GDC '08: Street Fighter IV Updated Hands-On

We get our hadouken on at GDC with Street Fighter IV.

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SAN FRANCISCO--The first public unveiling of Street Fighter IV was only a few days ago in Japan, but Capcom's rushed some full arcade units all the way to the United States this week to show off the newest entry in the venerable fighting franchise at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. We wasted no time in jumping on the game to pull off some fast hadoukens, and it's immediately clear that Street Fighter IV sticks closely to the tried-and-true mechanics of previous entries in the series and is particularly reminiscent of Street Fighter II.

The units Capcom had playable at GDC seems to be exactly the same as those displayed at Japan's Arcade Operator's Union (AOU) show last week--only 10 characters were selectable (the original eight world warriors plus newbies Abel and Crimson Viper) and all of the text and audio snippets in-game were in Japanese. The Capcom rep manning our arcade machine assured us more characters were definitely on the way, although he wouldn't be drawn on giving any hints whatsoever.

As we mentioned in our earlier preview, those worried that this game treads into Street Fighter EX territory need not fret--Street Fighter IV is well and truly a 2D brawler, even though the characters and environments are presented in highly-detailed 3D. The only time the game ever breaks out into a 3D view is for small cinematic animations when characters perform their specific ultra combos. The characters themselves all move extremely fluidly even at this stage. All of them sport plenty of fine details in their costumes, and there are lots of cool details in their animations and facial expressions. Blanka, for example, wears an extremely convincing worried look every time he backs away from an opponent, while Chun Li strikes an awesomely cool defensive-looking pose every time she blocks an attack. As for the weird (in an interesting way, of course), inklike effect shown in the very first trailer for the game, all that seems to remain of it are some graphical flourishes which pop up occasionally, such as when Ryu performs some specific special attacks.

Speaking of special attacks, the eight original cast members all feature what is now probably considered their "traditional" move sets which have evolved through Street Fighter's many various versions. For Ryu and Ken, that means the good 'ol hadoukens, shoryukens, and hurricane kicks are back. Chun Li has her spinning bird kick, kikonen fireball, and lightning leg kick (she also retains her double jump off the edge of screens, as well as the head stomp). Blanka has both his vertical and horizontal rolling attacks, as well as his trademark electric shock, while E Honda also has his flying head-butt and hundred-hand slap (although you can't move forward while performing this). Zangief still has his variety of throws, such as the spinning pile driver, as well as the double lariat. As for Guile, his sonic boom and somersault kick make returns. The timing and technique required to pull off most of these moves are all familiar, although performing Chun Li's spinning bird kick seemed to take an awfully long time to charge up. All of these characters' super combos will also be familiar to fans of the series, such as Ryu's super-fireball, Blanka's chargeable rolling attack, and Zangief's extremely damaging super pile driver.

If you've played a Street Fighter game before, then chances are you'll be able to play IV with little to no hassle whatsoever. Thanks to the inclusion of all eight original characters and with no major new special attacks introduced, the game feels instantly familiar on first touch. Fireballs seem to fly at the same speeds, attack distances are the same, and the same weaknesses can be exploited in each of the eight original characters. This can be seen as both a blessing and a drawback--if you're a Street Fighter purist, then you'll more than welcome these characters back with open arms.

The two newbies to this game--and we hope more new characters are unveiled soon--are Crimson Viper and Abel. Crimson Viper is a new female who's supposedly a secret agent, hence her use of modern technology while fighting. This technology is made apparent in her electric-based attacks, such as a dashing punch performed by doing a forward-quarter circle on the joystick. The strength of the punch (fierce, strong, or jab) determines the direction--fierce makes it an upward punch, strong sends her straight ahead, while jab is low. Viper also has a fiery spinning kick and ground tremor attack which can knock opponents off their feet from across the screen. Abel is more a power/grappler type in the vein of Zangief. One of his more interesting moves was a devastating combo which begins with a dashing punch and ends with a throw, pulled off by performing three consecutive quarter circles on the joystick. Abel also has a rolling dodge that places him behind an opponent, as well as an attack which grabs airborne opponents and slams them to the ground.

Another major new addition to the series is focus attacks (sometimes known as saving attacks). Taking the place of the parry system from Street Fighter III, focus attacks are performed by pressing the two strong buttons. Performing a focus attack cancels out one of your opponent's strikes, and retaliates with a hit of your own. There are three levels of focus attacks depending on how long you leave the strong buttons pressed--at level three, the focus attack becomes unblockable. During our game time, we found focus attacks somewhat easier to pull off than parries, and we can see it becoming an essential part of an experienced player's armory once the game ships. Since focus attacks can be used to start combo strikes as well as being able to be canceled halfway through to "fake out" opponents, its use will become quite strategic.

The other new gameplay tweak comes in the form of a revenge meter that sits at the end of the character's life bar. The revenge meter fills when your character takes damage--have a full revenge meter and perform a super combo with two buttons pressed and your character will pull out a flashy ultra combo. Some of the animations for these ultra combos are quite impressive. Honda, for example, performs an ultra-powerful flying head-butt that pins his opponent to a wall, which he then follows up with a hundred-hand slap. Guile does a double-somersault kick, lashes out a leg while his opponent is still in midair, and then performs a third somersault. Interestingly, in the build we played, performing an ultra combo would deplete the revenge meter, but would leave the super combo meter still filled. We're not sure if this will stay the same when the game finally ships--if it does, expect some truly damaging strings of ultra combos followed by super combos.

We're still keen to hear more about Street Fighter IV, including exactly what the storyline is and how many more new characters we can expect. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information.

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