Sitting around at a restaurant the night before Capcom's "Annual Producer Day" event, traditionally the springboard for various new game launches during E3 week, we found ourselves joking that the big announcement would be something like Dino Crisis 4. Instead we got Final Fight: Streetwise - another Capcom franchise increasingly maligned as it got into the latter stages. I seem to remember Super Play giving the last SNES version something like 45 per cent despite it being a cover title.
Final Fight: Streetwise certainly comes along at an odd time, and it's pretty odd all round really. The old Final Fights involved marching from left to right, moving into and out of the screen a bit and fighting streams of enemies in fairly simplistic fashion using weapon pick-ups and basic punch and kick combos. It was fun all the same though because, as an arcade title with two-player options that didn't overstay its welcome, it was good to launch into for half an hour or more and giggle at the silly yelps, roast dinner health pick-ups found in rubbish bins and absurdly muscular bosses who were cumulatively responsible for kidnapping your girlfriend.
Streetwise, developed by the American team behind Maximo: Army of Zin, puts a more serious spin on it. It preserves the basic tenets, although this time it shoehorns the player into third-person 3D arenas which are boxed off until a certain number of enemies are slain, but Capcom reps told us not to expect roast dinners in rubbish bins because it's unrealistic. Right. Similarly, it's no longer about rescuing your girlfriend from a big, long queue of increasingly dodgy looking punks. Now you're a pit fighter called Kyle who has to rescue brother Cody - star of the originals - and then fight alongside him. And there are cut-scenes and things like that.
I've no idea how that will pan out, but the street fighting aspect is fairly solid, if unremarkable - with most of the fun coming from the wide array of implements lying around to slug people with. Fighting is about whacking the weak and strong attack buttons in varying orders to perform different combos (wow, I sound so insightful when I barely sleep for a week) - easily done and explained by the game - whilst blocking with a shoulder button and occasionally throwing people or picking up weapons to use and utilising your "instinct" bar to land much heftier blows. Assuming you've charged it up with enough "normal" fighting beforehand.
Enter a bar room brawl, for example, and enemies appear en masse out of doorways ready to fight. They'll come at you in small groups and you'll clobber them, stooping for pool cues or baseball bats and using the throw command to grab them round the neck and choke them - with some nice weapon-specific variations. Certain weapons are single-use, too, like bar stools and large pipes, which are also much heavier and thus take longer to swing but inflict more damage.
There doesn't seem to be much more to it. Some of the weapons are actually guns, which isn't all that fair, but kudos to Capcom for making them relatively single-use. Use up all the loaded shells in a shotgun and it's suddenly useless, and you're in a fight so you've precious little time to find conveniently located spares. One other thing you can do that we saw was hire people using money you've earned fighting to clobber alongside you. And some of them have pistols. Which is handy.
Beyond that though it really does just feel like Final Fight with third-person 3D environments rather than faux-3D side-on efforts, and it's a little underwhelming for it. It'll probably be quite entertaining, but with reps quoting a ten-hour play-time, it might outstay its welcome. What's more, there is no multiplayer in it at the moment, and although it "still has to be focus-grouped" [frown], there's no guarantee it'll make it in. If it doesn't, you might be left wondering what all the fuss is about.
Indeed you might be left wondering that anyway. To be fair, Final Fight: Streetwise is in no way bad - it looks fairly nice, plays nicely and is clearly capable of adapting the classic style to three dimensions with a bit of common sense. One example of that being its use of a translucency effect to stop telegraph poles obscuring your view of the action. Another being the way it fences you in not with invisible barriers but with things like overturned cars that need to be rolled out of the way - something you can only really do when you've cleared enough enemies to give you time to actually do it.
But still it's hard to sound that enthusiastic. Hopefully time spent with a more advanced build closer to its winter release date will expose a few more street smarts.