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Face-Off: Ultra Street Fighter 4 on PS4

UPDATED: Patch 1.02 tested, with tangible improvements across the board.

UPDATE June 4th, 9:00am: After just one week on the market, the PS4 version of Ultra Street Fighter 4 has received its first patch bringing with it a host of improvements and changes designed to address complaints in the original release. Straight away, we noted that the menu system has been bumped up to a proper 60fps, making a world of difference during navigation. The patch notes mention changes to anisotropic filtering to "decrease blur" but it would appear this effect is applied only to specific stages. Namely, the training stage is now much cleaner with higher quality texture filtering that almost completely eliminates the issue. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be a global change as most other stages that we tested appear identical to our tests prior to the patch. Anti-aliasing also remains missing in action, while the low resolution transparency effects also appear unchanged.

A number of players are already putting the game through its paces and reporting a decrease in input latency. Running a quick trial on our own setup, there does appear to be a tangible decrease in latency across the board. Using the same technique detailed below, this updated version appears to reduce latency by one frame, or roughly 16ms.

The patch also addresses other issues such as disappearing projectiles, various UI issues, and Decapre's teleport animations. We can't say for sure if all of these issues have been fully corrected but we didn't encounter any missing Sonic Booms during our session, which is a good sign. That said, Decapre's Air Scramble still comes out at a different angle compared to the other versions of the game. We also noted minor issues with the audio mix with certain sound effects seemingly playing louder than they should.

At this point, version 1.02 is looking pretty good and feels more like the version we should have had at launch. Issues remain and unfortunately, the PS4 port still doesn't feel like the definitive edition we were hoping for - but at least progress is being made in improving the product.

Original story: In preparation for the upcoming Street Fighter 5, Capcom and Sony have seen fit to bring the latest, 'ultra' iteration of its predecessor onto PlayStation 4. It seems like a guaranteed win, with a high-quality PC port already available and well-suited for conversion onto the Sony console. Additionally, with the Evo 2015 tournament just around the corner, this was a golden opportunity to push players onto the PlayStation 4 platform in preparation for the new game. Instead, the whole endevour has come off the rails.

Spearheaded by SCEA's Third Party Production group, the PS4 iteration marks the first time a Western team has worked on Street Fighter 4. SF5 is under development using Unreal Engine 4, but the existing game is built around custom tech produced in-house by original developer Dimps and Capcom in Japan. Rather than recruit the likes of proven conversionsmiths Bluepoint Games, or another high profile studio, this port was handed off to Other Ocean Interactive - a company with a rather poor reputation when it comes to its porting work. Unlike every other version to date, Capcom's involvement seems to be somewhat limited, with the company having already issued a statement basically offloading complaints to SCEA.

Problems with the PS4 game are evident right off the bat; the game's menu system has been reduced to a choppy, unresponsive mess that makes navigation a chore. It's not just a matter of lowering the frame-rate - every frame is displayed at half-rate resulting in a slower overall navigation experience. Graphics slowly lurch and stutter across the screen, feeling more like an unrefined webpage than a proper port of the original game. Stranger still, while all versions re-use the original 720p 2D art assets, the icons in this version are often scaled using a mix of what looks like bilinear filtering and point-sampling, leading to a particularly inconsistent layout at times.

Once in the game, things look better, but not quite to the degree we might have hoped. While the game is presented at full 1920x1080, the image lacks any sort of anti-aliasing or anisotropic texture filtering, much like the PlayStation 3 version. Background details are aliased and textures are heavily blurred at oblique angles. The training stage, often used in tournaments, fares perhaps the worst with its grid-like texture patterns suffering greatly. Naturally, the PC version allows for high levels of multi-sampling anti-aliasing, while even the Xbox 360 version features 2x MSAA, making the PS4's complete omission of this element rather puzzling. That said, the game's art style manages to shines through and the issues are less of a problem during gameplay - the resulting image is attractive even if it falls short of its potential.

Cover image for YouTube videoUltra Street Fighter 4 PS4 vs PC Comparison
A side-by-side look at Ultra Street Fighter 4 on PS4 compared against PC using the highest possible settings. Use the 1080p setting for the best experience.

Other changes abound - the PS4 iteration of the game is often more saturated than other versions and appears to suffer from white balance issues. This has a nice impact in certain scenes with some details taking on a more vibrant appearance. Yet, more often than not, this change results in an unbalanced image composition with skin tones in particular suffering from an obvious red push. Curiously, we noticed some missing effects work on the PC, such as dust clouds kicked up during certain moves, which are present on the PS4.

We also noted issues with how this version deals with alpha transparencies, such as fireballs and hit effects. Areas where characters come in contact with these effects tend to produce ugly saw-tooth edges that are completely absent on the PC, suggesting that the effects are rendered in a lower resolution on PlayStation 4. Of course, this issue was already present on PS3 and 360, but one would have hoped to see it eliminated on PS4 as it was on PC. A difference in motion blur coverage is also evident with certain portions of various character models falling outside of the coverage zone - a minor difference, but it is there.

Then there are the glitches and unexplainable gameplay changes. Users have reported that some moves, such as Decapre's teleport, have been modified and we can confirm this is the case - something we've included in our head-to-head video. This type of change can have an enormous impact on high-level play and doesn't appear to be sanctioned by Capcom. We also attempted to recreate various audio and visual glitches reported online, but only managed to produce a handful of them. In one stage, we encountered a stuck sound effect that kept repeating while a couple of minor UI bugs appeared in other areas. We even experienced one crash during a training session that booted us back to the console front-end. However, a look at various message boards confirms that others are running into even more severe issues including additional sound errors, missing visual effects, online connectivity problems, and other oddities. It's certainly not guaranteed that one will encounter these problems during normal play, but the fact that such bugs are present at all definitely prevents this version from being tournament worthy.

Decapre's teleport comes out at a different angle and speed. The effect used for this particular move is also rendered at a lower resolution on PS4.
Certain moves receive additional dust effects on PS4 that are also present on PS3 - but curiously, they are absent in the PC version of the game. The lack of anisotropic filtering on PS4 also sticks out in this stage.
Note the saw-tooth edges around Ryu where the alpha textures bisect his character model. Also note the different white points between the two images - the white balance seems incorrect on PS4.
Guile's Sonic Boom sometimes fails to draw correctly but, even when it does, the warping trail effect has been modified in the new version. Also note the extra dust and colour differences once again.
The difference in colour saturation is easy to spot in this scene. On the PS4 side, note how Decapre's glove is red to the point that detail is lost while her skin tone appears far too red.

There's also the issue with input lag to consider - Sony promised improvements to this particular limitation of the PS3 version even going so far as to highlight this feature on the PlayStation blog. It's obvious right from the start that this is, in fact, not at all true. Our initial sense suggested that we were looking at roughly the same amount of lag already present in the PS3 version.

In order to test this ourselves, we recorded video of the display and controller at 120fps while analysing the time between button press and the action occurring on-screen. We retained standard settings on our display, which operates with around 40ms of input lag, and saw an average of 140ms in end-to-end latency. Removing the 40ms of display lag from the equation, we're looking at around 100ms, translating to approximately six frames of input lag - which is comparable to the PlayStation 3 version of the game, but slower than the Xbox 360 iteration. Due to a compatibility issue with our sticks, we were only able to test the game using a Dual Shock 4 but there are some reports online of certain sticks exhibiting additional latency.

While we weren't able to use a stick with the game, there are some extra hoops to jump through for anyone planning to do so. In order to use a USB arcade stick, you must also use a Dual Shock 4 for each player assigned to a specific profile. This means you're looking at two DS4s in order to play using two arcade sticks - not exactly convenient for tournament play. Other games have offered solutions to this problem so it should be possible to address this in a future patch, but the fact that the game ships in this state is downright strange.

Cover image for YouTube video[60fps] Ultra Street Fighter 4 PS4 Gameplay Frame-Rate Test
Despite a long list of problems, frame-rate isn't one of them and Street Fighter 4 on PlayStation 4 manages to remain completely steady throughout a run of play.

At least the in-game frame-rate is stable. We spent a good deal of time playing the game over the past couple of days, never encountering a drop in performance. This certainly bodes well for the game should its other problems get the attention they deserve. Our only issues with performance remain centered entirely on the sub-par menu system - which actually sees graphics updating at alternating frames resulting in an exceptionally choppy presentation. Still, during gameplay, the smooth frame-rate and attractive design still leads to a great-looking game in motion.

We also put some time into the online multiplayer mode. While we ran into a few connection errors when attempting to join other players, the experience was actually fairly smooth overall. Frame lag is certainly a tad more pronounced in this mode but gameplay speed felt appropriate and most matches played off without problems. For the record, we tested the game using a 200mbps fibre connection. As of this writing though, the UK version of the game has yet to receive any patches - a problem which breaks connectivity with other countries where the update is available. This not only prevents cross-region play but also makes it impossible to view replays from other regions.

Ultra Street Fighter 4 on PS4 - the Digital Foundry verdict

Ultimately, this release left us rather baffled. Aside from the increase in resolution, every other version of the game remains superior in various ways. While it's still Street Fighter 4 at its heart, the quality of the conversion simply isn't what fans of the series deserve. It may be quite playable for the casual players - but clearly it's designed to appeal to hardcore users still enjoying the title and looking for a console upgrade to at least bring it up to par with the PC release. All of the promotional material was focused on hyping this version as the definitive version and everything was in place for it to become the de facto edition for tournament use. It felt like Sony and Capcom really cared about the fighting game audience and were trying to do right by them with this all-encompassing release but the end results just feel sloppy.

It appears that both Sony and Capcom are actively looking into this situation, and we can only hope it will be just a matter of time before it is fixed. As a digital-only release, potential patches are less of an issue here than they would have been had this game been released on disc. The question we have is whether or not Other Ocean will actually fix the many and varied issues the game suffers from. After all, despite receiving patches, its release of the Mortal Kombat collection on PlayStation 3 remains a complete mess to this day (constant screen-tear on a 2D fighter? Really?). On the plus side, the raw basics do seem to be in place on USF4, and the game certainly seems fixable, with its steady frame-rate during gameplay standing as a solid foundation.

However, for the time being the game has been dropped from the Capcom Pro Tour - which includes both Evo and Community Effort Orlando 2015 - until further notice. While the game may be patched in the future it's going to be difficult to win back the trust of the fighting game community at this point. When a port of a seven-year-old game ships in such a state, aimed at such a dedicated fanbase, but comparing poorly to the PC and even the Xbox 360 releases, you have to wonder about the state of quality control in the industry these days.