There is a moment in the first level of Sifu that shows an incredible grasp of cinematography and scope. You open a door and see a hallway of thugs. Your exit is obviously at the other end of the hall, and you know exactly what you need to do. Suddenly, the view shifts to a very cool side shot as you fight through the long, grimy hallway. The combat flows so beautifully with parries and brutal combinations. I truly felt I was experiencing one of the best cinematic martial arts moments I have ever seen. And it’s one of the many moments that push Sifu to be one of the best action games you will ever experience.
As you start the fantastic tutorial, you discover that Sifu is a classic revenge tale set in a filthy world of danger and crime. You are seeking revenge against a small group of martial artists that murdered your father. You almost bite the dust along with him, but a magical talisman saves you and becomes a key game mechanic that I will discuss shortly. As you work your way to exacting revenge, you can explore and discover key details that give more information on your targets and the world around you. It’s completely optional to find these collectibles, yet worth your time to explore and find them.
You can’t have a martial arts game without combat, and Sifu has some of the best martial arts systems I have ever experienced. The way your light and heavy attacks mix with defensive moves and environmental weapons is a visual delight. You know those jaw-dropping fight scenes in movies like The Raid, Ip Man, and Fists of Fury? Sifu gives you these awesome fight scenes that are as incredible if not more than any martial art movie you have seen.
But as amazing as your fighting skills are, everything hinges on your defensive capabilities. And that’s where Sifu becomes very divisive. This is a very challenging game. I was joking around with some of my GameOctane friends and calling this game “Kung Fu Dark Souls” because of how difficult the game is. The difficulty depends on your defensive capabilities. It’s not enough to block or parry attacks. You need to quickly decide on whether to use a high block, low block or dash away as you become surrounded by tough enemies. This isn’t your traditional beat ’em up where the lower tier enemies are easy compared to boss fights. Every enemy has the capability to overwhelm and kill you.
Good thing your handy dandy talisman has your back! The talisman feature is a very cool feature that keeps you in the fight, but with consequences. Each time you die, you lose a year (or possibly more) of your life. As you get older, you not only look different but your skills change. The older you get, the lower your health is and the higher your skills become. It’s a very challenging trade-off, especially as your skill levels are lower at the start of the game.
And that’s the most difficult part of starting your journey in Sifu. This game will be extremely challenging at the start. Your skills need to develop just like the main protagonist. And there will be frustrating moments where you don’t parry quick enough or use the wrong offensive move in a large group of enemies and die. In my first attempt at this review, I was age 65 before I finally beat the first level. And with the age limit being 72, I knew I wouldn’t be able to beat the game on this first attempt. In fact, it would take hours and hours to make progress.
Despite the frustrations and high difficulty, I kept wanting to go back and try again. And this is the biggest compliment I can give to Sifu. There are plenty of games that are so challenging I rage quit and never touch them again. There is something about Sifu’s combat, visuals, and soundtrack that kept me returning over and over and over again. Sifu is the perfect example of the phrase “practice makes perfect.” You won’t beat it on the first run. You might not beat it at the 100th run. But it is so satisfying when you finally get past a boss and you haven’t aged as much as you have before. Perseverance leads to amazing accomplishments in Sifu, and if you have the patience, you won’t find a more rewarding experience than in Sifu. It’s only February, but Sifu is already a Game of the Year candidate that you don’t want to miss.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Engaging and highly satisfying combat
Can be too challenging at the start