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Sifu – One to watch for 2022

Sifu caught my attention at the first trailer showing back in February 2021. This is a close-quarter, fighting game, and looks like the video game equivalent of movies like Ip Man, Drunken Master, and The Raid. If you’re a fan of kung fu and other similar fighting styles, then you may want to pay attention to the upcoming Sifu.

Sifu is being developed by SloClap, who were the brains behind another fighting sim called Absolver. Whereas Absolver was all about multiplayer fighting, Sifu looks more like a single-player game, where you take on a series of enemies. The initial trailer had me sitting up from my chair, given the main protagonist was sighting nearly 10 enemies in a corridor, just with his bare hands.

In Sifu, you play as a young kung fu student on the hunt for the murderers of his family. The game is set in a fictional Chinese city, and it’s your job to track down and kill members of the gang behind the gruesome crimes against your family. There’s a variety of settings including wide-open streets filled with people, corporate towers, and claustrophobic corridors.

There is a mystical feature to the game. You have a magical pendant around your neck and this protects you from death, however, there’s a significant cost attached to the pendant. You may live after brutal fights, but you age rapidly. Every time you die you get older, and also wiser too, unlocking new abilities as you age.

At its core, Sifu is a 3d brawler, where you have to battle enemies with your hands, feet, plus you have a bunch of weapons to play with too. Players can interact with the environment to create weapons too, like bottles and pieces of wood. But the most deadly weapons in the game are probably your fists. Sifu is all about positioning, timing, and understanding your environment. For example, players can push enemies downstairs, or off the top of high buildings. Understanding where you are and how you can use the environment to your benefit in the fight is going to be key to making it out in one piece.

The game is heavily inspired by martial art cinema and the developer SloClap has cited Jackie Chan, The Prodigal Son, and The Raid as direct inspirations for the game. If you like these movies, then it’s worth checking out Sifu.

Felix from SloClap described the kung fu combat on Playstation’s blog recently.

Building on our experience working on martial arts gameplay with Absolver but focusing this time on a single-player game, we wanted with Sifu to offer a unique player experience, heavily drawing from kung fu and martial arts movies. Fighting villains by the dozen in a nightclub, jumping over tables and throwing bottles, we want the player to feel like the main character of a kung fu movie.

In terms of design, it meant for us striking a balance between credibility – realistic combat techniques, faithful animations – and esthetics, with crisp action and immersive camera framings. With Sifu, we wanted to mix the esthetics of classic kung fu movies with the raw close-quarters combat found in modern movies such as The Raid, Old Boy, or John Wick.

The combat system draws from these different inspirations. We want the gameplay to offer a challenge consistent with the kung fu values of training and self-improvement. And we want players to experience a progression, to feel like they are learning kung fu, improving, and progressively earning their power fantasy.

We designed what we called the Structure system, to emulate the real combat notion of impacting and breaking the stance of your opponent, his ability to attack and defend himself. It takes the form of a gauge, for both you and your enemies. If you manage to break your opponent’s structure, you will be able to finish them with a powerful takedown, which is the opportunity to display the devastating techniques of Pak Mei. But if your own structure gauge is filled, you’re unable to fight and defend yourself for a short duration and you will find yourself vulnerable to your enemies’ attacks.

Blocking attacks will quickly fill your balance gauge, and we’ve given the players a few more flexible defensive options. Dodges will allow you to create space at key times and can be life savers. But more importantly, parrying hits at the right time will let you deflect the blow, unbalancing your opponent and opening opportunities to counterattack or to throw them down. You can also avoid blows altogether, by ducking under or jumping over incoming strikes. It is particularly useful against strong hits that you can’t parry or to quickly recover balance and strike back at your opponent.

The player will start with an offensive kit able to deal with any opposition, but it will take you some time to learn the different properties of the techniques available to you. You can mix strong and fast attacks to build combos, on a single enemy or going from one opponent to the other. And as you progress and unlock new skills, you will have more options available to fit your playstyle and how you like to approach challenging situations. You will be able to knock your enemies down, push them back into their allies, stun them or disarm a threatening foe. It will be particularly useful as you start fighting more and more opponents at the same time.

Fights against multiple enemies are at the heart of the Sifu’s gameplay experience. We aimed at finding the right balance between having the player feeling surrounded and challenged, but not overwhelmed by the amount of aggression coming at the same time. We’ve chosen to use a dynamic lock system for the camera, to allow for quick and responsive swapping between multiple targets. We’ve worked on optimizing the game to ensure a stable 60FPS frame rate on PlayStation 4, as well as on PS4 Pro and PS5 of course, to provide a smooth and reactive experience. We want combat to feel like a back-and-forth motion, with enemies forcing the players to react, to use a variety of crowd control techniques and good positioning to prevail.

Beside relying on their favorite Pak Mei techniques, players will have to make clever use of the environment to overcome the unfavorable odds they will be facing. We have introduced usable elements to all combat situations, be it furniture you can toss into your enemies’ feet, throwable items, makeshift weapons or tables you can leap across. They add options for the players, who are free to approach a given situation from different angles.

Finally, players will be able to rely on precise and powerful techniques through the focus mechanic. Focus is a resource that builds up as you fight, filling up charges that you will progressively unlock during your playthrough. Using a focus charge will slow down time and allow you to choose a weak point of your opponent to perform a devastating technique, disabling or seriously wounding your enemy. Players will be able to access different focus attacks as they unlock new skills, allowing them to adapt to specific situations they struggle with.

This overview may give you an idea of what will be expected of you to learn kung fu and achieve your revenge in Sifu, but nothing replaces good practice.

Sifu is going to be available on PS4, PS5 and PC when it releases on February 8, 2022.