(Continued from Part 2)
Part 3: Defence! Defence!
As many have noted elsewhere, back-dashes, blocking, run-away, zoning and general defensive play are all very strong in SFIV. When analysing my losses at SFIV online, the most common fault I could see in my own play was “I should’ve ‘just blocked’ more”. Or as I also use to say a lot when I played SFIV frequently:
“Guile’s most powerful move is walking backwards”
Now this might seem contradictory to my comments in Part 1 about execution levels and combos, but what it leads to is a prevalent style of play with many characters which I’d describe as “turtle then bust out with a difficult high damage combo in the few good opportunities”.
Here’s some examples of the power of defensive play in SFIV :
The upper tier characters are thus the ones that can mount the best style of this play (Sagat, Ryu, Demon) or the ones that can break the deadlock the most easily (Demon, Rufus). The real problem is that many people, myself included, just don’t find this style of fighting game play that much fun. The Guile match above is a perfect example of how I know I should play with Guile, but the tedium of doing so fight after fight after fight is what drives me away; and leads me to try to experiment with far more offensive tactics which can work against weaker players or weaker characters, but just gets me killed once I run into someone good. Once again, it’s all a matter of taste of what you enjoy. I don’t mind defence necessarily, it just depends how strong and how repetitive it is. For example I enjoy some defensive matchups with Dee Jay in HDR because although they tend to quite mentally gruelling, it’s not at all a matter of pure defence generally speaking – there’s still much more variety of moves and playstyle needed.
The other defence related problem is Ultras. Whilst conceptually some kind of ‘comeback mechanic’ is a fun idea for a fighting game, it’s method of implementation in SFIV leaves a lot to be desired. David Sirlin’s questioning about Ultras is all very valid, and my current response would be very similar to this excellent response there:
(Comeback mechanics can…)
“1-Reverse ‘local momentum’ (suddenly you’re no longer falling further behind in score but instead catching up and you’ve reset a situation to bring it back to a more neutral local slippery slope)
2-Score points (in this case deal damage to the other player)
3-Reverse the lead (you’re ahead from a benefit of the comeback mechanic)
4-Reverse the slippery slope (you’re now taking more advantage of a slippery slope rather than your opponent) chances are if 3 happens this happens.
Personally I’d say a comeback mechanic is good if, when executed properly, it can do 1 and 2 always 3 as a rare case and almost never 4. To me it sounds like in SFIV it does all four. From your description if a player is low on health the opponent would have to be ahead of that other player by around 51% of their life bar to not have the ultra reverse the lead. That seems a little heavy handed as a comeback mechanic to me.”
This is neatly summarises why I find the risk/reward of Ultras in SFIV is really screwed up. They are literally just too powerful, which instead of making them fun offensive comeback tools, actually tends to turn the match into yet more defense. What makes them worse is that they are also rather unbalanced amongst characters, so some characters can take full advantage of them, and others can’t. Quite apart from the fact they have widely disparate execution requirements (Guile’s Ultra was nigh-on impossible to me originally, until I did lots of practice and got a better joystick), there’s also the general utility of them. Guile cannot realistically combo or setup his Ultra move at all (making it useless in higher level play), whereas someone like Sagat or Abel can do so fairly easily.
So, much like SFIII, you get a game where generally the characters that can use the subsystems the best, end up the top-tier characters. In fact in an interview Graham Wolfe listed “ability to combo practically into Ultra” as one of the things a character needs to compete at SFIV. Once again, it’s this is an area where SFIV generates low variety (everyone has Ultra functioning in a similar manner) and yet have low balance (generally need to have an easy combo into Ultra to compete) at the same time.
To be continued in Part 4…