SIFU Hands-On Preview

A modern take on beat-em up games.

by William Schwartz

sifu-screenshot

Beat ’em up games have somewhat gone out of style in recent years, but that’s not stopping French developer Sloclap from taking on the genre and bringing it up to speed for the modern era.  Mostly known so far for their 2017 work in Absolver, the studio is on track in 2022 to release their second game in the genre with Sifu.  While Sifu looks similar to the 2017 release with it’s third person camera angle and martial arts roots, the developer has added some wrinkles to the traditional formula that beat ’em ups have followed.  We recently got a chance to play through a preview build of SIFU which gives us a peek at one level of the game, some of the systems at play, and of course, the kung-fu combat.

There’s a story to tell but we didn’t get to hear much about it

Sifu is a revenge story it seems.  We weren’t given too much to go on in terms of story but it feels like there’s going to be plenty to sink your teeth into on this front as you try to piece together a mystery and track down those that killed your family.   It’s familiar territory for sure, but what’s new and interesting about Sifu is the magical elements that have been displayed in the initial trailers and media for the game.  To help you on this journey is a magical pendant that can revive you when you fall in combat.  The more you die, the more you age and this happens exponentially as you rack up the deaths.  As you get older you get stronger but have less overall health, but staying young and not dying is the objective as you can harness magical powers to give you special abilities that can be purchased along the way.  As you die and get older the pendant and your chance for upgrades and power-ups gets smaller and smaller until eventually you just cannot continue any further.

So the mechanics seem interesting in Sifu, but the combat is the thing that’s the going to make or break this game.  While the developers did say that the build was from a couple of months ago, it feels representative of what we can expect from the game.  Sifu has fast and fluid combat that relies on multiple systems in the heat of the moment.  It’s very much trying to echo what you would find in a kung-fu movie and for the most part it does this well.  There are a variety of moves that you can perform.  Sifu feels somewhat like a traditional fighting game.  There is a laundry list of moves to learn and even more to upgrade along the way.

Combat is fast, fluid and bone-crunchingly satisfying

sifu-big-enemies

The moment to moment combat really hinges on the parry system.  Whether fighting a single enemy or multiple, you’ll need to be on guard in Sifu.  Your blocks and parries can open up the enemies for attacks that otherwise won’t breach their defenses.  Death comes quick if you aren’t blocking or happen to get surrounded by multiple enemies.   The short level that we played saw a variety of enemy types with varying difficulty.  There’s was a good mix of fights that required a little bit of different strategy to complete.  The combat itself looked to be well-rounded with the ability to pick-up weapons, use the environment alongside the myriad of hand-to-hand options at your disposal.  At first, we were certainly mashing the parry button and following up with the standard attacks, which is a fine strategy, but as you play the game more and more you get the sense that the combat is much more than that.  The ability to use some limited environmental elements to soften a group of enemies and the fluidity in which you can pick up said items, interact with and kick things like chairs, bottles and more at enemies, use throws, and focus attacks alongside the standard punches and kicks the game starts to open up quite a bit.  There’s a lot at your disposal when it comes to the combat in Sifu and the enemy mixes require that you try different strategies.

You’ll quickly find that breaking down an enemies structure is the key to getting past their defenses.  Using the aforementioned techniques can do this.  Running up to them and mashing the attack buttons can work at times on the lesser enemies, but you’ll quickly find that mashing buttons is not the way in Sifu.  Taking a more tactical approach to the combat is paramount in this game because the magical pendant that allows you to revive after being defeated is also the key to upgrading your character and making them more powerful.  As you earn XP in the game you can purchase permanent unlocks that’ll help you and expand your repertoire of moves.

The age mechanic ties into progression and abilities

skill-tree-sifu

From the preview it’s hard to tell what else Sloclap has in store for players on the progression front.  It’s not quite a rogue-like, but you certainly have a fail state in getting too old to carry on.  It has the elements of rogue-like titles in that your single run progression  can carry forward to future runs.  With only getting to play the one level, which was said to basically be the second mission in the game, we really didn’t get a clear picture on how the long the game is, what the replayability would like and what not.  But this isn’t a critical analysis of Sifu anyway.  It was a bite-sized piece of the game that did a very good job in whetting my appetite for more Sifu.

For those that are looking for a modern take on the kung-fu beat-em-up, Sifu should definitely be on the radar in 2022 when it releases for PlayStation and PC on February 8th.

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