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One of the biggest challenges in the videogame industry is keeping an ancient franchise alive through sequels and reiterations. Capcom and Konami are two of the oldest companies in the biz, and their biggest flagships have undoubtedly been Street Fighter and Metal Gear. In this generation, they're both up to their fourth major installment, released to much anticipation. Question is: which one carries its torch better? To find out, we're going to evaluate Street Fighter IV's strengths, and then lazily compare it to MGS4!


Street Fighter 4? Really?

When the gaming public heard that Capcom was making "Street Fighter 4", everybody kind of raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Really?" we wondered, "Why even bother?" With series like Resident Evil and Devil May Cry hogging the scene ever since the introduction of the third dimension in console gaming, a slew of failed Street Fighter installments under its belt, and not much loyalty to the series remaining, what could they really hope to accomplish?

What we didn't know was that Yoshinori Ono — the producer of the game — was smart. Rather than mindlessly following the trend of "arena fighting" or a new set of high-definition 2D sprites (a la the new King of Fighters), he opted for a game that looked 3D, but played 2D. But not just any old 3D graphics would do. Shunning photorealism in favour of a quasi-cell-shaded style meant that the game's visuals captured the same cartoony mayhem of the old games, while avoiding being comparable to other 3D fighters such as Soul Calibur or Tekken, which look dated as soon as better hardware comes along. It sets itself apart, and makes you forget about the awful EX series altogether. Boldness like that doesn't happen much in Japanese game companies.

MGS4, on the other hand, had a solid reputation, was in high demand for years, and yet tragically submitted itself to all of the idiotic demands of fans, creating some sort of "are you happy now?" implosion. No real boldness or innovation, no labour of love, just a shitty job that needed doing.


Where it counts

Fast, fluid, and flashy are three words you don't normally use when describing a modern fighting game, but Ono was determined to keep the original spirit of Street Fighter II alive and healthy, despite major skepticism from inside Capcom. By wisely choosing to include everybody's favourite characters and only introducing a small handful of new ones, he completely avoided the disastrous mistake of SFIII. Call it nostalgia or call it fanservice, but there's no shame in bringing back the classics when you take the time to improve and refine them. In contrast, Metal Gear Solid 4's sappy attempts to reunite the gang only serve to highlight how badly things has changed for the worse, creativity-wise. Sure it's easier to re-introduce a fighting game character with hardly any storyline than it is to weave in old characters from a convoluted, linear science fiction drama, but the bottom line is that including any old favourite without doing it justice is an easy way for it to backfire. Metal Gear Solid 4 reeks of patronizing fanservice, while Street Fighter IV feels like the real deal, better than ever.

Every fighting game should be simple and fun for everybody, while also being deep and technical enough to warrant hardcore devotion. But judging by the competition, that seems to be too much to ask. Stagnantion has ruined the vast majority of fighting games, to the point where the only area developers can think to improve is the graphics. And while SFIV does indeed improve the graphics, it's not in an obvious way, and is consistant with several other important innovations.

There are two major reasons why SFIV really does kick ass gameplay-wise: lots of distinctive fighting styles, and great defense mechanics. Looking at the selection of warriors available (after they've all been unlocked), it really is impressive just how vast the scope of gameplay potential is. Granted, it may only seems that impressive in the light of the generic garbage that we're used to nowadays, but that doesn't make it any less fun, which is the point. Because while people tend to ignore the "lame" fighters such as Blanka or E. Honda, or forget about obscure characters such as Gen and Rose, all of them are balanced and interesting in the right hands. The all-new characters are particularly representative of the game's direction; instead of churning out some generic imitations of existing characters, each one is extremely distinctive and employs a set of foreign-feeling abilities. Love them or hate them, they each add a new layer to the game's strategic depth, and are memorable enough to grow on you over time. (I'm not including Seth here.)
You probably didn't even notice I switched Abel's head with Simon Pegg's. That's because they're the same.


Ken Fighter 4

Which brings us to online mode. "Ken Fighter 4" is the nickname a lot of people gave SFIV when it first came out, and for good reason: every newbie gravitates towards him like a moth to a flame. He's fast, offense-heavy and cocky, and you'll be sure to face more of him than anyone else when you look online. But there's a natural balance here, since, as I said, SFIV has great defense mechanisms and a wide selection of characters. Having your heavy attacks blocked leaves you vulnerable for a split second, and there is a chargeable "smash" movie that can easily counter a predictable move. "Button mashing" will not get you far in online mode, especially in Ranked and Championship modes.

Online modes are built to encourage and reward those who are victorious, but unlike MGO it doesn't force you to "unlock" better "skills": everybody has the full arsenal right off the bat, and it's up to the players to simply master the hidden potential. The (relatively) top players are even allowed to upload a single replay of their chosen fight, which anyone can watch and rate. If you want to see the game balance and its pinnacle, do yourself the favour of watching some pro-level Cammy and Vega fights.

One area where SFIV and MGS4 are quite similar is in the matchfinding system: both suck. MGO's problem is that it's a pain in the ass to create multiple (entirely redundant) new accounts, followed by endless disappointment with the random teams you have been stuck with. SFIV's problem is... well... half the time you ask the game to find you some potential matches, it gives you some bullshit error about how it can't find one, or how you are unable to play. But once you do get into a fight, it's everything you could want; so at least there's an incentive to put up with the annoying parts.



When all is said and done, Street Fighter IV does everything right thanks to bold (and yet prudent) designing, while Metal Gear Solid 4 stumbles gracelessly under the weight of its load. The future is once again bright for Street Fighter, whereas Metal Gear? ...Oh well, it's not like Kojima cares anymore.




All original content © Terry Wolfe, 2008. Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid and all related logos, characters, artwork, etc. © KONAMI CORPORATION
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