An Early Sifu Preview shows Sloclap haven’t lost their touch as I get hands on in this gorgeous martial arts brawler.
Absolver was great. A fighting game about crafting your own fighting style and combos, pitching your moves against your multiplayer opponents or a smattering of AI enemies. Outthinking them as much as outmashing them.
This Sifu preview shows it is not Absolver. But it’s still pretty great so far.
It takes a different approach. The same soft edged models are here but the wuxia fantasy setting has been replaced with a neon soaked stylised aesthetic that invokes the spirit of classic Kung Fu movies. The preview nightclub level hosts a soundtrack that pulses along with the combat, beats to match the beatdowns.
And all of this in a single player narrative that splits the difference between classic beat em ups and classic films. A murdered father, an organisation of enemy fighters to defeat and a protagonist willing to do anything to get revenge. Fight your way to the top.
What Sifu and Absolver share is a deep love of martial arts media and the feeling they evoke in the player.
The idea that you can develop your skills over time, to the point of mastering the environment and the fight.
You throw a flurry of quick jabs into the first attacker. As they reel backwards, you vault a bar booth and boot a loose seat into the legs of an approaching foe, sending them crashing to the ground. You turn again, enter the slowed time of focus mode, sweep the leg of a third attacker. A quick set of simple two button combos flash out as each attacker approaches again, and they’re all left scattered on the floor.
When the flow of combat works in Sifu, it leaves you as comfortable and confident as any rhythm or fighting game. Mastery in action.
The animations and combos feel great to pull off with perfectly timed parries sending enemies reeling for a followup. If a beat em up combat system doesn’t feel satisfying, with just enough challenge from enemies, it can quickly devolve into button mashing. Sifu mostly avoids that so far.
The wrinkle in Sifu is what happens when you lose fights. Run out of health, you die. Then the magic amulet on your belt fractures a little and resurrects you a little older. Exponentially older in fact. Die once, age one year. Seventh death, seven years older. Hit 75 in one run (or ten deaths), you die for good and start again.
Now there’s a question to be raised as to how feasible that may be in the full game. But after a few hours of running through the playable club level in the preview, I was getting to the final area encounters with little to no issue. Which leads to the fun elements of the death and progression mechanics.
There’s some fun thematic work going on with the structure of the game.
When you’re young, you have the opportunity to acquire resource expensive but very cool/useful combos and moves. As you age, those skills you haven’t yet earned become locked off the older you get, unable for purchase. The trade off is that you get more damage and less health.
It’s an intriguing prospect. Stay youthful, build skills and have a wider set of tools. But as you age, while your strength increases, you focus more on your existing skills as you can’t add more.
I am fascinated by how this will play out in the full game. Even with the ability to revert previous death counts, Sifu is going to be challenging.
There’s questions to be raised following this Sifu preview. Will the death/one run system make progression through the campaign too difficult? Is there quite enough depth in a combo system where early deaths in a run remove moves from the game?
Exactly how schlocky a King Fu narrative are we letting ourselves in for, and to what extent is that a bad thing?