Sifu Review – Vengeance Is Strenuous

Developer – Sloclap

Publisher – Sloclap

Platform(s) – PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PC

Release Date – February 8, 2022

Disclaimer: Review Copy was kindly provided for this Review

The packed month of game releases for February is finally upon us. Dying Light 2, Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, and Destiny 2: The Witch Queen are all slated for release this month. For today, we’re focusing on the beat ’em up action-adventure, Sifu from Sloclap, the developers of Absolver.

Sifu is an interesting game for me because when I first saw it, I originally didn’t think much of it. It was only through gameplay previews that the game finally started to click. I don’t typically play best ’em up games so I knew Sifu was going to be a relatively fresh experience for me. I didn’t play Absolver so this is my first game from Sloclap and I was more than ready to see what they had in store.

Let’s get the obvious and apparent part of this game out of the way first, Sifu is an incredibly difficult game. The developers aren’t shying away from this in any of the promotion for this game, which is a move I respect them being upfront about. Don’t let the fact that this game only has 6 missions fool you, I suspect the majority will be replaying these missions multiple times once they get a feel for the game mechanics.

Sifu is set in a fictional Chinese city that has many mystical elements to it. You play as a kung-fu scholar, who you can either choose to be male or female. As the scholar, you set out on a mission to hunt down and kill those who murdered your family many years ago.

As I mentioned earlier, the game is set into 6 missions, but the game comes with a twist. You have a talisman that revives you each time you lose all your health but each time you use the talisman, you age a certain amount of years. If the energy of the talisman is drained, you will eventually die. Your age does not reset after each mission, if your age at the end of a mission is 45, it stays 45 for the next mission. The only way to reset or improve your age is to replay previous missions and use your fresh knowledge to attempt a better run without dying a lot.

For anyone that isn’t familiar with a beat ’em up style game, it’s basically the player taking on a multitude of enemies in hand-to-hand combat. I was worried that the game would get repetitive quickly due to the nature of the game. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, all this time in and I’m still having fun and haven’t gotten bored of the combat loop.

If the default controls don’t work for you, Sifu lets you remap the controls to your liking. It’s not just a simple changing of the dash and jump buttons like in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can remap every single control to suit your playstyle. I haven’t remapped the controls myself as I’m satisfied with the default setup, but the options for those that might want it is there.

If you want to have any chance at succeeding in this game, you’ll need tons of patience as well as a near-perfect understanding of the combat system. Learning what skills to acquire from the skill tree, mastering blocking and dodging, as well as making use of your surroundings will be essential. You will die A LOT and it’s not a game the majority will be able to complete in 10-15 hours.

I can’t speak for others but I’ll never knock a game for being too difficult in most cases. Last year games such as Returnal, Death’s Door, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits made their way into my favorites of the year. All 3 of those games have one thing in common, they all are designed to be hard in certain areas.

Returnal is an action-adventure with roguelike elements that resets you at the start of each biome with nothing but a pistol each time you die. Death’s Door is a game that requires you to take your time and have patience because if you don’t it won’t end well for you. Kena: Bridge of Spirits can give you tons of trouble specifically during boss fights. The difficulty of these games doesn’t bother me because the learning curve is fulfilling.

The mythical elements in Sifu lead to some pleasant moments in the art direction. This game is downright stunning on certain levels. A majority of indie games I play always provide a fresh outlook when it comes to art direction and Sifu is no different.

In one mission, there was a section where I was in an unlit hallway that made the screen completely black. The hallway lit up with fire and the visual it provided is something you’ll need to see yourself to truly understand. Diversity in environments is important so that you don’t see a sameness when looking at the game and every mission I’ve played in Sifu accomplishes this.

I played Sifu on PlayStation 5 which means I got the use all of the features that come with the DualSense. While Sifu doesn’t make much use of the adaptive triggers, the haptic feedback is a completely different story. Behind Astro’s Playroom, Sifu is at the top of the list when it comes to how they implement the haptics with the DualSense.

Sifu takes a page out of Returnal’s playbook in a certain aspect with rain. Whenever it’s raining, the pitter-patter of raindrops can be felt. When you’re near a fire, the controller has a sizzle that increases and decreases in feeling depending on how close you are to it. There’s a segment in the game where you’ll come across these LED light tubes that pulses regularly. Each time the LED tube lights up, the DualSense will send a unique pulsing vibration through the controller. I could go on and on, but to put it simply, the haptic feedback in Sifu is an absolute masterpiece.

It’s not all positive, as there’s one main issue I ran into throughout the entire game. The camera in Sifu can be really bad a lot of the time. It constantly gets caught on things and makes it so that you can’t see. In a game like Sifu, you need to know which direction everyone and everything is coming from. I hope this gets fixed soon because it was a major problem for me from start to finish.

If Sifu is anything, it’s a refreshing experience. I can’t say I’ve recently played a game that looks and plays like it. My issues with the learning curve don’t take away from my overall experience too substantially. Besides a few other nitpicks here and there, the pros far outweigh the cons.

I’m not going to begrudge anyone who doesn’t want to play this game because of its difficulty. These types of games aren’t for everyone and they will only appeal to those who don’t mind a challenge. I won’t sit here and say I didn’t get frustrated multiple times. The reason I kept coming back is that Absolver made a combat system that for the most part doesn’t get old.

Sound Design is important and I feel they did well in this aspect. Although, I think the sound could be a bit more firm and crunchy when using weapons such as a pipe. To speak a bit more on the narrative, it isn’t the main focus when it comes to Sifu. It’s telling in its overall design that the most focus went towards the combat. Your goal of taking out all the assassins who murdered your family stays the course and doesn’t stray too far off in a major way.

Sifu isn’t without its faults but I can’t sit here and say I didn’t enjoy playing it. I’ll reiterate one more time that you should go into this game expecting to struggle a lot at first. Apart from the in-depth combat system, the haptic feedback, art direction, and gratifying soundtrack by Howie Lee stand out as highlights. I suspect this game will provide a bit of a debate regarding certain aspects, but all I can do here is give you my opinion. If you don’t enjoy hard games, Sifu is not for you. If you don’t mind hard games, I recommend giving Sifu a shot.

Rating - 8.5/10

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