Sifu looks like it could become your next favourite Kung Fu brawler. It looks like a hybrid between style fighters like Devil May Cry and the tried and true Arkham brawling style. It wears its influences clearly, which is obvious from its story: Five assassins came and killed your family. Now you have one night to take them down.
Each of the game’s five levels will see your protagonist – which can be male or female – on this journey for revenge, hunting down one of these assassins. Each assassin has their own hideout, which is themed around one of the five Chinese elements: Fire, earth, water, wood, metal. Each level will begin as a grounded contemporary city area, with aspects of mythology seeping in more and more until each confrontation with a boss.
This mythology is most apparent in the protagonist. Whenever the player dies in combat, they will immediately respawn where they fell and continue to fight. The cost for this power is that each time it is used, the character will get older. If the protagonist becomes too old, then it’s game over. From here, players can either restart the current level or start the whole night again as a radical anti-ageing routine. However, it’s not that simple: with age comes more skill. As Kung Fu is said to take more than a lifetime to master, time will gain you more precision and power in your strikes. However, you will be able to take fewer hits. This also asks how much of your life are you willing to give in the pursuit of vengeance?
While Sloclap’s previous game Absolver was designed as a one-on-one PVP fighter that allowed players to mix and match styles to find their own, Sifu takes a more focused approach. The main character uses a specific, aggressive style of Kung Fu known as Pak Mei. While there are no options to branch out to a different style, there are over 100 attacks that players can learn. Each attack is a combination of heavy and light that can wreak havoc on opponents.
Most fights in the game will see you outnumbered. As such, you will have to use every tool in your arsenal to take out your foes. Entering a fight and hitting an unaware opponent will instantly allow you to take them down. Otherwise, every enemy will have a health bar and a structure bar. This operates similar to the poise meter in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Attacking opponents might not always deal damage but will increase their structure bar until eventually it is filled. This opens an opponent up to a speedy takedown move. Players will also have to manage their own structure bar, which increases with every block until the player becomes staggered.
There’s the usual mix of movement options too, including a dash to close the distance, a parry to counter enemy attacks, and a dodge for evading unblockable attacks. Parkour moves will also let players scramble up walls or over seating to reposition and limit enemy attack paths. The scenery will also be an important part of your combat strategy. Some combos end in stuns and pushes. If a pushed enemy goes down a staircase, over a table, or trips over a downed foe, they can fall and take extra damage. Players can also use objects in the scenery to hit opponents at range. These can vary from bottles to artisanal Russian dolls.
Enemies are also not that enthused about playing fair, and can rush players with weapons. These foes will need to be approached differently to avoid the massive damage they can dish out. If a player can pull off a knockdown combo, then they can disarm the enemy and take the weapon for themselves. While this will give you a powerful tool, they will eventually break, so they shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily.
Most of the enemies you’ll face off against are gangs of small-time brawlers, but special enemies will change things up. One of these is an enemy that uses several speedy kick combos to overwhelm the player and rush them down. Another is named “the big guy”. He’s a big guy.
Sifu also pays homage to several martial arts movies. A hallway scene switches to a side-on view to mimic the original Oldboy; a nightclub has a backroom fighting pit that’ll be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen Jet Li’s Unleashed. The game isn’t only cute references, though. The giant paint dripping kunai fight shown in the trailer contrasts with the dirty street fights.
Throughout the game, you will find opportunities to investigate items or dialogue options. These feed into a detective board. As the board fills up, the player can unlock shortcuts and information on the assassin they are hunting. This should make levels easier to clear and boss fights easier to deal with.
Each fight will reward players with scores which can then be used at shrines to improve abilities and unlock skills. One skill that Sloclap demonstrated was the rush slide kick. This skill lets players sprint and knock over an opponent, potentially disarming or disabling a serious threat when a fight begins. Another option is the position swap skill which allows you to manoeuvre yourself around opponents and keep yourself clear of danger.
Sifu is shaping up to be a solid display of brutal fighting that celebrates the skill and mastery involved in martial arts. A story of vengeance could be the cherry on top of a creative and reactive fighter that rewards players the more they play and master. Sifu could be a complex and deep combat game with space for truly stylish and efficient fight scenes.
Sifu will release February 22, 2022 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.