This action game from Sloclap looks like a well-rehearsed martial arts movie, and that has us very excited.
Earlier this year on a PlayStation State of Play broadcast, Sloclap, the developer behind Absolver, unveiled the next project it has been working on. Known as Sifu, this singleplayer adventure revolves around its broad hand-to-hand martial arts combat system, and before a delay a few weeks ago until February 2022, we were even expecting it to land this year. I've recently had the chance to check out the game in a little further depth, in an opportunity where the developers showed us a look at some gameplay behind closed doors, and so far, it's looking like quite an impressive action experience.
But, before we dive into the gameplay and the depth of the combat system, let's talk about the storyline. Sifu puts you in the shoes of a young kung-fu student who is on a path of revenge, seeking those who murdered his/her family. On a solo adventure, against pretty incomprehensible odds, you'll have to hunt these bosses who lurk in their heavily-protected hideouts as you seek vengeance for their actions.
While there is a typical revenge story at its core, Sifu has a little more depth, because the protagonist wears a mystical pendant, a special piece of gear that rewards failure with a touch from father time. Everytime you die in a level, you age, gaining wisdom and strength at the cost of resilience. It plays into the old master fantasy, where age is not inherently a burden, and despite what your appearance may suggest, time has not weakened you. And this design goes a step further, because you can use this magical piece of gear to go back in time, taking your experience and knowledge gained on previous runs to your advantage in the future.
This isn't quite to the extent of, say Arkane's upcoming action game Deathloop, which relies on repeating a day a lot to learn more about the plot, but knowing a less enemy-heavy route, and likewise using failed experiences to improve your mechanical skills in combat might just make it easier to survive through a level, if you catch my drift.
Anyway, the meat of the dish: the combat. While Sifu does have a narrative at its core, the majority of its gameplay revolves around its hand-to-hand fighting system, which from what I've seen looks truly top notch. You can do the typical melee fighting stuff of punching, kicking, dodging, and blocking, all of which require their own inputs, and then on top of that, there are combos to learn and use to your advantage. These don't seem to be on the level of a traditional fighting game like Mortal Kombat asking you to memorise a fifteen input code to nail a move, but it will ask you to input a series of commands to make them work, i.e. X,X,X,B.
You're probably thinking that all of this is pretty run-of-the-mill right now, and you're right, it is. But, it's how Sifu connects its combat and movement systems together that makes the game look enthralling. Every action seems like it has been designed to be used right after one another. Think a Jackie Chan or a Donnie Yen martial arts movie, where the action choreography is so high-quality and well-rehearsed that it seems like a violent dance. That's what Sloclap has seemingly created with Sifu.
Granted, I have yet to play the game myself, meaning I can't speak for whether the game feels as good to play, as it does to watch. But considering you can even interact with the surroundings in a deep wealth of manners, including kicking chairs at enemies, throwing foes into walls to stun them, picking up debris as weapons to use them to your advantage, there seems to be a lot to look forward to.
With a system in place that will see you replaying the game until you have the mechanical talent and know-how to beat the brutal challenge in your way, you'd probably think that there isn't that much of a progression system in place. But, there is. You can unlock new skills and abilities, upgrade your resilience and damage, all to further master your understanding of kung-fu. And these carry over runs, meaning while you might be starting from scratch a lot as you find your feet, there's player development to be found outside of just improving your understanding of the intricate combat system.
Following up on the comparisons of iconic martial arts movies, Sifu uses an animation style and even manipulates its camera to make the action look more impressive. In the gameplay I've seen, there was a section that turned the camera to the side and paid homage to that scene from Oldboy (you know the one). Then there was also a cage fight scene, a deep combat sequence in a nightclub, and even my personal favourite, a museum fight in a room with a giant hanging, swinging kunai dripping ink that left trails as it was knocked around. The point is, the combat seems to be the driving force for Sifu, but the environments and the visual framing will absolutely stick with you all the same.
Sloclap gave us plenty to check out with Sifu, but also noted that plenty will be subject to change ahead of launch on February 22, 2022. So far, I'm very excited for this game, but I also have to temper my expectations until there's a chance to test the system, see how the combat feels and plays for myself. But, if the gameplay is anything to go by, we're in for a treat when Sifu does drop in around six months.