Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance [Playstation 2]

Every so often I will actively purge my videogame collection of all the games I know I’ll never play again, or those that I haven’t touched for years. I used to keep everything but, over time, I’ve managed to wrestle the inner hoarder into partial submission. After all, there isn’t the time to keep up with new releases let alone return to everything I’ve already experienced. You have to be realistic sometimes and simply let go. Tying in with this philosophy, I recently decided to turn a critical eye towards my PS2 collection. I’ve long considered this shelf to be slimmed down to the bare essentials but when “essentials” is still around fifty titles, there remains space for improvement.

Rather than simply get shot however, I’ve decided to play some of these games again to see whether or not they actually hold up in the harsh light of 2020. First up, Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance, a 2005 beat ’em up from Capcom. When I originally played this, I loved it. I considered it to be underrated; a hidden gem if you will.

But how does the 2020 edition of me feel about Beat Down?

Continue reading “Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance [Playstation 2]”

Walking the Streets of Rage once again…

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It’s been a while since I posted something here on Darkstalker90. There are various reasons for that but I won’t bore you with those because that’s not why you’re here, is it? You’re here for some gaming-related content so I’ve skipped over the (frankly embarassing) backlog of semi-completed drafts to talk about a game that has commanded my attention over the last week or so: the mighty Streets of Rage 4.

Go back just a few years, and SoR4 would have been just a fantasy – one of those games that cropped up on many a retro-head’s I-wish-they-would-make-this-but-they-probably-never-will list. The franchise’s future seemed to be confined to re-releases on retro Sega compilations and those iffy plug ‘n play devices. Sega themselves had tried and failed in the 90’s to develop a Streets of Rage 4, and the popularity of the side-scrolling beat ’em up had rapidly waned with the demise of arcade-style gaming.

So it was a pretty earth-shaking shock to say the least when Streets of Rage 4 was first shown in 2018. With Sega acting solely as a licensor this time, it was down to the collaboration of Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush games to do the series justice and deliver on twenty-six years of fan anticipation. No pressure, then… Continue reading “Walking the Streets of Rage once again…”

Review – Anarchy Reigns (Playstation 3)

anarchy-1Platform(s): Playstation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Year: 2013
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Third-person beat ’em up

“Platinum” and “Games” are two words that should absolutely be put together, because when you do this, you get the name of one of the most interesting and creative studios in modern gaming. It’s not the done thing to include personal bias or opinion within critical assessments but screw the rules; this reviewer is a Platinum devout and will buy any new game from the developer regardless of any pre-release impressions.

I have a great deal of faith in Platinum. After all, this is the team that brought us Bayonetta, Vanquish and Madworld – all highly entertaining, off-the-wall thrillfests. Let us not forget that before Platinum there was Clover Studio, a group responsible for God Hand, Okami and Viewtiful Joe. Combine the works of both Platinum and Clover and you get one hell of a fucking resume.

So with that gushing intro out of the way, you may expect me to proceed into a glowing review for 2013’s Anarchy Reigns.

You’d be wrong.

I really like this game but, objectively speaking, Anarchy Reigns isn’t a must-play classic.

A familiar criticism

That’s not to say that the game is bad, because it isn’t – at all. But it’s certainly a case of style-over-substance. Platinum’s calling cards of over-the-top action, non-conformist game design and liquid nitrogen-cool styling are all present in Anarchy Reigns but none of this can disguise the fact that the game feels lacking in content. Essentially, it’s a case of Platinum’s signature flair compensating for an extremely thin experience. Whether this succeeds or not is down to personal opinion. For me it does, because I adore the game’s artistic design and no-fucks-given attitude but, if you prioritise gameplay over art, then you’d be forgiven for thinking, “is this it?”

Anarchy Reigns is a third-person beat ’em up. Playing as either Madworld‘s chainsaw-armed brute, Jack Cayman, or pretty-boy Bureau of Public Safety (BPS for short) operative, Leo Victorion, the player journeys through two interwoven stories. Jack’s is the “Black Side” while Leo’s is called the “White Side”. Once both are completed, you can access the “Red Side” and Anarchy Reigns‘ true conclusion. In principle this is a nice idea because you get to experience the same story from both lead characters’ perspectives.

Each character’s side of the game consists of four chapters. Each chapter takes place in a hub world containing three side missions and three main story missions. One of Anarchy Reigns‘ main issues arises straight away here: the repetitive and rigid structure. You must achieve a set amount of points, either through completing missions or beating up the respawning hub world enemies, in order to unlock the next side/main mission(s). If you are good at the game, then you can reach each point quota instantly by completing a mission with either a gold or a platinum ranking. If you just about scrape through the missions with a poor score however, then you might have to replay side missions or just keep battling the hub world enemies to build up points.

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Things can get a bit mental, sometimes. [Image Source]
I managed to achieve the gold or platinum medals on most missions so I didn’t encounter too much of the grind but on the few occasions where I did struggle, it was certainly irritating to have to replay side missions or wander around laying waste to weak enemies until I’d collected enough points.

The hub worlds aren’t all that interesting either. On the positive side, the terrain boasts some nice elevation changes and air vents/boost ramps that send your character flying through the air to different parts of the map. Also, every so often, it will start raining and much stronger enemies will replace the standard Killseeker thugs. Random hazards will also enter the map, such as an out-of-control Mad Max-style fuel tanker, poison gas or jets that carpet bomb the region. Unfortunately, all of these chaotic elements are pretty predictable and scripted, doing nothing to disguise the emptiness of the maps. Other than fighting respawning enemies to earn points, or triggering missions, there isn’t anything to do; no collectables or secrets to look for either. They remind me of the lobbies that you get in some online games where you are free to idly mess about until enough players have joined.

I don’t want  to keep sticking the boot into Anarchy Reigns‘ hub worlds but it also doesn’t help that there are only four of them, and that you will play through them again in the same order with the second character. I can’t help but wonder if this structure is a way to artificially pad the game out because a more straight-forward sequential stage/chapter structure similar to Bayonetta – to use one of Platinum’s own games as a reference point – would have eliminated the majority of the repetition, grinding for points and over-familiarity with environments.

Violence is the solution

Fortunately, the combat goes some way to redeeming the game by being satisfying, if nothing revolutionary. It’s fairly standard third person, over-the-shoulder arena-based brawling. You have light attacks and heavy attacks to construct simple combos with, grab moves and a 360 attack that saps a small portion of health. You also have access to devastating “Killer Weapon” attacks that utilise Jack’s chainsaw or Leo’s energy blades to deal out massive damage, though the use of these attacks is reliant on a gauge that is refilled (pretty quickly) by standard fist fighting.

You can also knock enemies into the air to set them up for aerial combos or drop down from above to damage multiple enemies with a ground-shattering blow. Dropping from huge heights amplifies the latter, transforming the standard drop attack into a “meteor” blow resulting in big damage.

The final ability in your arsenal is the “Rampage” mode. Fill this gauge up by fighting, and, once activated, your character becomes invincible and their attacks much more powerful. What’s more, hitting stronger enemies or bosses initiates a cool move where your character batters the enemy with a flurry of lightspeed punches for huge damage.

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Jack’s back, now in colour!

As you’d expect from a game like this, there is also a lock-on feature and the ability to roll out of the way of incoming attacks. As far as third-person beat ’em ups go though, Anarchy Reigns doesn’t really offer anything new or different but gets away with it thanks to the meaty feel of the combat and the more than convincing impact of the pain you dish out as either Jack or Leo. Weaker enemies explode beneath your fists and the Killer Weapon attacks tear them apart. There’s plenty of excessive blood spraying around too. It’s furious, crazy and pretty satisfying. It makes you feel powerful, as all good beat ’em ups do.

You do take damage from the strong enemies and bosses fairly quickly though (if you’ve played Bayonetta then this should sound familiar) so you have to be on the ball and fight a bit more tactically rather than charging in Dynasty Warriors-style as you are able to do with the mobs of weak enemies. The majority of missions and boss battles will give you a stock of three lives, auto-reviving you on the spot to continue the fight should you fall. Obviously, however, your score and resulting medal will suffer the more you continue.

As I’ve already said, the gameplay itself does do a lot to compensate for the uninspiring game structure but it isn’t all perfect. The bosses for example can all be approached with the exact same wash/rinse/repeat method, regardless of what moves they boast or how they come at you. You hit them with a combo or two, get clear, roll out of the way of their attacks or combos, then hit them again and restart the process. Oddly enough, the large Mutant and Berserker enemies are actually more of a challenge than the game’s bosses since they are difficult to stagger and can end you in a handful of hits.

The Rampage ability is also incredibly OP against bosses. All you have to do is spend a little time wasting enemies in the hub world(s) to charge up the Rampage gauge, so that you have it ready before beginning a mission. Then, you can usually rely on depleting at least half of your opponent’s energy through a barrage of Rampage combos, even if they guard against some of your punches before you break their defence.

Collectable power-ups can also turn you into even more of a powerhouse. You can only carry two at a time but rocket launchers and rifles are notably powerful. The temporary shields and invisibility power-ups are best saved for dealing with multiple Mutants or Berserkers. There is also an item that allows you launch into Rampage mode regardless of how full your gauge is. So, if you are packing this bad boy as well as a full gauge, you can unload on a boss with two Rampages in a row and make a fight a one-sided affair.

Platinum strikes again

Now we’ve come full-circle and I can talk about the positive side of the earlier style-over-substance observation. If you want style and creativity in your videogames, then Platinum always has yo’ back, and Anarchy Reigns certainly doesn’t buck that trend. The game has a post-apocalyptic cyber-punk theme going on, with its decayed Mad Max-style world design and mechanical prosthetics galore. There’s a lot of detail in the design of the maps and the enemy models, and you can clearly tell that the artists enjoyed creating the robots and mechanical augmentations for the bloodthirsty Killseeker enemies.

The main characters are a bit stereotypical in that the men have enormous muscles (that would put Arnie to shame) and the women are all sexy with big boobs. I’ve seen some reviewers marking Anarchy Reigns down for the sexualisation of the female cast but I personally just view all of that as being part of Platinum’s design style. I’m here to be entertained after all (not to care about politics and the #metoo brigade) and Platinum are all about entertaining.

Jack Cayman is as badass as he was in Madworld – a hulking “Chaser” (bounty hunter) with no fear who just doesn’t give a shit. Several other Madworld characters are playable in the game too including the hilarious pimp-like Blacker Baron, his assistant, Mathilda, the heavy-hitting cyborg, Big Bull, and the Crimson Dragon girls – Rin Rin, Fei Rin and Ai Rin. My favourite of the new characters is the BPS agent, Sasha Ivanoff but that’s just because I’m a sucker for the Russian accent and a shiny silver, clingy bodysuit.

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I like Sasha, unsurprisingly. [Image Source]
Though you are primarily playing as either Jack or Leo, some story battles see the protagonists team-up with other characters and you can choose which character to play as. This is a pretty sweet feature as it gives you a chance to play as some of these other cool characters that you’ve previously only seen in the cut-scenes. Mechanically, they all play the same as Jack or Leo but there are variations in speed, attack power, combo strings etc. As you progress through the game, you gradually unlock the other characters to use freely when replaying completed chapters. If you purchase the game’s DLC, you can also play as Platinum’s slinky, butt-wiggling witch, Bayonetta, which is pretty fun – especially if you’ve played the Bayonetta games as her Torture techniques feature in her combos.

The game’s soundtrack – a mix of smooth, jazzy notes, energetic hip-hop and industrial tones – is a varied mix for sure but it all works. Some of the battle music will stick in your head long after the game is switched off for example.

Conclusion

It must be noted that I didn’t discuss Anarchy Reigns‘ multi-player mode in this review and that’s because I haven’t played it. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t a huge seller and by all accounts, the online side is dead now. It’s one of those instances where I regret not giving the online modes a go back when the game was new but, ironically, it was only during this second play-through in 2019 that I really came to appreciate the game. The online was meant to have been very fun, however, and it was a large focus point for the game which goes some way to explaining the puddle-deep single-player campaign that can be put to bed easily in under ten hours.

Even so, that short lifespan can’t be ignored, especially if you are considering picking Anarchy Reigns up today.

This is one of those games that you will either love or hate. The thin, repetitive gameplay, questionable single-player structure and combat that can take a while to properly “feel” might leave you cold and asking, “is this it?” but, if you value the cool factor, then there is a seriously fun beat ’em up here with some hard-hitting brawling. Additionally, if you love the Platinum ‘way’ then you will already know exactly what to expect from the crazy gameplay, wacky characters and the game’s gloriously non-PC streak that offers a middle finger to sensibilities.

Urban Reign [Playstation 2]

Ever since the decline of the arcades and 16-bit home console era, there have been quests to find worthwhile modern examples of the genres that were driven close to exctinction by the arrival of cinematic, story-driven games. The beat ’em up is one such genre that flourished in the late 80’s and early 90’s but quickly became irrelevant to the mainstream. Developers attempted to take advantage of polygons and update their classic franchises but the results were a mixed bag to say the very least. After all, the likes of Fighting Force can hardly be discussed in the same breath as Final Fight…not by anybody with any taste anyway!

The PS2/Xbox/GC era was a particular low point as far as beat ’em ups go and there genuinely aren’t many decent ones to speak of. When they did appear, they weren’t quite the same as their 2D forerunners. I’ve already reviewed Final Fight Streetwise here but that game – along with Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance – included semi-free roaming gameplay as well as other features such as stat upgrades, side missions and cutscenes. The core beat ’em up objective (to smash the crap out of thugs and hoods) was still there but the purity of the arcade classics was lost.

One game that frequently gets brought up when gamers are questing for a good beat ’em up from the new millenium is Namco’s Urban Reign for the PS2. Like its rivals however, Urban Reign isn’t quite the game you might expect and simply expecting it to be a straightforward beat ’em up actually invites disappointment as I recently discovered.

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A Misunderstanding…

I was expecting Urban Reign to be a 3D version of the old-school arcade beat ’em ups. You would have thought I’d have learnt by now that this just isn’t enough to sell a game in the modern era but even so, I popped the disc in and was prepping myself for perhaps ten to fifteen stages of ‘scrolling’ through streets and alleyways, punching thugs and making my way towards a boss at the end of each level. Bloody hell…get with the times old man! That shit was so 1992.

Instead, there is a brief cinematic introduction to the main character (Brad Hawk) who is apparently the new hard-arse in a town ruled by crime and violence. Brad starts working for Chinese crime boss, Shun Ying Lee, a female swordswoman equipped for the Playstation 2 generation of videogame marketing with a low-cut jumpsuit and an eye-popping B-W-H ratio that doesn’t exactly reflect a typical East Asian woman. The plot is henceforth communicated via narrated text boxes before each mission and is your standard guff about rival gangs, turf warfare and all that stuff so nothing new to see here. I was expecting cut-scenes perhaps but almost thirty missions in (yes, I’ll get to that in a moment), it was still just text explaining why Brad needed to go and beat up a rival gang boss or why Brad had to survive an alleyway encounter with a mob of gang members. Pretty soon I was skim-reading the ‘plot’ and just skipping it all. Wuthering Heights this wasn’t.

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Hit the streets and go toe-to-toe with thugs sporting ridiculous names. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This was beginning to look bad. Urban Reign didn’t sell very well by all accounts and it isn’t difficult to see why. The main character looks bland, the cover for the game is boring and the usual mid-2000’s videogame tropes are all correct and present: female character with huge tits and highly impractical outfit? Check. Generic homie ‘gangsta’ enemies? Check again. Unnecessary plot that tries to hard? Big fat ol’ check. The other probable reason that Urban Reign underperformed at retail (aside from barely being marketed at all by Namco) is because the gameplay itself was likely not what punters expected. Perhaps gamers made the same mistake I did and expected a modern take on the classic beat ’em up style with the same game structure. It’s difficult to know for sure but what you actually get is something a bit different.

Instead of long, roaming stages that trap you with groups of enemies before allowing you to move forwards, Urban Reign serves up bite-sized missions that can be cleared quite quickly. The player is enclosed within a confined, limited arena-like space (be it a street, alleyway, bar etc.) with objective of simply beating all of the enemies. Sometimes you have to take down a more challenging foe in a one-on-one scenario and sometimes there are extra conditions such as defeating opponents within a time limit but the basics are the same. It feels like a series of small challenges and the game more than makes up for the lack of a complex structure with the sheer amount of these self-contained missions.

Repetition – in terms of both the gameplay and the reasons the game gives you for having to fight the next assortment of undesirables – set in with me quite quickly but after clearing thirty missions, something amazing happened.

There’s actually MORE to this game?

So I beat the thirtieth mission and FINALLY a cutscene and some form of plot progression! By this point, I was seriously not expecting it at all but here it was. More importantly, the game gives you a selection of partners that you can take along with you into battle (a roster that gradually increases as you beat key enemies and they join your cause) and this brings special team-up style attacks to the mix. You can also issue directions to your buddy and get them to take out certain enemies or initiate special team-up moves.

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It’s a shame that it takes so long for the game to introduce everything it has to offer.

Before I get into discussing the actual game mechanics, I need to take a moment to really look at this late introduction of the rest of Urban Reign‘s features. For it to take thirty missions for the game’s plot to wake up and decide to continue is crazy, even more so when you consider that Urban Reign is not a walkover. I played the the game on the default difficulty setting and many of those first thirty missions were incredibly challenging (for reasons I will discuss when talking about the actual gameplay in a moment) and took a lot of retakes and patience to beat. It’s not hard to imagine gamers getting frustrated by the challenge with (seemingly) no game development being dangled in front of them like a carrot to keep them pushing forwards. That and the fact that it takes this long for the partners to become available. It’s almost as if you have been playing a massive tutorial for all this time except the road certainly isn’t your standard tutorial difficulty.

So with that mini rant out of the way, let’s have a look at the actual gameplay itself because it’s reasonably interesting for a beat ’em up. The most surprising thing for a three dimensional beat ’em up is that there is NO block/guard button. Instead, the whole fighting system is based around countering. Pushing the square button at the precise moment will allow you to avoid a strike or grapple. However, to really do damage and beat the tougher enemies, you also need to get countering and you can either do this by responding immediately with a combo or by pushing the analogue stick left/right while dodging which shifts your character behind the opponent, opening them up for difficult to avoid counter strikes or grapples.

It’s an easy-to-grasp, tough-to-master mechanic and you can get away with not being good at it for the easier missions but many bosses will simply not hit the deck unless you can consistently counter their attacks and punish them with follow-up combos and throws. What this system does in general is force you to either stand your ground and learn to counter or run away and find space but enemies in Urban Reign will catch up to you very quickly so the second option isn’t exactly reliable. It’s a case of getting good…or else!

(Analogue) Stick it to ’em

As far as the offensive combat goes, the analogue stick pays a crucial part. Mashing the attack button will unleash a character’s basic combo string but attacking in conjunction with pushing the analogue stick up or down allows to target their upper and lower body regions with the latter usually being some kind of sweep that can provide crucial seconds to breathe when under pressure. You can also attack downed characters by pushing down on the stick when next to them.

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Strongman Glenn is one of my favourite available characters.

Grapples work in the same way, allowing you target specific parts of an enemy and deal greater damage when it comes to “destroying” one of three body zones, allowing for bigger damage when targeting said zone with further attacks. Perhaps it goes without saying but there are different holds and throws available depending on whether you are in front or behind an enemy. Sprinting takes a bit of getting used to because instead of double-tapping the analogue stick or holding a button whilst moving (as in many other 3D action games), you press the X button once and your character begins running automatically, only stopping once you go for another input. You can slide-tackle enemies or even run up walls and leap off to attack enemies from above.

There’s a reasonable amount going on but the real fun comes when experimenting with creating big combos of strikes and grapples. This being made by Namco, there is Tekken-style juggling and wall-bouncing which is both a help and hindrance. On one hand, you can use it to your advantage to extend combos and even grab enemies mid-air for context-exclusive grapples. The downside is that you can get destroyed very quickly by enemies when being smashed against a wall over and over or trapped in mid-air, being comboed by multiple foes. In a sense, losing feels extremely cheap when the CPU goes apeshit on you like this but the counter system does work mid-combo and in mid-air albeit with strict timing so it isn’t entirely unfair. It simply forces you to get good at the game rather than rely on button-mashing and it’s this that sets Urban Reign apart from old-school 2D beat ’em ups. There is some depth to combat here and if you want a better visual demonstration, check the game out on Youtube where there are videos from players doing an amazing job of utterly schooling the toughest enemies on the most savage difficulty.

One issue which I can’t really forgive is the fact that it doesn’t take much to stun your character and render them momentarily dizzy, leaving you unable to respond to attacks with dodges or counters. An SPA (Special Arts) move will immediately snap you out of this state but it consumes precious meter which you are (obviously) trying to conserve to go on the offensive.

Final Thoughts

There are a hundred missions in Urban Reign‘s story mode to clear and once those are polished off, there are some more interesting things to have a play with. Multiplayer for instance gives you more of a fighting chance when an actual person is controlling your partner (though the AI is actually quite solid in this respect and often wins the missions for you). There is also a Challenge mode (think ‘Survival’ against individual foes) and a Free Play mode which allows you to replay all of the story mode’s missions for a rank. This last mode is of greatest interest as you are no longer restricted to using Brad Hawk and can roll with a tag team of any two characters providing they have been unlocked. All of the main allies from story mode are present but you can also unlock the random enemies/thugs as well as brand-new characters including guest stars Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law from Tekken!

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Paul is pretty epic in Urban Reign and beating down thugs with his signature moves is worth unlocking him for.

But should you persevere with the main game and go to the lengths of unlocking characters? I would say “yes” because Urban Reign might not be what most people are expecting i.e. a mindless (not meant in a derogatory way) button-mashing beat ’em up that harks back to the 2D days but the game is great in it’s own way. The combat is very satisfying once you have gotten to grips with the counter system and learnt some combos and there is genuine challenge on offer. So many missions made me think “Damn, this is impossible; how are you expected to win here?!?” but you keep coming back and trying again, slowly getting better and better at the game until you get that perfect run on a mission. True, you sometimes have to rely on flukes, CPU slip-ups or cheap tactics to win but for the most part, you feel like you have earnt that victory and it is SO satisfying to finally overcome an against-the-odds mission.

The major downside is the amount of time that Urban Reign needs to get going. Without trying to sound impatient, it takes far too long for any story progression and – more importantly – too long for partners, weapons and all of the special moves to become available. Gradually developing a character’s skills and unlocking stuff in games is nothing new but the issue here is that it DOES take too long and the game does a poor job of communicating your actual progression and end goals. This combined with the often ruthless difficulty will be off-putting to many – especially if they expected a different kind of game structure – but if you can stick with it and learn the mechanics then there is a really enjoyable beat ’em up experience here and certainly one of the best of its generation.

Pigs Fly as Streets of Rage 4 is announced

Us grizzled, old-school gamers have waited a very long time for this day: the day that an official Streets of Rage 4 is announced. It was one of those most-wanted sequels that seemed doomed to never happen but as the likes of Shenmue III have proven in recent years, never say never.

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Sega themselves aren’t on development duties this time around. That honour falls to a conglomerate of developers/distributers consisting of Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games and Dotemu who – between them – are responsible for the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Irem Arcade Hits and Streets of Fury to name just three projects.

The initial trailer shows SoR mainstays Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding back to doing what they do best: beating the shit out of hoods in an urban 2D environment. Not much is given away but it has to be said that the art style is utterly drop-dead gorgeous as well as completely hand-drawn which is a serious turn-on for me in an age where even 2D fighting games have polygons hidden in the background.

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There’s no sign of Max, Adam or any of the other classics as of yet but this is very early days so I see no need to start getting concerned. What I can see is that Blaze looks sexier than ever while Axel’s new facial fuzz has made him look more than a little hobo-esque. But otherwise, the art is beautiful, the animation superb and it’s amazing just to be able to have a brand-new Streets of Rage on the way at last.

The original fourth installment was to be a 3D game back in the 90’s (since going 3D by default was THE law in the 32-bit era) before it hit troubled waters due to a disagreement between developers Core Design and Sega, the game morphing into the lacklustre Fighting Force. A further demo by original SoR developers Ancient was put forward for the Dreamcast but this too came to nothing.

Ironically, it was an unofficial fan-made project that was arguably the greatest sequel to the SoR saga. Streets of Rage Remake was an incredible achievement that fused all of the levels and characters together for a huge, branching game with lots of new features. You could now play as enemies such as Mr.X, Shiva and Electra and mess with the expansive settings to pick and choose the best bits from each of the original games to create a truly enjoyable custom Streets of Rage experience. Sadly, Sega missed a trick by not picking the game up and officially releasing it, deciding instead to put the corporate boot down and ensure that Remake was pulled from the internet which is a shame because many will not have experienced this love letter to a series that Sega (at the time) had left to die in the gutter. I imagine that Remake is still available somewhere however; this IS the internet after all…

Anyway, Streets of Rage 4 certainly has a lot to live up to with both its official and unofficial predecessors raising the bar so high. What I have seen so far looks very promising however and I genuinely cannot wait to get my hands on the game.

Linky Linky to the trailer!

 

Final Fight Streetwise is NOT a bad game

Now that I have your attention with that outrageous title, I guess I will need to justify making such a statement and with good reason. Whenever the topics of worst videogame reboots and worst modern updates of classic franchises get brought up, you can bet a fat wedge of your hard-earned money that Final Fight Streetwise will make it onto that list. It’s easy to see why too: the game was released in that awkward mid-noughties period when publishers seemed to believe that what their cherished franchises needed to succeed on the PS2 and Xbox was grittiness, tits and gratuitous profanities. Many series’ fell foul of this notion (an entire topic in itself) including Capcom’s much-loved Final Fight beat ’em up series.

Eternally a sucker for the more obscure stuff that lies at the dusty side of this well-travelled road we call “Gaming”, I decided that it was high time I played the game for myself to see if Streetwise was really deserving of its poor rep.

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Even bad games increase in value due to their notoriety. The going rate for Streetwise in 2018 is £7-£10.

The shocking thing was that I found myself enjoying the game! After hearing nothing but hatred for Final Fight Streetwise over the years, this was a big surprise. It certainly goes to show that popular internet opinion isn’t always correct and that you should always try a game out for yourself before joining in the chorus of condemnation based on what you have heard/read or seen in video footage.

That’s not to say that the game is a classic or anything approaching that because there ARE many things that are wrong with it. The big elephant in the room is of course the ‘Final Fight’ name on the box and the depiction of the likes of Cody, Guy and Haggar in this game. A lot of the scorn for Streetwise stems from the fact that this game is part of the Final Fight saga and fans of the older games were (understandably) pissed that their beloved franchise and characters were radically different this time around. If Streetwise had traded the Final Fight connections for new, original characters then it probably wouldn’t have invited such a critical pasting and would have simply been another 3D beat ’em up for the PS2 generation. Unfortunately, Capcom decided it was safer (ironically) to trade on an established name, a move that sealed Streetwise‘s fate from the beginning. The irony continues however when considering that Capcom also developed an original 3D beat ’em up title for the PS2 called Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance. This game was objectively better than Final Fight Streetwise in several respects but still no classic yet a lack of connection to an established, much-loved series counted in its favour.

FFS-1
Gritty urban surroundings and guns? The Final Fight resemblance was a bit thin.

To describe the gameplay, I’ve taken to billing Streetwise as a crap version of Sega’s Yakuza. That’s to say that there is a free-roaming nature to the game (albeit confined to a much more limited, less interactive game world) with 3D combat, the use of weapons and an upgradable set of moves/combos. Different areas of Metro City are gradually unlocked as the game progresses and there are a variety of side missions as well as a series of pit fights against opponents that stand out from the general street thugs and gangstas. All of this considered, it’s easy to make the comparisons between Metro City and Kamurocho but if Sega’s highly detailed crime saga can be likened to a Ferrari then Streetwise would probably be a Ssangyong or a Dacia by comparison.

And as a I mentioned earlier, the game fell into the trap of pandering to the teenage boy audience that every publisher was trying to sell games to in the mid-2000’s. Metro City is a gloomy, miserable urban environment this time around with a look of extreme decay and social rot about it. F-bombs and all manner of other swearing are casually tossed about, blood flies during brawls and hookers hang around on street corners, trying to sell the main character their wares. Fortunately, Streetwise doesn’t let you go any further with the latter and the dilapidated city’s porn theatre is conveniently never able to serve you due to the “register being down”. A soundtrack of gangsta beats from obscure artists serves as backing noise (and I really do consider it to be “noise”) and completes the transformation of the once colourful, cartoon-like beat ’em ups from the arcade and Super Nintendo.

FFS-2
Darker and more ghetto than before.

You play as Kyle Travers, brother to Final Fight‘s Cody Travers and an up-and-coming fight club brawler. Many years have passed since the events of Final Fight and Cody is now older with knackered knees that can’t take the abuse of fighting anymore so he puts his time into coaching his brother instead. Cody still feels the burning desire to fight however and finds himself mixed up with shady underworld types and a dangerous new drug called “Glow” that can turn the average man into a superhuman machine at the eventual cost of the user’s mind and humanity. A dangerous gang crashes a drinking sesh at the local bar and kidnaps Cody with the gang’s leader – known as The Stiff – knocking Kyle unconscious at the conclusion of the brawl. This is where the game kicks off properly, with Kyle’s aim being to track down his brother and save him from Metro City’s underworld and the lethal Glow drug. Final Fight has certainly grown up since the old days eh?

Along the way, Kyle runs into strong man Haggar (angrier and swearier than before) and Guy who has now become a gang boss himself, heading up the Japantown district of Metro City. There aren’t really any more links to the Final Fight lineage other than these characters and a few references to their past exploits. The only classic Final Fight enemy to make a return is Andore as an optional pit opponent. Concept art for the game showed Poison and Sodom but neither made it into the final game.

Thus far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Final Fight Streetwise is a load of nonsense, trying to be cool and hardcore while re-writing the likes of Cody and Haggar to be grittier, more ‘realistic’ characters e.g. exactly what nobody asked for. Gangsta music, a drug-related plot and the more violent nature of combat certainly suggest this so you may be wondering why I’m saying that Streetwise is not actually a bad game?

FFS-3
You say bad, I say so bad it’s brilliant.

Well, the “bad” stuff is often so bad that I found it entertaining with so many crappy aspects of Streetwise lending the game a unique sort of charm. The awful NPC dialogue and quotes for example are just brilliant. Metro City appears to have a large population of flamboyant men making overly saucy remarks to Kyle in passing, (one such comment even referencing a “package”…whatever that means…) while hookers come out with such brazen lines as “Fancy a shag?” or “Wanna have a poke?”…in laughably posh British accents which obviously make the world of sense in an urban, American city.

Side missions often take the form of mini games which are a stark contrast to the game’s moody, violent vibe. One standout distraction is a card shuffling game where you must keep an eye on the winning card as it is shuffled with two others. You play this game by speaking to a suited businessman who just happens to be hanging around in a bad part of town, briefcase of playing cards at his side. Other amusing mini games include (literally) stamping out a cockroach infestation in the diner, smashing up a car that has enraged a local resident by being parked in their way (a nice throwback to the car-smashing interludes in the arcade game) and…blasting rubber ducks in an alleyway shooting gallery to win cash? Yep, that happens. The novelty of these side events does wear off once they begin to repeat over and over but there’s no denying that they are – initially – quirky and unexpected in a game where you expect to simply be fighting.

FFS-4
I’ll be honest, as interesting as this was, I still didn’t bemoan a lack of G-Con2 support.

Speaking of the fighting, it’s actually not that bad. Yes, Final Fight Streetwise had contemparies that arguably did combat better (Urban Reign, Spikeout: Battle Street) but Streetwise is still more than serviceable. There are the standard light and strong attacks to create combos as well as the obligatory throw command. In addition, there is also an “Instinct” meter below the health bar. This energy can be used to enhance the power of moves (by holding down one of the shoulder buttons while attacking) or to fuel the use of stronger special moves such as the drop kick or suplex. Kyle can also counter an opponent’s attack if the player presses the block/guard button at precisely the right moment, sending the game into a brief slow-mo sequence where they can input various commands to evade damage and knock the enemy back. New moves and extensions to the health and instinct meters are purchased from the game’s various gyms, giving the player a reason to collect as much cash as possible from side events and enemy drops.

It’s nothing special but it works and there is a reasonable level of satisfaction to be gleaned from the combat, especially when consistently countering like a boss and sending enemies flying with an elbow smash, nose-breaker or hurricane kick.

Other sweet touches are a cameo fight against Street Fighter‘s Cammy (as a big fan of Cammy, I loved this) and a bonus arcade mode whereby you select Kyle, Cody, Guy or Haggar and attempt to fight your way through hoardes of enemies as in the old-school arcade games. Arcade mode takes on a strange 2.5d perspective with a fixed route and a much simplified moveset including a removal of the Instinct system (so no counters either) and many special moves. It’s an interesting sideshow but good luck beating it on your own without a second player because it’s absolutely brutal. Finally, you can unlock the original 1989 arcade game and play it from Streetwise‘s main menu but in all honesty, I can’t recommend the port as it feels sluggish with a poor resolution. Stick to the Capcom collections on the PS2 or PSP if you want to play classic Final Fight. Or the superb Final Fight One for the GBA.

FFS-5
I wish this costume for Cammy had made it into one of the Street Fighter games as an alternate outfit but I imagine Capcom are keen to forget Streetwise ever happened.

Overall, I have to say that Final Fight Streetwise is not the absolute trainwreck that I was waiting to experience when I popped the disc into my PS2 after all these years of reading negative horror stories. Yes it is a flawed game and no, it isn’t an essential gem in the PS2 (or original Xbox’s) library. There are better 3D beat ’em ups available from this generation of gaming – without question – but I do feel that Streetwise receives a lot of flack for being a bad Final Fight game rather than a bad game in general. Strip away that famous name and you have a serviceable beat ’em up with some interesting quirks. It isn’t a bad game at all; it simply failed to live up to the Final Fight name but that was always going to be the case.

The one major complaint I personally have is that the save system is terrible. You can only save by quitting the game (not explained in-game or in the manual) and loading a saved game puts you back at your last checkpoint (also not explained in-game or in the manual) meaning that until you realise this, you can lose a lot of side-mission progress by believing that you have saved the game at your current point when you haven’t. Other small niggles are repetitive mini games, some fiddly bosses and the final few chapters feeling more like Resident Evil with zombie-like enemies and mutated bosses.

But Streetwise still isn’t a bad game. I couldn’t exactly recommend it but I COULD recommend that you open your mind a little, forget the Final Fight name and give the game a chance because it’s alright.