Sifu Review – A Test of Solution


Mastering a martial art takes years, if not a lifetime. Disciples have to hone their bodies in such a way that they execute every attack, every counter-attack, every move with utmost precision. A skilled warrior must move without thinking. Likewise, mastering Sifu’s combat system requires a high degree of dedication and practice. Like a true martial artist, you have to endure the practice pains before reaping any reward.

In 2017, Sloclap released the martial arts themed action/RPG Absolver, which allowed players to design their own combat system while battling other online players in a unique fantasy world. Absolver suffered from the bare-bones environments and uninspired design of the quest, but the core combat was solid. Sloclap’s sequel hones that combat system around a more focused single-player adventure. The premise is promising, although the execution is flawed.

At its core, Sifu is a simple revenge story. Eight years ago, a band of mysterious villains brutally murdered your master, and you’ve devoted your life to tracking them down and bringing justice. Unfortunately, the leaders of this attack are hiding behind dozens of bodyguards, and the odds are not in your favor. But where your opponents have the numbers, you have the gift of resurrection. A magical talisman on your hip revives you when you fall in battle. The catch is that every time you die, you get older. Each death adds one digit to a death counter that dictates how many years you age during the rebirth. For example, after your first death, you only age one year, but after a few knockdowns, you can lose five or six years in seconds. This aging system is a useful way to track your progress in the game, and I enjoyed seeing how my character’s demeanor changed as the gray hair and wrinkles set in.

Sloclap designed his combat system around the movements of Pak Mei kung fu, an ancient martial art full of fluid and often explosive attacks. These stylized characters and smooth animations make for stunning battles that seem ripped from the very best Kung-Fu movies. In the blink of an eye, I slammed an enemy against a table, causing broken glass and table legs to scatter in all directions. The next second, I kicked a basket across the room, knocking an attacker to the ground before slamming a bottle in the face of another nearby enemy. When everything is running at full throttle, Sifu’s fights are well-choreographed ballets of broken bones. And being on top of a pile of defeated enemies is an incredible rush that chased me throughout the experience.

Unfortunately, navigating Sifu’s battles flawlessly requires incredible precision with strict timing requirements that detract from the flow of the game. Surviving these vicious streets requires expert use of blocks, dodges and counters, and a simple slip exposes you to an opponent’s onslaught. These enemies also hit hard, taking a good chunk of your health bar, which feels punishing. You gain some health back by performing advanced removals, but that recovery is meager compared to what you lose during a single enemy combo. Fighting enemies in packs increases the challenge, and you must maintain situational awareness and balance each threat while dishing out the pain. I like this added tactical element to combat, but I don’t appreciate having to fight the camera at the same time; enemies will occasionally come from off-screen to disrupt your combos, and those attacks feel like cheap shots.

Completing each level of Sifu is a sizable but rewarding challenge. Unfortunately, the game’s structure exacerbates that challenge. Once you reach the ripe age of 70, your talisman will break completely and it’s game over. When this happens, you have to restart the level completely. A few unlockable shortcuts make any run on a boss a little more manageable, but I grew tired of repeatedly running through the same areas until I perfected my approach. To make matters worse, you start each level at the age you completed the previous level. This makes sense, but from a gameplay standpoint it forced me to revisit earlier levels over and over to complete them at a younger age, so I had more years to play with later.

As you earn your chunks, you also gain experience, which you can use to buy new skills. Some of these abilities seem essential, such as the ability to kick objects from the environment at enemies. Sanctuaries scattered around the area provide additional benefits, such as improved weapon damage or a boost to the amount of heat you get back after each removal. Unfortunately, some skills and perks get blocked as you get older, which forced me to go back to the early levels again to gain enough experience to unlock those skills before making them disappear permanently. This whole process was a bit tiring.

As a 20-year-old warrior, Sifu comes out of the gate strong. The core combat feels great and the moment-to-moment action looks better than most Hollywood blockbusters. Unfortunately, as you progress, the action starts to show its teeth and eventually becomes a tiresome rut. Sifu deserves props for his incredible sense of style and tone, but it’s also a great example of why getting old isn’t always fun.


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