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Sifu Hands-On Preview – How Meta Will You Go?

Sifu Hands-On PreviewDeveloper Sloclap’s upcoming title Sifu garnered a lot of buzz when it was first revealed during a State Of Play. Fast forward some months later after a hands-off preview, release date announcement, a delay, then a reverse delay, and we’re almost at the point where everyone can play it.

For now though, myself and other members of the press were given a special build of the game to play, special only in that it allowed us access to just one part of the game.

So after spending some time with controller in hand, how excited should you be to become a Sifu yourself? Very excited, in my book.

Sifu Hands-On Preview – How Meta Will You Go?

I should start this preview off by firstly saying I didn’t play it on PS5 or PS4, but rather was given a PC code to play. Not that it should make a difference, since the performance is likely comparable on each platform considering the game’s visual style.

Besides, it’s a pre-launch build that Sloclap never intended to sell as the final product, so though I did experience some bugs, it didn’t negatively affect my time with the game. Plus all the major bugs I had went away after re-installing the game.

My point is this preview won’t go into technical aspects, because they’re not relevant for multiple reasons. What instead is relevant of course is the gameplay itself, specifically if it feels as good as it looks. The answer, thankfully, is yes.

Before we get into that though, first some logistics. The section I played was just the first half in the second chapter of the game. This chapter is called The Club, and it’s nothing we haven’t already seen in previously released footage.

You start off facing just one, then a few enemies at a time, until you’re clearing out full room of goons looking to knock your head in by the end of it. If you’re fast enough, the entire preview build could be completed under 20 minutes.

As such, it was just a small taste of the game overall, but I was able to experience other aspects like the skill tree, and parts of the rogue-like nature of Sifu.

It was clear when hearing from the developers that there is a great amount of depth to the gameplay, but it quite literally smacks you in the face while playing.

There are plenty of combos for you to learn, different items and weapons for you to use, unlockable skills for different combat situations. You can also improve some passive abilities with your experience points, but there’s a tactical choice in that.

Improving passive abilities like how much health you recover with each takedown is something you’d need to purchase each run, rather than skills which can be permanently unlocked if you have enough experience points.

Whether or not you’re unlocking skills and increasing your stats, what Sifu really comes down to are time and patience. With such a strong emphasis on realism with the combat, each fight is a challenge.

Take a few hits back to back and you’ll find yourself on the low end of the health bar faster than you’d imagine. This makes constantly moving and making use of your environment key, adding another layer to what would still be a deep combat system even if you could only punch people and block.

You’ll have a much more difficult time though if you do just try to punch and block your way through, especially because learning enemy attack patterns is another core aspect of the gameplay.

Not trying to discourage anyone who would like to play the game with the bareness of just your hands, but it wouldn’t be the full experience of the combat. Using different weapons, the furniture, and anything that’s not glued down is another core aspect of the gameplay.

That is what makes Sifu feel so much more cinematic to me. It also helps the combat flow since you’re almost always going to be outnumbered at first.

Speaking of not getting the full experience, there’s a level of player choice in Sifu and NPC interactions that let you decide if even fighting your way through is the way to go.

There were three opportunities I saw to interact with NPCs, but all of them ended by just duking it out. Sloclap has already confirmed that there are parts of the game where certain choices allow you to avoid a fight, so it will be interesting to finally see the full extent of that when the game launches.

One of the three interactions you have does let you decide to ‘finish off’ so to speak the last enemy of a group who gets intimidated after you’ve dispatched with her peers. She gives you some information willingly, and you have the option to just leave her alone.

It’s the only peaceful option you’re given, but whether or not you do knock her out seems to have no effect on the rest of the level. So again, not the run-altering kind of choice we’re sure to see in the final product.

Of course I could be wrong, and my decision to attack someone who has willingly surrendered or not could come up at some point later that level. Which brings us back to the fact that for some things, there’s a lot more to be seen.

What these moments do for me however is huge, because it brings a larger focus to the narrative while enhancing the gameplay. I can already feel how it would make each fight more meaningful knowing I did what I could to take a peaceful path, if ever I’m forced to fight.

It just feels like a more complex, more relatable revenge plot to only really hurt those who you can’t reason with and your actual targets.

This also ties into the final mechanic I’ve yet to mention, which is what happens when you die. With every death, you age, and how much older you get depends on how many times you’ve died.

Your first death? You go from 20 to 21. Die twice? Tack on another two years. So on and so forth, until you start ageing almost decades at a time. That is where you get close to a full game over, and lose your progress.

When do die though, you don’t sit through a loading screen before coming back at a checkpoint. You pick yourself up right then and there, with the added bonus of not having to deal with anyone in the room you have already defeated.

You also have the chance to spend your experience points on new skills each time you die, giving you the potential to purchase a tide-turning skill if you’re having trouble in a particular fight.

What’s the big deal about getting older though? Well, every decade you pass increases your total damage output, but lessens the amount of hits you can take. You just can’t take a punch at 60 the same way you can at 20.

This mechanic makes Sifu feel really unique, and works to help cut a lot of the difficulty you may have when you first start playing. Even if you still die and reach a game over screen, it’s likely that you’ll have gotten a little farther in the level than you would have, if you still had limited attempts and started back at a checkpoint.

That little extra bit of progress when you just start playing goes a long way to help you understand the level and what to expect. Dying and death in Sifu is just very well thought-out, and it’s another impressive showcase of the amazing minds at Sloclap.

Despite how much I clearly enjoyed playing this preview, there is still one thing that I find irksome while playing. Much of the environment will turn transparent if ever the camera angle puts an object right in the middle of the way, but not all of it.

You can move the camera to fix the problem, but often it only takes seconds of confusion to find yourself being punched, trying to block attacks you can’t see. It happened to me a few times that I wound up dead after suddenly needing to move the camera in the middle of an intense fight.

If not for that camera issue though, I wouldn’t have anything even remotely negative about Sifu to say. Even in just this preview it is clearly a very solid game.

All that’s left is to play the final copy, and now more than ever, I simply can’t wait to play it.

Sifu arrives on PS5 and PS4 on February 8, 2022.