While Crecente and McWhertor will be flooding your consciousnesses with Street Fighter gameplay impressions later, I wanted to start things off with an amuse-bouche and just focus on one thing: just how freaking gorgeous SFIV is in person.
Because while I was initially skeptical about the 2.5D art direction, now I'm a total convert. SFIV's graphics dropped my jaw in a way that hasn't happened with a fighter since the original Virtual Fighter. Even when you don't have the pleasure of actually playing, the game is pure eye
candy high fructose corn syrup concentrate.
Ken and Ryu's hadoken attack is, quite honestly, the most gorgeous video game animation I've ever seen. Highly intricate, flame-like energy erupts out of nowhere, darting in front of your eyes momentarily before it is gone, as if nothing special ever happened. And the only thing you can think is, "Wow, Crecente's bitch move is really a delight on this cabinet." (That's before crushing him 4-0 with Abel, btw). These visual effects masterpieces aren't limited to that one move, either, as Crimson Viper's jet boot sends out a glorious circle of flame around her figure that looks like the lovechild of fire and pure bliss.
We were only able to preview 3 stages at Capcom's GDC event, but if their quality was any indication, you'll have motivation to squint your way through the hadokens. Here's where we see the 2.5D really pay off in an interesting way. Instead of just stacking 3D buildings on a 2D plane, which would look fine, the backgrounds actually have a roundness to them that enhances the effect. In other words, as you advance forward, your perspective will actually change. As you approach your opponent, alleys will open to reveal inner activity, or buildings will rotate as to offer a glimpse of what's hidden on what could have been an unseen side.
The characters were the only visual point over which I heard any criticism, and it's obvious why. While the models themselves, for the most part, look excellent, the game's entire art direction becomes confused when you examine the faces. While it's obvious that designers are hoping to keep the game light by including funny expressions and bug eyes, it's just not quite congealing with the rest of the world.
And while I could continue about the visual style forever (I haven't even touched on the subtle ink splatters or dynamic lighting), I should probably end this little article so you have some steam left for Crecente and McWhertor's impressions to come.
But if nothing else, SFIV is a testament to two things: HD gaming, and the viability of 2D games in a 3D-obsessed marketplace. I expect long lines when these machines are imported to US arcades.