Sifu: A Love Letter to Martial Arts (Review)
Kicks, punches and a lot of bottles.
HARDWIRED (KWTX) -
Originally Reviewed Feb. 6th
A lone warrior walks the path of revenge by throwing bottles at every. Single. Person. He meets. Or at the very least opening up his attacks with them. This is the journey of Sifu, the latest hand to hand combat simulator from Absolver developer Sloclap. Within my first few hours I fell in love with the intricate dance of martial arts on display. For every killer strike I had the enemy had two more, meaning I needed to dodge and parry at lightning speeds. The accuracy of the moves on display is astonishing as enemies correctly block fists and elbows at the correct placement and takedowns feel less scripted than pre done animations typically do. All this flavor from just the base level of gameplay, but upon reaching my first dragon statue I discovered the hidden depth this game has. Progressing through the game lets you use experience points, being young gives you more benefits such as increased stamina for blocking. Experience and score can be used to grow your arsenal, unlocking moves from as simple as a snap kick, to the more masterful techniques of rain of strikes or environmental mastery letting you fling stools, bricks and even knives at foes as you move about the varied areas on display. That’s probably one of my favorites bits of this game, you actually use the environment. Contextual takedowns, alternate routes, and unique weaponry give you such variety of ways to handle the enemy before you. Now all of this was not learned in a single life. Death lingers around every corner and while it punishes you with the pain of age, trading in some health to return to combat, you gain your own experience and an increased damage output. This mechanic is maybe the most unique way of handling the souls-esq return to life thing, as you don’t start at the last check point, you start back right where you died, aged by years sometimes, ready to finish it. A feat I’m sure has horrifying ramifications for lore of this world, but luckily the bad guys just kind of say, oh hell no, and move on.
The moment-to-moment action of Sifu is exhilarating bringing stylish kung-fu flourishing into each second, and its loop of death up to certain point, making you feel like a master fighting time as much as his enemies is expertly implemented. With a visceral sound design that works in pretty much every setting except any time there has to be dialogue. I don’t know if it was just me but several times, the vocals were completely inaudible. This may be fixed with an upcoming patch, but for now it really hinders some of the choices in the narrative. Beyond that the story is one of simple revenge even when faced with some characters who had moved beyond the criminal activity that put them in your sights in the first place. It’s nothing new in the realms of this type of story but is a nice backdrop to the action kung-fu of its gameplay. I’ve repeated and died close to a hundred times, improving each time pushing forward further into the levels. At the end of each area is a boss, one of the men who attacked your family. These fights are by far the most deeply difficult fights, as the speed of combat vastly increases, and new mechanics are thrown at you in quick succession. The very first boss starts his flurry on mix-up attacks with a spinning kick that will knock you to your knees so fast. Then when you get past that nonsense he pulls a machete on you a disappears into a forest of bamboo that he made. Which seems unfair but okay, it’s a ton of fun to have the combat become familiar only have it mixed up in such a fantastically different way. Yes the systems at play are the same but the results are exciting to play.
With fast paced action, interesting replayable levels, and a deeply nuanced fighting system Sifu makes a standout from a design stand point, but the lackluster story and audio problems hold it back from attaining its nirvana. But for the incredible amount of difficulty and style deliver a well round Pak Mei experience full of homages and excellent set pieces. Sifu scores an 8, excellent.
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