Sifu is one of the most unique modern beat em' ups in recent memory delivering stellar flowing combat.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to star in a blockbuster martial arts movie? The latest game from developer Sloclap puts you into the shoes of a kung-fu master as you train and battle to avenge your family. On this path of revenge you are an "army of one" against waves of countless enemies. You must learn, adapt and use your combat skills and environment to carve through foes and bring the killers to justice.
What makes Sifu so unique is the game's outstanding hand-to-hand combat, it's the best I've ever experienced. At its peak, it flows seamlessly in a ballet of beatdown. On the downside, one false move can set you back in a major way, making this an extremely difficult game. If you are willing to put in the time to master the combat, an excellent hard-boiled journey awaits. Sifu's graphics are beautiful, the story is engaging, and the path of revenge is a brutal test of skill. If you are up to the challenge, one of the best modern combat games awaits.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC
Genre: Action-adventure, Beat 'em up
Modes: Single player
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Revenge is a dish best served cold
In Sifu, you are martial arts student on a lifelong vendetta against assassins who murdered your father. The game unfolds in a single day where you must move through different districts of a modern-day city in China seeking out your foes. You'll explore gang-ridden suburbs, a bass thumping night club and sterile hallways of corporate skyscrapers as you seek revenge. In terms of story and character development the dialog is direct, and there are several cutscenes which break up Sifu's action quite well. Think of more noir kung fu flicks the likes of Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan have starred in and you start to get the idea. It's lighter on plot but heavy on pulse pounding action. Sloclap has also made the entire experience more cinematic with dramatic camera angles and stunning environments.
Incredible hand-to-hand gameplay
Sloclap has absolutely nailed the kung fu fighting mechanic, it makes the game an absolute joy to play. Pulling off perfect parry's and then bringing down a foe with a well timed combo offers an amazing sense of satisfaction. Sifu's controls are intuitive, responsive and simple, but mastering them takes a lot of time.
"Sloclap has absolutely nailed the kung fu fighting mechanic, it makes the game an absolute joy to play."
The game doesn't hold your hand, Sifu is about learning the intricacies of the combat system with plenty of trial and error involved. That being said once you get a handle on the gameplay it's extremely rewarding.
Environmental awareness is key to success
The game also forces you to be aware of your surroundings at all times, as finding weapons to use against your enemy can be the difference between victory and defeat. You'll fight an army of henchmen from different martial arts styles that each have their own specialties. If you get crowded, it's game over, using throwable objects like bottles can stun enemies and give you a brief reprieve. At times it feels overwhelming, but the more you master the combat system and maximizing the environment, the more fun it becomes. Sifu is definitely a game where you need to invest a lot of your time due to the steep difficulty curve, but the sense of accomplishment is well worth it.
The combat system is absolutely punishing
Sifu's one major downfall is that its difficulty makes this game very frustrating at times. The game punishes even the slightest mistakes, missing a parry can end up sending an endless amount of combos at you, without little time to recover. The game is extremely difficult to master, and it can be quite the grind.
"The game is extremely difficult to master, and it can be quite the grind."
Sorting through Sifu's intricacies takes time and patience is required to figure out how best to approach any given situation. It would be ideal to see the early game tutorials better flesh out defensive strategies to give more players a fighting chance.
Another unique mechanic introduced in Sifu is the "Aging System." You start your journey as a fresh face 20-year-old and have your age increase each time you die and respawn. Once you pass age 70 you face a sort of "permadeath" and need to restart the level you are on. When you continue, you'll pick up your journey from your last, highest age. This doesn't reset after each level, so much like in real life you need to carefully manage the time you have. It adds a layer of desperation, because emerging from one level at a much higher age means you have less chances before needing to start all over again.
Visuals and level design
Sifu's visual aesthetics are simple, yet beautiful providing a stunning backdrop for all the high intensity action. The five different regions of the city offer a big contrast in visual variety. From the first level's broken down streets to modern business suites, Sifu is a visual feast.
"From the first level's broken down streets to modern business suites, Sifu is a visual feast."
The level design also stands out with interactive environments that become part of your arsenal. From loose furniture, bottles, bats, windows and more you can really choreograph some insane combat sequences. You'll also want to keep an eye out when battling through levels: there are keys and access cards that will provide shortcuts for future runs. You can replay entire levels if you wish, but the shortcuts help when you are trying to progress unscathed.
Feel every strike with the PS5’s DualSense controller
I did a majority of my testing with Sifu on the PlayStation 5. Sloclap has done a terrific job with the integration of the DualSense controller as it uses the haptic feedback for both touch and sound. I’ve been singing the praises of what the controller brings to the table since experiencing ASTRO's Playroom for the first time, and along with Returnal, Sifu uses the hardware in similarly innovation ways.
From the very outset of the prologue, you can feel raindrops ping off you through the controller during the dark and dreary sequence. In the game you explore garbage laden alleyways you can hear and feel flies buzzing around your character. The same goes for walking past indoor fans, you can feel the wind blowing on either the left or right side of the controller. It does a lot to add to the immersion of each of the different environments you are in.
Most importantly, the combat sequences come through the DualSense extremely well. Whether you are going hand-to-hand in an offensive flurry or blocking incoming attacks, the different levels of force come through the hardware. The second level of the game features a bass thumbing club with dance floor showdown. The musical beats coming through the controller along with the flying feet and fists is a sensorial pinnacle for the game. It gave me flash backs to John Wick-style action sequences.
" The bass coming through the controller along with the flying feet and fists is a sensorial pinnacle for the game. It gave me flash backs to John Wick-style action sequences."
Final Thoughts Sifu
Sifu is a punchy, one of a kind experience that will linger in your mind long after the credits roll. It's frenetic and brutal combat system is rewarding when you learn how to play with finesse and flow. It's a game that could really use more accessibility options in the way of difficulty options but if you are up for a challenge, you've definitely found it.
"Sifu is a punchy, one of a kind experience that will linger in your mind long after the credits roll."
The game gives you the tools to be a martial arts master, its up to you to show off your karate skills. There is undoubtedly a brutal learning curve, but if you are up to the challenge, it's an incredibly rewarding experience.
+Stylish combat that flows from one encounter to the next
+A massive repertoire of over 250 moves
+Stunning visual style
+Dynamic soundtrack that responds to combat
-Extreme learning curve
-High low combat mechanic is difficult to juggle
-Few accessibility options
Overall Rating: 36/40 (90%)
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.