sifu preview

Sifu Preview – I Know Kung Fu

Sifu is a much anticipated homage to Chinese martial arts films, give players a Jackie Chan fantasy as they work through environments, beating down waves of enemies in the pursuit of revenge. But what is the cost of vengeance? Every time you die, you’ll age up, which means that by the time you have accomplished what you set out to do, you could have wasted years, if not your entire life, on retribution. While it may not be coming out until next year, we got a chance to sit down with the developers at Sloclap and look at three stages from Sifu, as well as get a better understanding of its mechanics.

Sifu’s five levels are inspired by the five Chinese elements—wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. While stages begin generally designed after contemporary urban China, they slowly transition throughout to be more representative of the magical elements as you get closer to the bosses, a gradually escalating esoteric fantasy. Level design is often inspired by martial arts movies—like one shift to a side-scrolling corridor fight that’s an homage to Old Boy and beat ’em up games—but they’ve made sure to clarify that Sifu isn’t just a bunch of tropes and references stitched together. It stands on its own.

sifu preview

The first level we saw was a series of back alleys, streets, and apartment buildings. The second was a slice of a bumpin’ night club, complete with a secret fight club in the back. And finally, we got a look at the pristine white walls and clean sharp lines of a modern museum, a perfect place to break some of the displays while tangling with enemies. Very distinct level designs make sure you never feel like you are simply retreading ground. After all, the game is essentially just a lot of fighting, so much of the variety had to come in the form of different enemies and different environments. Both of these elements play an enormous role.

Sifu Preview – Martial Arts Fantasy

Sifu’s general fantasy is the “one man against the world” idea, combat against multiple enemies, and general crowd control. Various combos play into this, with different effects like knockdowns or pushbacks as you dance among the available enemies. Getting one on their heels can open up opportunities to take on another without added pressure. Environmental interactions are a big part of that gameplay, whether that’s picking up items, using contextual environmental takedowns, or just tossing enemies down an empty stairwell. Items will break quickly too. This isn’t a game where you are intended to pick up a bat or something and use it for the rest of the level. You’re supposed to shift through things fluidly. And be warned, enemies can use items against you too.

Efficient combat can have the effect of scaring remaining enemies, and making them surrender. From here, you can try to ask them questions to gain more information. However, there’s some risk here too. Sometimes efficient combat will make the last-man-standing go berserk, a semi-random result that can turn a basic enemy into a kind of mini-boss to take on.

sifu preview

Enemy archetypes play a big role in presenting new challenges, and you’ll need to learn their patterns, attacks, and how they can each impact you, as well as how to best counter them. And they aren’t exactly going to tell you how either. The first time you’ll learn a heavy has a strong grapple will most likely be the first time the heavy rushes in and grapples you. Sloclap reiterates that Sifu will be challenging. It’s intended to be. You will die. And your pursuit of vengeance will cost you.

As you play, information gets fed to the detective board, which retains everything even if you die and age up, opening up potential shortcuts and revealing new information you can take into your next attempt with you. Sometimes Sifu will offer dialog options ahead of confrontations in order to try to get more information. You can try to investigate, resolve the situation peacefully, or approach it in an aggressive manner, and depending on your behaviors, not all dialog options will always be available.

Sifu Preview – Not a Roguelike

Sifu is, in a way, a lot like a roguelike or a soulslike, but at the same time, has nearly nothing in common with roguelikes or soulslikes at all. In fact, Sloclap wanted to reiterate that this isn’t not intended to be a rogulike “loop” game like Hades or Returnal. Similarly, it adopts some metroidvania elements, while being nowhere close to any other metroidvania. (I’m very interested to see where the analysis of Sifu’s genre ultimately lands following its release.) There’s no randomization to enemy setups or level layouts, but players are expected to learn over time. One fight we saw showed a developer rush into a room, where an enemy was waiting just out of view to attack. Previous knowledge gave the developer a leg up in this situation, where new players would have been blindsided. Sifu is about learning over time, and its replayability will come from trying to achieve your revenge without wasting your entire life on it.

sifu preview

Sloclap gave us a brief glimpse at some other gameplay elements, like Shrines that let you unlock perks and stat improvements based on things like your age, the combo meter, and other metrics, but being one of the features that was still begin finalized, they didn’t commit to too many details just yet. Still, it seems that improvement in the game isn’t just down to player skill. You’ll be able to effectively level up your abilities in various ways.

All in all, the extended look at Sifu presented a brilliant new view into what the game is beyond its action-packed trailers, and gave us a good idea of the pacing beyond the action. It also showed in no uncertain terms how Sloclap achieves that fantasy of being Jackie Chan or another Chinese martial arts action hero, brilliantly translating complex choreography into gameplay that utilizes every element in each scene to impressive result.

Sifu releases on February 22, 2022 for PS4 and PS5.