in the role of Kyle Travers, younger brother of Final Fight's Cody. If you've been following Cody's story over the years, you remember that he appeared in Street Fighter Alpha 3 as a convict. Streetwise picks up on this and paints him as a released convict, which you'll notice only because he still wears his orange jail shirt. Anyway, Cody's old now, apparently, because he can't fight anymore. But Kyle can, and the game opens with you in the imaginatively named Fight Club, where you're beating the crap out of a guy in a makeshift ring. From there, the story sets off. Cody has gotten into something bad, and he's in way over his head. That "something" is the exciting new street drug, glow, which, just like liquid soul in Midway's NARC, is a horribly addictive substance that also happens to give users superhuman strength. Unlike liquid soul, though, it also makes glowing light shoot out of their eyes. As Kyle, you'll punch a lot of dudes in the face as you try to find Cody to get him out of this mess.
Final Fight: Streetwise attempts to deliver nonlinear action in a free-roaming environment. You'll always have a primary destination that will move the story along, but you'll also run into citizens in need of help who'll give you the occasional side mission. The side missions all seem to be fairly dumb, especially the ones that don't involve fighting. One is a slide puzzle. And in a couple of spots, you'll encounter people who won't help you out until you help exterminate the vermin in their shop. That means you'll get to run around and stomp on rats and cockroaches to an up-tempo ska beat. It's just stupid. Of course, the main objectives aren't much better. You go from one spot to the next, beating people up and triggering cutscenes. The dialogue and speech are almost universally awful and don't even work on an ironic level. They're just packed full of lame, gratuitous cursing. Not even the presence of the greatest video game mayor of all time can help save the pathetic story and objectives.
Of course, if the action were interesting, you'd probably be able to look past the busted story. But the fighting system is awfully basic, and most of your opponents will go down if you simply get in their face and slam on the weak attack button over and over again. They make up for their individual stupidity by often attacking you in quantities. In some spots you'll go up against around eight or 10 guys at once. But they don't all attack at the same time, and your attacks can (and will) hit multiple enemies in many cases, so the fighting is rarely challenging. The boss fights are a little more pattern-based, so you'll have to do some blocking and strategizing here, but not enough to pique your interest. As you play, you learn new moves and are given the opportunity to purchase more combos, but these are rarely useful, since the whole "pound one button until everyone around you is dead" tactic works even better if you spend your cash on increased attack damage.
Streetwise takes place in a run-down city full of nondescript buildings. Of course, since the game is free-roaming to a certain extent, requiring you to find specific locations, the generic look of everything can be exasperating. Thankfully, a bright arrow appears next to your next destination, but getting there is still up to you. The character models are ugly during gameplay, though during some of the cutscenes they at least manage to have good facial animation. The game has an often-broken camera angle, especially in tight corridors. Getting pinned in a near corner by attack dogs is especially annoying, since you can barely see yourself, let alone the dogs. In addition to the aforementioned lame speech and dialogue, the rest of Final Fight doesn't sound much better. The licensed soundtrack is weak and often doesn't fit with the action, and the fight effects are pretty generic, too.
Adding to the insanity of this package is the original arcade game, which is available as an unlockable bonus. Despite a pretty good emulation of the arcade version appearing in Capcom's classic arcade compilation last year, the version in Streetwise isn't that version. It looks awful, runs at a ridiculously choppy frame rate and doesn't play well at all. In addition to that, there's also an arcade mode that focuses more intently on the weak fighting rather than the weak story. If you're a fan of the original, get Capcom's recent arcade game compilation and avert your eyes from this disaster of a game, especially if you hold any nostalgic feelings about the original game.