Street Fighter IV PC Review
Capcom's got a good history recently of porting their big-name games to the PC. If rumor is to be believed, Capcom actually gets a working build of most of their games going on the PC, and only then do they finish up the console versions. Then they polish the PC version and release it months afterwards - not only to delay widespread piracy of their bigger games, but also to often give PC players the DLC content for free, which is a nice bonus included in the already lower $50 price tag. (Before you ask: in this case, nope, no free DLC with Street Fighter IV.)
But Capcom has often struggled with the controls on its PC ports. Even going back to the old ports of their classic Street Fighter games, two players couldn't reasonably play without some gamepads hooked up, which back in those days was a pain in the ass to set up. Nowadays, Windows Vista and 7 have made it much easier to plug Xbox 360 controllers in and play PC games like they would a console game - for most PC gamers, that's a horrible idea, but it's fantastic for Street Fighter IV.
And that's because an arcade stick (or at least a solid gamepad built for fighting games) is just about the only way to get the most out of SFIV. Keyboard option? Sure, it's there, but you really don't want to do that. Get a stick or a pad and you'll find that Capcom's PC port of this intensely competitive fighting game is just as good as the originals, and can be made better with a solid video card, high resolution widescreen monitor, and a decent internet connection.
The visual style in SFIV is probably the first thing you'll notice: the characters are lifelike and vibrant, stylized and animated with an over-the-top charm that rarely falls into a generic anime stereotype. Oh, sure, they're bristling with a decidedly Japanese style and a couple of the fighters are cringe-inducing, but overall I think you'll find that SFIV has some of the best character animations seen in any game. And that is a huge help in a fighting game, where the feel of the fighting is so hugely influenced by the look and movements of each of its combatants.
While the pro players out there still take issue some of the game's high-end balance problems, most are grudgingly accepting it as part of their stable of favorite fighting games. Still, it's hard to see any of the long-term problems with SFIV when you're starting at the bottom. Most characters are pretty close in ability and the learning curve is fairly smooth in moving up in difficulties in the Arcade mode. You can hone your combo-executing abilities in the training and Challenge modes, and the online play will give you a diverse range of opponents that so far run the range from complete newbies to seasoned veterans trying to beat up on the new PC players.
One of my favorite features is the ability to play Arcade mode and have the game continually search for opponents online; even on the PC, I've found that I can't even get through one match against the AI without finding someone that can easily kick my ass repeatedly. Maybe I've actually gotten worse at this game compared to when it came out on consoles months ago, but maybe I just keep getting paired up with players who have had months of practice on consoles by now. Either way, I want to make sure people know that SFIV is not a game to be played alone at home, and if all you ever do in the game is casually pop through the brief Arcade Mode one time with each character on an easy difficulty, then you probably won't be too happy with it at the end. But if you start diving into the intricacies of how focus attacks work, using mixups, and finding the best way to sneakily start an Ultra combo on an unsuspecting enemy, you will find much more depth. The only way to really do that is to either get a buddy or start playing online, because the solo play is not going to hold you for long.
Luckily, it's easy to start playing with someone else, even if it's with one copy of the game. Under a recent beta of Windows 7, I tested out a range of game controllers: generic USB gamepads, wired and wireless controllers for the 360, and PS2 gamepads and joysticks converted to USB with an adapter. Everything I had with a directional pad or arcade stick that ended one way or another in a USB port worked just fine. And yes, all the controllers I tried worked together for versus play on the same PC.
Performance in SFIV is fantastic, too: most modern gaming PCs will have little trouble running this game at a rock-solid 60fps, and on mid-range machines you might have to knock the details down a little but will often still be able to get a very smooth frame rate. Slower PCs and anything with integrated graphics are going to struggle, but this should not be a surprise for anyone who's tried to play a PC port of a current-gen console game. Still, I think you'll find it often does better than most PC conversions like it, and I was able to get the game running on some older laptop and desktop hardware at fairly decent frame rates. I think the only thing I'm really disappointed in is that you can't go online against Xbox 360 players - I could understand for a shooter where mouse and keyboard controls would give PC gamers an unfair advantage, but not for this, not when anyone playing remotely seriously has at least picked up a decent gamepad.
Despite a couple of minor complaints, Capcom has done a fine job porting SFIV to the PC, and its integration with Games for Windows Live is about as good as I think we can expect at this point. Yes, GFW still needs years' worth of work before your average hardcore PC gamer will accept it, but for now, it does what this game needs: solid matchmaking for online play and a full range of achievements. If you missed the SFIV boat on consoles, then there's plenty to like about it on the PC - it's not the same kind of competitive action you'd get from Call of Duty, but it's plenty intense and for many PC gamers it should offer something fresh and new. Just be ready to get your ass kicked online for at least the first couple of weeks while you learn to play.