Synyster Graves

Streets of Rage 4 review

by on May.02, 2020, under Xbox One

sor4longlplay3It’s certainly been a while since I’ve done a game review but I do feel compelled to return from reviewing hiatus in the wake of the revival of one of my favourite franchises of all time, Streets of Rage 4. I still cannot believe it is nearly 26 years since SoR3 and while that was not nearly as good as it’s predecessor SoR2, it still held a certain majesty for me. My excitement reached it’s peak when the fourth instalment landed on Thursday. (I’m not counting the fan made Streets of Rage: Remake; which is excellent, but comparisons will be inevitable later!)

First thing that hits you is the graphics are great; a cel-shaded homage to the the original series, brought into the modern era to great effect, similar to the visual impact Street Fighter IV had compared to the original 16-bit series. The soundtrack is also a well produced nod to the originals too; and while the techno style music is not really firmly planted in today’s zeitgeist, it seems to be still fitting as you’re swagging through these streets, beating up hordes of goons.

sor4-1But this is where I feel my adoration for the original series completely blinded me to this game. As with the remake, I went bowling into the game at one hundred miles an hour and didn’t really read the “fighting hints” section (It’s not as if we have the accompanying booklet anymore with digital downloads!) as my muscle memory from playing Sor2 and 3 proved to be my nemesis. Having grown so accustomed to using the sprint (double tap forward) mechanic as the cornerstone of all my SoR prowess, I was dismayed to find out that this has been not included. The same can be said for the evasive roll mechanic introduced in SoR3 (double tap up or down) as since in this iteration they’d added the bullshit goons with pistols in as non-boss characters, this at least gave you a fighting chance. SoR4 however decided to include the cheap idiots with guns in, but didn’t think it was necessary to give you a means of avoiding it.

Single Player – an RSI-inducing slog

sor4-4This brings me to my next point; that while I recognise video games in the 90’s were brutal, they at least represented a tangible challenge. Now I’m not the best player in the world nor do I purport to be, but this game I found ridiculously hard for the utter sake of it. I even tweeted at the time how I can get further without using a continue on SoR2, than I can on the easiest difficulty on SoR4! That just isn’t right. But why do I find it so difficult? There is one staple of the SoR series and that is the flinch mechanic. Throughout the original trilogy, hitting an enemy would stun them for a fraction of second, allowing a follow up hit to pull out a combo of sorts. SoR4 however has this hideous enemy-only perk whereby they flash, thus ignoring the situation where they should be flinching and just carry on with their own attacks, which knocks you out of your combo. And this happens all the time. It’d be like playing Killer Instinct with a perpetual combo-breaker in effect, it would be unsustainable. It is this massive imbalance coupled with their over-powered attacks and speed that not only make this game a challenge, but a major frustration fest. Games feel unbalanced when the very opponent you’re facing is on the level playing field as you, and the absence of that just feels like an unreasonable addition to create difficulty without making too much work for the developer. Add to that the unbalance of the enemies ability to hit you when not in-line with your character and you not being able to into the mix and you have yourself a game mechanic heavily skewed towards screwing you over. Blocking was present in previous games, but I still find it ridiculous as again, this is not a perk you are privy to and yet the eight simultaneous enemies attacking you seem to be impervious to damage by a simple raising of a forearm or leg. In a game series notorious for “friendly fire” i.e. beating the crap out of your co-op partner by accident, to have enemies with guns which shoot you when you’re grappling another and it not affecting them is again lazy game design trying to create difficulty.

sor4-2The nostalgia value for me really started to wane by the time we got to about the fourth level. While the gameplay was similar to originals, the cheap and over-powered enemies and ceased making this game particularly enjoyable to a frustrating chore. While I recognise that the style of the game is pretty more of the same, that’s fine I accept that. But the further you get through the game, the more you feel that the enemies are getting more and more powerful, with longer health bars and annoyingly increasing speed to avoid your attacks. Remember that sprint ability in the other games? Yeah this one doesn’t. For a game which for me held out such excitement and promise, I horribly find myself disappointed and annoyed. I think the biggest issue is that if I hadn’t played the other Streets of Rage games, I would have probably rated it a lot higher, and I suppose if you deem such comparisons unhelpful, then yes in summation Streets of Rage 4 is a decent game although from reading other reviews (not that I allow myself to influenced easily) then it would give the impression that I’m just not very good and I didn’t understand the game. But this isn’t the case at all, rather than my expectations failed to be exceeded by; to be fair a solid beat ’em up game, but I cannot help make the inevitable comparisons with the original trilogy. Streets of Rage 4 isn’t BAD at all, just not as good as I was hoping for, until I tried it in multiplayer…

However it’s very different with friends…VERY DIFFERENT

sor4-3So playing it with in co-op is wholly different experience, it’s actually very enjoyable. While the aforementioned bullshit is prevalent in co-op gameplay, it’s nowhere near as noticeable. Combos are much more fun and fluid and stacking multiple hits with your online cohort is not only way more satisfying, it’s significantly more effective. With you and your partner battering opponents into walls in a chain fashion, racking up huge combo multipliers is what this game is made for, and more importantly the relentless enemy spamming sees a burden of every goon in existence instead of converging against you like horde of bees en masse, takes one different targets which ultimately gives you the much needed breather in the middle of intense combat. I have to say after completing it in multiplayer, now this game makes sense. It is incredible that in a game where the single player mode is a laborious slog of frustration, co-op multiplayer brings it to life and becomes a good game with satisfying results.

I honestly have never encountered a game which in single player to be so naff, but in multiplayer to be so enjoyable. But with it comes an appreciation of the game as its merits become apparent when you do play it in co-op. So in all honesty; if you loved the original series, you’ll probably persevere with this a bit more as there are unlockables for nostalgia purposes like the retro soundtrack and pixelated characters from the originals.

But this begs the question, since the single player is so frustrating but the multiplayer is so good, why not have online 4-player co-op? That would be the most logical addition and yet multiplayer is stupidly limited to only 2 player, well certainly on Xbox. In this modern age of gaming, why only offer 4 player local co-op? Especially when the game was released in the midst of the Coronavirus lockdown!? No one really plays local co-op anymore, the future is definitely online so it’s seem madness to me to omit such an obvious feature which would prove to be very popular! Perhaps a patch later on will allow this but only time will tell, but I really don’t want to wait another 26 years for that!

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