Sunday , March 3 2024

Videogame Review: ‘Sifu’

Dateline: Sifu

The pain is excruciating; despite all my training her kick slipped through, shattered my ribs and I can feel myself dying as blood fills my lungs. But this is not the end – with each fatal error I am gifted life, but at the cost of time.

I rise channeling the Chi energy from my medallions; years have been added to my body, but my spirit and fists are still strong. Gasps from the thugs in the club erupt as they see me stand again, their laughter fading as I enter ready stance to rejoin battle.

My voice is older, thinner, but still full of conviction and confidence. I will learn from this mistake, I will pass these trials and I will find those that killed my Sifu, my Father.

‘Where is Sean’ I say once again. None of them speak, instead they rush in, but now with fear in their eyes. I know what will happen now and I will surpass their meager skills.

Block, parry, kick and one is down. A pipe picked up is leveraged against two of them with a flurry of strikes till more are down. I take a few hits, but still standing I sidestep the largest one and deliver a stunning barrage of strikes till he slumps down gasping in pain.

Catching my breath and surveying the room I shake off the dust of the encounter and head to the door. Sean is there with his deadly staff and once I defeat him another rung on the ladder to the leader will have been climbed.

My life has been devoted to this, I have trained for years for this. I will sacrifice time, my youth and my life for revenge. I will find those who killed my Sifu and end them even if it means I die trying.

The Game

Sifu is a new game from developer Sloclap and frankly it has become a complete obsession. It looks amazing, feels amazing, plays amazing and it is the most fun I have had getting my butt kicked over and over again.

The tale of Sifu is much like any martial arts epic: your father is killed by his former student and his four henchmen. One of them leaves the main protagonist for dead and they all leave the dojo in ruins.

Of course the young child did not die and spends the next eight years training and honing their martial arts skills in an all-or-nothing bid for Vengeance. Fantastic stuff and it gets even better as the story unfolds with each Henchman (or Henchwoman) having very distinctive styles and locations.

At the start of Sifu players get to choose a male or female avatar, which frankly is fantastic. I chose a female as my favorite martial arts star of all time is Michelle Yeoh and I just wanted to experience this story with a female protagonist.

What is important to know about this game is that it is a Roguelike, which typically means that you will die a lot, and that is certainly the case with Sifu. It also refers to games that allow certain collected elements to remain after death and others that stay permanently. That is the case with Sifu, but with a twist.

In this game when you die (and trust me it will happen often so don’t fear it) a death counter starts and the character comes back to life aging a year staring from the age of 20. They come back right where they died and can continue to beat the enemies to a pulp.

If certain gold/silver or boss type enemies are defeated the death counter drops by one, but the more times you die the higher the death counter rises. Meaning after a few deaths you could start aging by three, five or even seven years.

Death Is Not the End

Because of this a death in game doesn’t mean the tale is over until the character is past 75 years of age. As each decade is passed the character gains attack strength at the cost of diminished health.

As the game is explored new skills and attacks can be unlocked and if they are unlocked enough times they become permanent even after true death. There are also shortcuts, locked passages and clues that are discovered during playthroughs that stay with the character and add shorter paths for future level runs.

As I played some of the first few boss levels over and over it became evident that the ultimate (and obvious) goal is finish a stage with as few deaths as possible. The next stage (unique area tied to a henchman) will always be started at the youngest point previously encountered.

This encourages many, many playthroughs to not only try not to die too often, but also to build up experience and unlock permanent skills. The new attacks and combos make a huge difference and I truly felt a great satisfaction when I finally beat the first level at the tender age of 25.

Now these same levels over and over would be a frustrating mess if the combat was not implemented well, and friends, Sifu has some of the best combat I have experienced. Not quite as fluid and powerful as the Batman Arkham games, but measured and brutal is how I would describe combat in this game.

Parries, dodges, blocks, combos, weapons, thrown items, knocking people off ledges or into walls all seamlessly come together in a beautiful dance. So many times I just wanted to record the combat because it just looks and plays so damn good.

The developer even throws in some ‘hallway’ moments like in The Raid, Daredevil or Oldboy where the perspective shifts from third person to a side view and waves of enemies come at the character. It is frankly stunning how good the combat feels from the start and especially once the game is truly understood.

Like Dark Souls type games, button mashing will not work in Sifu. Properly timed dodges or parries are crucial as are using the learned skills and combos to knock out enemies efficiently. In this game enemies do not come one at a time, they circle, surround and swarm, so tactics are required.

What this means is that once the flow of combat is learned the game just feels so good, so satisfying even when someone lands a hit and kills the character. It is just plain fun to get back up and take revenge right away on the one who got us last time.

Stunning Look, Impressive Sound

The aesthetic look and feel of Sifu is staggeringly beautiful and works so well to convey the different areas explored; whether it be a nightclub or a glossy museum the game looks stunning. The characters are varied and interesting with the protagonist changing to reflect their age as each battle is lost. Hair gets greyer, clothing changes and wrinkles appear on their face.

I probably took well over a hundred screenshots as I played, especially of the Musuem level, it just looks that good. The developer even threw in a Photo Mode day one to ensure the best Kung Fu shots could be captured.

The audio, which is often not mentioned in writing about games, is as impressive as the visuals. Punches, blocks and weapon strikes are rendered in a deep and satisfying way. The soundtrack, composed by Beijing-based electronic artist Howie Lee, combines traditional instruments and melodies with modern rhythms and sounds making the varied locations come alive.

I just cannot say enough good things about how Sifu looks, sounds, feels and plays. This is a once-in-a-generation game that needs to be experienced to be believed. My only caution would be to keep playing through a level no matter how old the character gets. Unlocked skills and shortcuts are invaluable and the true carrot to keep playing.

Sifu will be available February 8th for Playstation 4 and 5 for PC via the Epic Games Store.  I received a Playstation 5 code from the publisher which I used for my playthrough to review the game.

About Michael Prince

A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

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