GDC: Street Fighter IV

Hyper fighting hype.

Full disclosure: this hands-on preview appears with dinky PS3 and 360 icons next to it, but we haven't played those versions. In fact, Capcom refuses to confirm whether or not they even exist, despite admitting that it would be "pretty surprising" if Street Fighter IV failed to make the transition from arcade to home console. Still, it's worth pointing this out so that the PRs don't wake me up with a phone call at 2am PST to complain. I need my beauty sleep. As you'll know if you've ever seen my face.

Street Fighter IV ought to be a relic, but it seriously isn't. It's not a complicated mess of ideas dragged together from the disparate SF games, either. It's a very beautiful, accessible distillation of the best characters' best moments, brought together with some intuitive new systems. All your old friends are back - Ryu, Ken, E. Honda, Dhalsim, Zangief, Chun-Li, Guile and Blanka - and will be joined by new recruits Abel and Crimson Viper, and contests are still decided as best-of-three rounds with a time limit on individual bouts and a big old health bar running across the top of the screen. There are still six attack buttons - light, medium and hard of both punch and kick. Being KO'ed without landing a blow is still depressing, and people still refuse to ever play you again once they beat you. Even at GDC. Tossers.

Looking around the screen, you also notice a Super meter along the bottom. This builds up when you connect with an attack, or whenever you perform a special, even if it doesn't connect. The amount of specials a character has will vary, and the fighters draw their moves and characteristics from the likes of the Alpha and Third Strike games as well as raw SF II. Making sure it's instantly familiar seems to have been a very deliberate choice, and it works: picking Ken initially (I'm a sucker for blondes), I proceeded to land a flying hard-kick, punch and dragon-punch three-hitter repeatedly on a hapless US journo's C.Viper, before rocking out with a double quarter-circle-forward and punch Super attack finale. KO.

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Sometimes the camera shifts perspective a bit to frame a particularly fancy move.

Another obvious element of the screen furniture is the Revenge meter - a little C-shape at the end of your health bar - which fills up in segments as you take damage from enemies. This obviously isn't great news, but the benefit of it is that it enables you to perform Ultra attacks rather than just Supers; Ultras are far more punishing and spectacular, and activate by pressing two attack buttons instead of one at the end of the Super joystick sequence. Ken's Ultra is a fireball and spinning flaming dragon-punch attack that made me laugh so hard that I then lost the bout, which is pretty impressive considering how decisive an Ultra's meant to be. Super and Revenge meters both reset at the start of each bout, so there's no pointing saving things up.

Less obvious but perhaps more important are the new Focus Attacks, also available to every character. To perform one of these, you use the medium punch and kick buttons together. Tapping them performs a sort of slap, while charging it up offers two additional levels of power, the third of which is actually unblockable. While you build up to the level-three version of this attack, you're fragile, but you can absorb one attack (although it will hurt). Unleash it and connect, though, and you will floor your opponent and get the chance to whack them again while they're going down. Be quick.

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