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Watch: Let's play Street Fighter 4 and 5 simultaneously

Digital Foundry experiments with a live Face-Off between two generations of the Capcom fighting series.

We've produced hundreds of platform comparisons over the last nine years, but few that concentrate exclusively on the differences between one franchise entry and its shinier, more modern successor. With the arrival of Street Fighter 5, we thought we'd have a little fun - we decided to use our dual-system control set-up (a system we first used here) to play versus mode Street Fighter 4 and its sequel simultaneously. In effect, it would be an actual live Face-Off - the edited highlights of which you can watch in the video below.

We developed our 'dual-wielding' system to elevate our comparison videos - to produce shots that wouldn't normally be possible, and more indicative of how titles compare during actual gameplay. But syncing controller inputs can only go so far. Games have a habit of not behaving entirely identically from one session to the next, AI behaviours can differ, controller input 'smoothing' can slightly adjust the way movement data is interpreted, and in the case of PS4 vs Xbox One, base joypad polling rates are slightly different (4ms on Xbox One, 5ms on PS4 - for the record).

But with Street Fighter, the only active participants in any given scene are the two players. It limits the potential amount of de-sync variables drastically, so the big question is the extent to which the two engines - and the core game designs themselves - compare. And here's where things start to get interesting.

For our first game, we kicked off with the classic Ryu vs Ken battle, and we were pretty amazed at how closely Street Fighter 5 and its predecessor synchronised. Combat moves locked precisely into place, characters speeds and movement were the same. The physical size of the fighting arena proved to be entirely identical. Even combos worked. The takeaway here was pretty straightforward - despite moving from entirely proprietary technology towards the Unreal Engine 4 middleware, Capcom had successfully translated across the Street Fighter 4 engine across with almost perfect parity, and there's no revolutionary attempt to reinvent the wheel here.

Edited highlights of the Street Fighter 4 vs Street Fighter 5 versus mode live comparison - it's safe to say you've not seen anything quite like it before.

From there, the next question is pretty straightforward. In terms of its core gameplay, is Street Fighter 5 effectively a re-tread of the existing game? After all, if the same controller inputs sent to two different iterations of the series produce very close results, it does not speak kindly to the levels of innovation in the title. Well, there are differences. At a superficial level, Ryu and Ken may play the same, but it's clear that there are balancing tweaks between the two titles - some moves may knock the opponent over in one game, but not the other - and there is a minor revision of the moves list. However, Ryu and Ken are Street Fighter's standards, the characters you naturally choose exactly because they are so familiar.

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While the results of the initial dual-wielding session were fruitful, it's safe to say that our subsequent tests failed pretty dismally - M Bison and Dhalsim in particular are totally revamped, for example. Nash/Charlie doesn't play much like he used to either. A giant reset button has been pushed on many of the characters, making them feel fresh and new, while getting to grips with the newcomers is a lot of fun. As attractive as it is, comparing and contrasting Street Fighter 5 with its predecessor is much more about the gameplay than it is about the technology, so we'll be leaving that to the top tier players as they start to get to grips with the game.

We'll continue to use the dual system control to improve the quality of our comparison videos but in terms of the experimental live Face-Off concept - well, it was a lot of fun on this title but it didn't quite pay off - the ideal situation of simultaneous play for comparison pieces only had limited utility. Still, if Street Fighter event organisers want to add SF4/SF5 dual-wielding to their list of options for top-tier players, that might be fun...

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