They still haven't worked out how to make CPU play like a human.
Online play is pretty sketchy.
I've always been one of those guys you'd see ducking and punching four or five times before a Hadoken. The guy who would always block a spam of Sonic Booms because if he attempted to return fire he'd just wind up with a face full of air (or whatever Sonic Booms are made from). It was a PEBCAC thing - Problem Exists Between Chair And Controller - and it seriously hampered my enjoyment of previous games in the Street Fighter series.
Street Fighter IV has changed all of that. In an effort to appeal to a wider range of people, SFIV is actually playable by a scrub like me now. You no longer have only milliseconds to complete the button presses needed to pull off even complex moves, meaning terrible players like me can do a Hadoken on only the second attempt.
Before you spit take your Mountain Dew all over the monitor and whip out your hate mail stationary, hold up. The "dumbing down" of the Street Fighter series does not permeate every facet of SFIV. Yes, I can now successfully make the pretty explosions happen, however with a little practice all the street fighters I know have been able to beat me effortlessly. The difference is the way the game approaches complexity, and while it definitely closes the gap between the good and the average - the good and the exceptional are still miles apart.
This is a system I had to have explained to me in fact - by members of the OzHadou competitive Street Fighter community. Thanks to the decision to "reward" both landing and taking hits through the Super and Ultra combo gauges, the elite players not only watch their own power - they watch their opponents. In fact a decent amount of strategy can come into play - as was demonstrated to me when one of Australia's top players used Gouken (Akuma's brother and Ken and Ryu's master, playable for the first time) to Super then Ultra Combo me in one move. Using the new gauges and the new focus attack - hitting both medium attacks at once - players in the know can chain together lengthy and devastating combos with ease.
The Super and Ultra combos are the special attacks of Street Fighter IV - the Ultra being the more powerful - and they're more than just devastating. They emphasise the major difference between SFIV and the other games - the graphics. While SFIV plays very similar to Super Street Fighter II Turbo - being a fighting game "restricted" to a 2D world - the characters and backgrounds are rendered in full 3D. When you use your special attacks the camera work takes advantage of this, panning around and zooming in to really show off what Capcom has created.
The 25 characters are mostly good - the new characters interesting yet largely worthless. Of the oldies Ken, Ryu and Akuma all make the cut, and they're all still doing the same freakin' moves as one another. Zangief, Sagat, Guile and M. Bison are still present for those who need something a little less young Ralph Macchio. Then you have Chun Li, E Honda and Blanka for punters who love pressing the same button over and over and Cammy is still eye-candy if you go for that sort of thing. And the rest, of course.
Of the new characters, Rufus is a fat lard with deceptive quickness, C. Viper is a spy chick with annoying shock attacks, El Fuerte is a Mexican jumping bean luchadore wrestler and Abel is what would happen if JCVD lost his memory and liked throwing more than kicking. Oh and Seth is a cheat character who can burn in the pits of hell.
Which segues me nicely into the second worst thing about the game. One of the banes of fighting games is the reaction times of a computer being so much faster than a human - providing a very unrealistic playing experience. While a human fighter will typically fight (plan and execute attacks, react to their opponent's moves) the computer, being both the system for interpreting your input and the control mechanism for your opponent can simply react. And it can react better than you could ever possibly manage. Even on the easier difficulties Seth will disrupt Super combos with throws when he starts to lose fast, making even getting a hit on him almost impossible.
The game's obviously beatable, but after giving players like me a taste of winning it's a cheap way to rob us of victory. If I'd want them to do anything in a fighting game it would be more realistic AI - and I thought SFIV might have delivered. In the sense that I lose all the time against certain characters it's definitely very similar to my Human vs Human experience - play me online with Zangief and you'll earn yourself some easy wins - it's the way it goes about doing it which bugs me.
On the subject of playing online - this is the game's greatest
weakness. The first problem is the crazy decision to allow users to challenge you when you are playing Arcade mode. There you are, just about to deliver the finishing blow to Seth for the first time ever, your heart pounding in your chest and then... The screen goes black, A New Challenger appears and you're up against some guy with the network connection bar showing no signal. You quit and and go back to your Seth fight and lose. So you try again, and the same guy challenges you again.
The biggest problem is you can't blame the guy. First - you can turn the challenge option off at any time, it's just crazy to have it default to on. Second - it's so tough finding an online match with any kind of connectivity at times eventually you just give up and challenge anyone you think you might beat. The mixed blessing here is the netcode seems so stable, sometimes challenging a person with "no bars" in the connectivity column(international sign for "terrible ping") and sometimes it's a lagging mess. You just can't tell.
Overall, Street Fighter IV is the best fighting game out. If you made a fighting game with fighting games as characters, Street Fighter IV would be the super, ultra hard mega boss, he'd be banned from tournament play for being over-powered. Sure it has some weaknesses but it delivers a solid offline gaming experience and it flawlessly combines complexity and simplicity to appeal to all types of gamers.
It's the first game in years which inspired me to play it enough to get a blister on a blister on a blister. Street Fighter IV is a must have addition to any games library.