As a casual fighting game enthusiast (strictly 2D, not a fan of 3D fighters), and a long-time fan of the Street Fighter franchise, Street Fighter IV had threatened to force me to purchase a next-generation console to play it, and the options there are pretty dismal. First, you have the grossly overpriced Sony PlayStation 3, which thus far is pretty much the black monolith representing Sony’s unending hubris. The PlayStation 3 tends to have inferior ports of games that show up on both the PC and Xbox 360, and worthwhile exclusives for it are few and far between. So at the end of the day, given I have a plenty capable PC and a media center for HD playback, Sony’s glorified Blu-ray player wasn’t for me. On the other hand, while I’d definitely be happy to pick up Microsoft’s Xbox 360, moronically high hardware failure rates (I’ve read as high as 30%) coupled with an obnoxious system fan rule that system out for me. My former roommate had a 360 and I could hear it coming down the stairs; likewise, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had one fail.
Thankfully, Capcom made the unusual decision to port a fighting game—their flagship fighting game—to the PC, heretofore a fighting game wasteland relegated to quality programming like FX Fighter. So Street Fighter IV appeared late to the party but fashionably so, running beautifully and delightfully bug free (at least in my experience.)
First, as far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty excellent and a lot of fun. The AI can be very cheesy and throw-happy, I’m not sure how I feel about how Chun-Li has evolved (she’s actually one of the slower female fighters now, at least as far as I can tell) from SFII to SFIII to here, and I’m really not happy with Capcom taking a page out of the SNK "all of our bosses are grossly overpowered" playbook with Seth (though it’s not much of a surprise, given what a pain Gill was in SFIII). But the game is fun, a lot of the characters play the same as they always did, and the revenge gauge mixes things up just a touch. I’ve never been very good at anything other than Street Fighter Alpha 3 (X-ism Chun-Li), so a low difficulty level has worked out fine for me. Any higher and the game just gets too throw-happy for me. Capcom’s developers have said they tried to make the game casual friendly, and for the most part, they’ve succeeded. I’m not sure how much more casual-friendly it could be made without turning into a brainless button masher (Soul Calibur, I’m looking at you.)
As for the visuals, I’ve actually found myself to be a pretty big fan of the new art style. While some of the male characters are grossly over-ripped, the female models are uniformly excellent, with very expressive, intelligent faces. All of the characters ooze personality in ways their traditional 2D couldn’t. As much as I love classical sprite artwork and backgrounds, the move to 3D for the engine (while maintaining 2D gameplay) has paid off in spades here. The care taken in producing the game shows. Visual artifacts are also pretty rare. The game just looks good.
Fair warning, though: anti-aliasing takes a big toll on frame rates. My old 512MB Radeon HD 4870 couldn’t hit 8xAA without massive chugging; my new 1GB one can do it fine. But the 512MB Radeon HD 4670 in my media center can’t even enable it at 720p, and the game chops at 1080p without several settings being reduced. I think the performance feels about as good as it could, and the media center could very well be CPU-limited by the Phenom X3 8750 (a hand-me-down from a friend). As an afterthought, the filters available to the PC version are cute, but none of them look any better than the regular game does, in my opinion.
Unfortunately I can’t write a blog post without complaining about something, and with Street Fighter IV, there are two major issues that are delightfully intertwined with each other.
Though I purchased Street Fighter IV off of Steam, it comes with Games for Windows Live’s tentacles penetrating its every nook and cranny like a hentai monster. You actually can’t play with your unlocked characters or saved settings without it logging into Games for Windows Live, which makes no sense at all. On more than one occasion, I’ve been unable to login, and as a result, the game was rendered not necessarily unplayable, but shamefully limited. My favorite character is Cammy, one of the unlockables; if I can’t login, I can’t use her. That’s insane. And unlike some kind of useful service like Steam Cloud, I was disappointed to discover that the unlockables aren’t even saved to my Games for Windows Live profile. Upon installing the game on my media center after having unlocked everything on my desktop, I found that, even after logging in, I still had to go back and unlock everything again. Ridiculous. So apparently I just can’t have nice things the way I want them.
This is all compounded horribly, of course, by the fact that Street Fighter IV just hasn’t played well for me online. I’m sure fifty posts will pop up saying "but it worked great for me" and if it did, kudos to you, but with something as timing-sensitive as a fighting game, anything but a perfect connection is really going to be felt. I’ve found the online experience so hit-and-miss that I honestly just lost any interest in it, which effectively ruins any reason to have Games for Windows Live attached. Unless you’ve gotta have those gamer points and achievements, Games for Windows Live is basically worthless. And with all of your unlockables chained up behind it, it’s actually a detriment to the game.
The disaster that is Games for Windows Live’s deep ties in Street Fighter IV PC keeps this port from being a home run, and that’s a shame. I wanted to recommend it unequivocally and even encourage people to buy it to support the quality of the port and to suggest demand for more games like this on the PC, to prove that the PC is a viable platform for fighting games, too. Games for Windows Live is the fly in that ointment. If you think you can put up with something that ludicrous, then I definitely recommend the game. It’s nice to have a 2D fighter floating around again that doesn’t require obscene technical knowledge the way King of Fighters and Guilty Gear can, and it’s even better to have it gorgeously rendered on the PC.