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Ultra Street Fighter IV review (PS3)

Ultra Street Fighter IV review (PS3)

This is probably the easiest review we’ve ever had to write, because we’ve known that Street Fighter IV is a good game for six years. True to form, Capcom has been milking the successful fighter ever since its 2008 release, with this technically the fifth and apparently final revision. It’s the best version yet, thanks to the five new characters, extra stages and balance tweaks across the board, but it’s still not without its issues.

Chief among these is the fact that the main additions feel a little on the lazy side. Four characters and most of the stages are lifted wholesale from Street Fighter X Tekken and the one brand new fighter is basically just Cammy wearing Vega’s mask. She plays quite a bit differently to be fair – a rushdown-centric charge character with tricky teleports and easy mixups – but even with a different engine, the rest play largely as they did in SFXT. Hugo’s armoured Fierce punch looked to be a game-changer on paper, but with damage absorption coming late in the attack, it’s only marginally useful outside of the super-tech new Armour Cancels it allows. The new guys don’t even have their own Trials combos to learn and build upon, making online guides and Training mode experimentation pretty much the only ways to learn how best to play them.

You might need to go looking for a new main too, since not a single member of the existing cast has managed to sneak through unaltered. The full change list is long enough to fill most of this magazine and, since so much of it deals in single frame tweaks to timings or matchup-specifics buffs and nerfs, it’s only really relevant to competition-standard players. That said, the rebalancing process combined with new mechanics such as Red Focus (burn meter for an upgraded Focus that can absorb multiple hits) and delayed wake-up (stay down longer to deter overly offensive players) will likely change the overall tier list quite a bit.

These kinds of things take months to be shaken out but rest assured that if your old favourite isn’t cutting it any more, there are just enough little tweaks to everyone else to make replacing them a simple and even enjoyable process. Or, in local versus at least, you can simply use Edition Select to rewind time and play as a previous version of a character. This is basically broken from a balance perspective – Vanilla Sagat says hello – but works based on mechanics as well as balance changes and move properties from the version chosen, so an original Street Fighter IV version character, for example, wouldn’t have access to later improvements such as selectable Ultras or Red Focus.

No matter how many frames are tweaked here or commands altered there, this is still Street Fighter IV – a slow, defensive fighting game that tends to be more generous with preventing and punishing attacking attempts by the other player than it is in encouraging you to unleash your own. Throws are still way too effective, beating out most other inputs unlike in more elegant systems such as VF5’s strike/evade/grab cycle. And since we downed tools with Arcade Edition a few years back, alternatives such as King Of Fighters XIII, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma and Injustice have come along, offering more technical, faster and explosive experiences respectively and making it quite tricky to get back into SFIV, which is actually quite a boring fighting game when played to a decent level. The mechanics are all there and the combo system certainly has plenty of complexity and depth to it but sadly, most of the interesting stuff that you can do with the toolset Capcom hands you will never be seen outside of training mode and combo showcase videos.

Further improvements to the online side of the game do their bit to lure players back into kicking the crap out of one another but it’s not like they really needed to – even so many years on, Street Fighter IV still seems to have a more active community than any beat-’em-up released since, no great surprise when it’s still the tournament fighter of choice. Additional modes are welcome, though, even if they offer little actually new, but then SFIV already had a respectable suite of its own.

If you’re still playing Street Fighter IV or looking for a reason to go back to it, Ultra is an easy recommendation. If somehow you’ve gone this long without actually owning a copy, the retail release due in August comes packaged with all of the costume DLC, so it’s probably worth holding out for that. It’s the best version of the biggest game in its field and deserves playing based on that fact alone – we’ll probably just pop back for a visit rather than move back in, but that’s got more to do with how good the competition has become elsewhere in the genre and being somewhat burned out after six years of having to deal with scrubby Flowchart Kens online, to be honest.



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