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When a mantis shrimp punches its prey, it does so with the acceleration of a .22-caliber bullet. It’s a beautiful, deadly mechanism of nature, and the new martial-arts action adventure Sifu from Absolver developer Sloclap captures a similar forcefulness in its gameplay. When you press the attack button in Sifu, your kung fu action hero explodes on the screen with a sudden, snakelike strike that looks fantastic. And that makes it one of the best-feeling hand-to-hand combat games I’ve ever played.
I experienced an early area of Sifu on PC through the Epic Games Store. The full game launches February 8, and it has jumped up to one of my most anticipated games thanks to its springy and strong martial-arts system. In the game, you control a kung fu student looking to get his lifelong revenge on a group of assassins. The premise is simple and so is the fun — although I bet Sloclap worked hard to make Sifu appear so effortlessly entertaining.
At its best, Sifu looks as fluid and beautiful as the fight choreography of any modern kung fu film. The more impressive thing to me is that fluidity translates from Sifu’s gameplay trailers to actually holding the gamepad.
Sifu breaks up the gameplay into mostly familiar inputs of light and heavy attacks and any number of combinations of the two. You also have special moves like a leg sweep and a dodge and parry/block. Stitching these actions together is necessary to overcome even Sifu’s most common enemies. But that challenge is part of the fun.
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But for me, it all comes back to that punch. The way the character seems to explode off your controller like a mantis shrimp is satisfying in a primal way, and that’s going to carry the game for me.
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