The developers from Slowclap decided to remember the past and create a (Sifu) project similar to Fighting Force.
They took their previous game Absolver as a basis and removed everything superfluous from it, such as changing racks, loot and multiplayer. At the same time, you can't call Sifu a completely classic bitmap either, because the authors clearly drew inspiration not only from the games of the first PlayStation era, but also recent hits from FromSoftware. The result was a kind of "Hong Kong action movie" with street fights, crime and a pinch of Chinese fantasy.
It all starts with the sounds of rain coming from the gamepad and light tapping in different parts of DualSense to the rhythm of the natural elements. A stern fighter dressed all in black appears on the screen. Under the control of the player, he passes through several rooms, simultaneously cracking down on opponents and meeting other members of his gang. Having reached the most important enemy, the warriors in black kill him and the child - the future protagonist of the game. Here, secret Chinese magic intervenes, and thanks to a protective talisman, the teenager remains alive. After eight years of training in harsh combat practices, our fighter, who may be a guy or a girl, goes to take revenge. The plot is quite simple and generally serves only as a justification for the gameplay.
In parallel with the prologue, the player is taught the basics of the local combat system. Blows can be strong or weak, and, of course, they can be alternated with each other, and the developers also allow you to enter special commands for techniques. For example, to make a cut, you need to deflect the stick from the opponent, and then press forward and hit hard at the same time. A very useful technique that will knock down an ordinary enemy and at least gain a tactical advantage. The difficulty lies in the fact that the timings in this game are very strict, and in order to carry out such or some other strikes without misfires, you will have to work out their input specifically, for which there is a training mode in the game. It's just like in fighting games and serious "slashers".
Sifu has a large number of techniques and all sorts of features that can be pumped and studied as you progress. For example, the ability to throw objects with your feet from the floor will not be available immediately. Such movements are often referred to films with Jackie Chan, but the developers were inspired by many other Asian paintings. Every movement and action in this game is based on techniques from kung fu, or rather on those elements and spectacular pirouettes that we often see in the movies. Even lifting weapons from the ground looks as cool as possible – the character throws an object with his foot and catches it in flight. In addition, not only improvised things are fully used here, but also the environment – to put an opponent on a table or wall, and then add a mop on top – this is an ordinary event.
The dynamics, brutality and entertainment of the fights are kept on top all the time. As you progress, you can find different references to famous films, and fans of "Oldboy" will certainly be happy to participate in the “corridor scene" on their own, which is also here. The animations, although they look a bit cartoonish, but in general, every movement is clearly read, and the enemy's reaction to a hit is clearly noticeable. It is worth noting that there are almost no indicators and illuminated strikes in the game, except for non-blocking ones, so you need to monitor all attacks carefully.
Here we turn to the defense system. It is quite simple, but thoughtful. Someone may be reminded of the Batman games, but the absence of sensors showing an enemy attack from behind and an automatic counterattack makes Sifu closer to Ninja Gaiden or rather even to Sekiro. With the masterpiece from FromSoftware, it is also related to a special fatigue indicator, which is filled during the blocking of blows from both the player and his opponents. Having successfully scored this scale to the end, the enemy opens up for a powerful and often finishing attack. The authors have worked out this aspect and provided the character with a variety of diverse and beautiful animations. At the same time, the game takes into account not only the presence of weapons and their type, but also the position of the fighters in space. If there is a wall, a table or some other object nearby, then the hero will definitely use it for savory finishing. If he has a bat in his hands, then it will be one animation, if the pole is another, and the dagger is the third, and so on. By the way, victory over enemies in this way also replenishes a small reserve of health. It always pleases me when entertainment and efficiency are combined together.
Since most of the game you have to fight with several opponents at the same time, blocking and filling your fatigue scale all the time is not the best option. It is much more effective to parry attacks, because then the opponent will ”get tired", but the player will not. This works in much the same way as in the previously mentioned Sekiro. To repel the opponent's blow, you need to press the block button right in front of the contact, and if you get into the timing, then instead of the usual block animation there will be a slightly different movement, and the opponent will open for a moment for a counterattack. By the way, if you successfully turn everything around, then after parrying, other initial blows open, from which you can start combos, and also at this moment allow you to perform a capture. However, due to tight timings and the lack of additional backlighting, it can be difficult to catch the right moment. If you press a little earlier than necessary, the attack will simply be blocked, and the enemy will continue its onslaught, which will increase the hero's fatigue scale.
It should be borne in mind that during the defensive stance, the player cannot move the character, but when the stick is shifted in any direction, he will dodge. Here, too, there were some nuances – holding the block button and moving the stick, you need to take into account that over the blows that go to the head and body, you need to duck, and those that are aimed at the legs - you need to jump over. This mechanic is extremely effective against sweeping weapon strikes, especially in a crowd. If you have time, crouching over the bat, then it can eventually land in one of the enemies nearby.
Since fights with the crowd often take place in small spaces, the choice of position is very important, and sometimes before entering into battle, it is better to analyze everything and understand where you will divide the enemies and how you will control the rear. Opponents don't shy away from hitting you in the back even if you can't see them. In general, at first it may seem that in the game you can just click on everything in a row and the character will scatter opponents with beautiful pirouettes. There will be beautiful pirouettes, of course, and enemies will surely fall after several successful episodes, but you yourself will receive damage, and the exchange of blows is not very profitable here.
As it was already clear from the trailers, the main character will die and resurrect all the time. After each death, the character matures, and the whole system is tied to this. Initially, our protagonist is 20 years old, and every time a strip of his life ends, a menu opens with a magic talisman that lifts the character exactly in the place where he fell, but adds him a year or several, depending on the number of deaths before that. When one of the mini-bosses wins, this multiplier decreases. The moment is very important, because the talisman weakens with each resurrection, and approximately at the age of 70 it ends, which means that after the next death there will be a rollback to the start of the entire mission and zeroing the pumping to what was at the beginning of the task. After passing the level, the age does not roll back, so if you finish the first level at 60, then the next one will start the same way – an old man. Accordingly, the margin of attempts at this location will be less, and it will be almost impossible to continue the game until the fifth mission. If you want to somehow roll back the age, you need to replay the previous level and pass it with a much younger fighter.
At first it may seem that an increase in age is a plus, since the older the fighter, the stronger he attacks, but not everything is so simple – his life scale becomes smaller, and some techniques are closed for training. Considering all the facts, in order to complete the game, you need to try to keep your character as young as possible and move as many attempts as possible to the next location. However, it is unlikely to be possible to do this from the first or second time, so you will have to go through the previous levels over and over again to improve the result and be able to live longer at the next stage.
Despite the fact that in general I really liked Sifu, the balance of complexity in some places raises questions. Often it is because of one unfortunate moment that the player will have to replay the entire level. The first location can be easily completed, remaining at the mark of 20-25 years, and most of the next stage can also be completed without problems. However, difficulties may begin already in front of the boss room. All due to the fact that here the protagonist is met by two fighters who constantly attack with continuous blows (the so-called "hyperbroni" effect”, and at the same time some attacks break through the block, so you have to parry or dodge. Of course, you can get involved in an exchange of blows, but since there are two opponents, it is not very profitable. Even if you defeat them without spending "lives”, then there will be a boss who does the same thing, only he is stronger and faster. Such "leaders”, as in the “Club”, are always annoying with their tedium. The fact is that this enemy will repel all attacks and severely punish for every untimely lunge. His punches also have "hyperbrony" effects and punch through the block, so most of the time you just have to dodge and wait for it to open for a few punches. Such fights turn into tedious waiting for the right moment, which does not happen as often as we would like. It is better to have a strong enemy that can be defeated quickly, even though it requires certain knowledge and skill, than ten minutes of the same type of actions, deviation from which is severely punished.
Then the game again becomes an exciting and thoughtful action movie, but the consequences of that duel in the form of old age greatly limit further passage. Because of this, we have to replay this "Club” until the age of the hero is at least about 30 years old.
One crookedly balanced battle can seriously complicate the subsequent part of the game, and in order to enjoy it properly, you need to try over and over again to improve the result of this most hated final segment in the club. The developers have already promised to make some adjustments to the Sifu balance along with the patch of the first day, but whether they will affect this particular episode is not yet entirely clear.
It is worth noting here that each new location makes its own adjustments and adds a new type of enemies or weapons. For example, in the museum, opponents have swords that cannot be blocked with their bare hands, but they can be taken away and begin to chop opponents, remembering similar scenes from the "Raid".
Speaking of locations, there is one thing to consider here – all the collected inventory, for example, keys or magnetic cards, do not disappear after death, so some of the skirmishes can be avoided by re-passing. Moreover, some doors can be opened only after finding the keys in other levels. It is also worth noting that the locations themselves are designed in such a way that you can enter some arenas from different sides and get a positional advantage.
As for the graphics, Sifu looks neat and stylish. The minimalistic design of the environment, painted as if with a brush, well hides some low-poly decorations and is perfectly complemented by various interior items and decorations in traditional Chinese style. In addition, during the battle, many objects can fly apart or break. The locations themselves are compact, but quite diverse. At the beginning, the player finds himself in a very nondescript slum, but already in the second location he is waiting for a club with fluorescent lamps that sometimes blink in time with tapping on the gamepad and opponents with glowing colorful clothing elements. In the third location, the protagonist will have to visit the museum, and it, in turn, is also radically different from the previous scenery. There are bright lighting and bright interiors with highly polished marble floors. It's a pity that the developers did not introduce ray tracing into the game – all these shiny and glowing elements would look great together with this technology, although its implementation would require additional efforts from the studio. By the way, among the exhibits of the museum you can notice masks from Absolver and some other references to the previous work of this studio.
The developers also tried to diversify the appearance of the main character. With age, the character has swelling and small wrinkles on his face, along with which his hairstyle and clothes change. By the age of 50, my "old lady" had already turned gray decently, braided a small braid and put on a traditional shirt. By the way, the older the character, the longer the braid and the more buttons are buttoned on the shirt. These funny details and other little things convey the image of a growing up person well. It always pleases when developers pay attention to such details, it is especially valuable, given the closeness of the project and relatively inexpensive production.
From the technical side, during the testing of the game on the PlayStation 5, I did not encounter any serious problems. Sometimes in the distance you could see trembling shadows or ladders, and occasionally there were texture loads. However, the developers have already announced that they are preparing a patch for the first day, in which they will fix these shortcomings.
In the end, I would like to note that, despite the obvious similarities with games like Souls, or rather with Sekiro, still, thanks to the design and some gameplay features, Sifu seems really original. It is also important to note that it could have been a great game for 8-9 hours, but because of that very poorly balanced fragment, I had to get to the same place many times and spend all 20 or 25 hours on passing. If you are not afraid of the complexity and you like hand-to-hand combat games, as well as martial arts, then Sifu will definitely please you.