In today’s day and age, martial arts video games are a rare commodity, but developer Sloclap is up for the challenge to fill that void. Following their 2017, Absolver, Sloclap is back again with their upcoming semi-roguelike kung fu action game, Sifu. In this hands-on preview, we got access to the first half of the second chapter, primarily focusing on in-depth combat mechanics and a snippet of the narrative.
Perhaps the most remarkable element of this game is how it utilizes roguelike elements without actually being a roguelike. You are your own Sifu, which means mentor or teacher in Chinese because you revive to an older version of yourself every time you die. As you age, you receive more damage and have less health. The game is about learning from the mistakes you made when you were younger and whether or not you can achieve your goals without wasting your entire life in the process, literally. The story of Sifu revolves around a kung fu student who embarks on a mission of vengeance to pursue the assassins who murdered his family.
Combat is slick, satisfying, and pays awesome homage to old-school martial arts films starring Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. You are often pitted against mobs of enemies and have to rely on parrying, blocking, dodging, and chaining combos together to be the last one standing. Parrying low-level grunts allows you to execute them instantly. A posture meter is utilized, much like in Sekiro, that exists on every enemy, including yourself. Once an enemy’s posture meter is filled, you can immediately execute them in a flashy badass fashion.
Different skills and combos can be unlocked as you acquire experience points from defeating enemies. In addition, there’s much more depth to combat than just spamming the same combos over and over, as foes tend to use different moves on you that require varying approaches. For example, enemies can go into a “rage” mode which increases their health, damage output and alters their moveset.
Sifu makes excellent use of its environments for immersion and fighting versatility. Objects such as bottles, sticks, and even footrests can be used to your advantage against enemies. You can also make use of the area you’re in to execute foes by slamming their heads onto a wall or flinging them over a couch.
Levels are handcrafted and feature back alleys, long corridors, and secret fight clubs. You can even approach situations however you like, peacefully or violently. The world is in your hands. Every punch you land and hit you take feels dynamic and forceful, so you know exactly when you’re doing well and when you’re falling short. Every character is voice acted, and fitting audio tracks are present for each setting, such as pumping disco music playing in the nightclub.
The preview build we had access to was on PC, so keyboard and mouse were obviously supported, but it’s evident that this game is better played on a controller. Button inputs were mismatched and didn’t work; I had to press E to pick up an object when R would have been more sensible. I also got stuck in the training grounds section as it told me to hold the space bar to finish training, but all it did was allow my character to block as the two inputs were bound to the same key. There were also some frame drops when playing, but these are minor issues, especially in an early access build.
Even though this was a miniature slice of what the full game has to offer, I can already tell that Sifu is shaping up to become an action-packed cinematic martial arts experience. The narrative is enthralling, and the combat is addictive, and I can’t wait to see the protagonist bringing justice to those that did him wrong with punches from the left and kicks from the right.
Sifu is coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via the Epic Games Store on February 8, 2022.
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