Eurogamer's Face-Off coverage continues at a brisk pace, with an in-depth look at Capcom's first 10/10 game in some time: the ultra-playable, supremely rewarding, and utterly irresistible Street Fighter IV. There's the usual in-depth technical analysis, precision h.264 comparison movies and, of course, the requisite lossless 24-bit RGB screenshots gallery.
Although we're looking primarily at the two new console games, the spectre of the original arcade version is never too far away from the discussion, and it's the make-up of the coin-operated game that has had the most impact on the home versions.
Inside the traditional arcade cabinet, Street Fighter IV is actually just a PC, and not exactly a powerful one either. Indeed, the chances are that if you're into PC gaming, your own rig at home has far more horsepower than the coin-op. Arcade giant Taito devised the so-called Type X2 hardware, cherry-picking a selection of computer components that were hardly all-powerful even when they were new, including the NVIDIA 7900GS (current eBay price: GBP 50) and a bottom-end 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. Capcom licensed this hardware to produce Street Fighter IV, and so have several other arcade stars. SNK, for example, is using Type X2 for its new King of Fighters XII.
The relevance to the home versions is fairly obvious, over and above the fact that the forthcoming PC version of the game should run brilliantly on any modern, base-level enthusiast's gaming system. Firstly, pretty much all software development begins on PC and the means for porting across code onto both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is well-established. Secondly, the meagre spec of the Taito hardware means that a great deal of the optimisation required would come as standard already in the core arcade codebase. And finally, the choice of the NVIDIA 7900GS should - in theory - be good news with regards the PlayStation 3 port in particular; the RSX graphics chip (to all intents and purposes a tweaked 7800GTX) is based on the same architecture, has the same amount of video RAM and has a relatively useful bump in certain areas of the spec too.
First impressions of both versions are very promising. The key component is the 60fps gameplay, and that is entirely identical between the two systems. The only difference comes down to the limitations of each system's controllers, but even they performed better than I expected. Personally, I wasn't a big fan of Capcom's Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, mainly because the Xbox 360 d-pad in particular is absolutely woeful. Not wishing to shell out any more money for additional pads, the game turned out to be a complete waste of the requisite 1,200 Microsoft Points. Playing the PS3 version later, I was still hardly impressed with performance of the basic pad there, either. The old six-button SEGA Saturn pad was sorely missed.
Things are different with the new game though. The feeling I get is that Capcom has sufficiently loosened the controls to allow for fairly decent gameplay on either console's standard controller. This game is so good that a Mad Catz pad or stick purchase is all but certain, but in the meantime I don't feel as held back by the controller as I felt I should be. Indeed, pulling off Dragon Punches with the analogue pad is a doddle, though the charge attacks, and the Super/Ultra moves, do take some time to get used to. On 360 especially, the analogue stick being a viable method of control makes a huge difference.
Round One! Fight!
Moving past the control, and onto the quality of the conversions onto each platform, I was rather surprised to see that despite the RSX-NVIDIA link between the PS3 and arcade hardware, the Sony console once again sees a measurable drop in image quality compared to the Xbox 360 version. Meanwhile, owners of Microsoft's console get a conversion that is actually noticeably superior to the original arcade game.
The PlayStation 3 version mirrors the coin-op in that it's rendering its visuals without the aid of anti-aliasing, whereas the Xbox 360 code gets the benefit of its more usual 2x multisampling edge smoothing. Both are running at an absolutely rock solid 60 frames-per-second, but it's clear that Capcom has had to nip and tuck the PlayStation 3 version in a number of ways to meet this goal.
We'll go into the differences in more depth in a minute, but the key change is that every single close-up sees the PS3 game dynamically downscale to 1120x630, whereas the Xbox 360 game continues to remain at the full 720p resolution. The combination of no AA, plus the enlarged pixels can result in a few ugly scenes, but in most cases it is barely noticeable - 60fps is maintained, and it's amazing how much a super-smooth refresh rate can hide, especially on a game as fast-moving as this one.
The overall lack of anti-aliasing in the PS3 game is hardly a big deal, as there are few 'jaggies' to be overly concerned about. Only on the bright, open stages such as the Airfield do you ever really become aware of it.