Sifu is finally available to all players on the PC via the Epic Games Store, PS4 and PS5, after a few delays and a bit of a kerfuffle with the Deluxe Edition’s early access release on PS5. It’s out now, all the issues have been resolved and most are of the consensus that the game’s combat whips ass. The aging mechanics and “run” elements have been a point of contention for some, but cracking skulls in Sifu is fantastic, and that’s evidenced by the game’s first big challenge: The Squats’ corridor fight.
Five minutes into the game’s first level, after dispatching a couple of disparate goons through the first level’s maze of abandoned tenements, you’ll wander into a corridor filled with about 10 thugs. It’s the first time in the game where you truly get a sense of how much the odds are stacked against you as the player. This is your life now with Sifu: just rooms filled with burly people looking to put your face through the floor.
It’s bloody brilliant.
There’s a reason why this scene was the first thing shown during the game’s reveal trailer way back when, as it’s undoubtedly the best part of the game. It’s a confident mission statement from a competent developer delivered effectively, and a brilliant primer for the rest of your time with Sifu. Simply put, it’s a masterfully designed moment that could be up there as one of the most memorable aspects of any game this year. Bold claim, but I’m willing to fight you on it.
The corridor scene is instantly recognisable to a lot of people, with some drawing comparisons to the Daredevil series, which had a penchant for big “one-shot” fight scenes in corridors. The Raid also had a huge punch up in a corridor, with Rama dodging machete strikes the entire time, but there’s one true inspiration for a scene like this, and its Oldboy. Heck, the camera even turns to the side to really sell that Oldboy aesthetic.
This is clearly intentional from Sloclap, designed to let you know that you’re in safe hands if you’re a fan of martial arts cinema. Sifu aims to elicit the same kind of giddy satisfaction that comes with seeing Bruce Lee on screen for the first time, kicking ass in a way that no one else can. A few rooms later, you’re even battering dudes in a room that looks like the drug lab from The Raid, so the references are baked in with Sifu even from the first level.
While these references alone don’t make a game great, the message they send invokes a sense of trust in the player to the developers. Front-loading some instantly recognisable and iconic moments in martial arts cinema and allowing you to live them out, in either better or worse fashion, is a great way of endearing the game to the player, if you’re a fan of those scenes anyway. Some might see these moments as lazy rip-offs, but they feel like Sloclap telling the player “don’t worry, we know what you like, Sifu is more of that”.
Adding those references is one thing, but Sifu goes one step further and uses the corridor scene as a microcosm for the game’s progression. It’s recognisable on purpose, as the corridor is designed to linger in the player’s memory as the first significant moment in the game, and it’s likely that the first time you came here, you came out the other side looking a lot worse for wear. Taking on that many enemies at once, in such close quarters, likely leads an inexperienced player to become surrounded and ultimately defeated.
Sifu’s gameplay loop is all about knowledge and reiteration. You go through the levels, aging as you’re defeated, before you ultimately grow too old to continue and must restart from the beginning of a level. You could either accept the age you started a level with, or go back to the beginning and aim for a better run. Naturally, that means going through the corridor again, and this is where the magic of Sifu begins to shine.
If you’re like me, the corridor is where you recorded your first death, or at least your first close encounter with the death screen before getting slapped around in the next room. I managed to reach and beat the boss, but with an age of 67, I was a few light breezes from a game over during level 2, so I opted for an immediate do-over. However, I now knew what I was dealing with, and during the second run through the corridor, the results were a lot more promising. I was still taking hits, but I was more in control than before.
Sifu’s corridor serves to showcase to the player, as clean as day, that your experience matters more than XP. Knowing what to expect, mastering your moves, perfecting dodges/parries and learning how to use weapons effectively means so much when it comes to succeeding in Sifu, and the corridor highlights that for the player. What seems insurmountable without some kind of significant loss as a new player quickly becomes an addictive power fantasy, as you lay waste to 10 enemies that originally stood as a significant hurdle in your path.
After a couple of runs, your disastrous corridor fights have become martial arts tour de forces, as you flawlessly destroy an entire room without even getting hit. Challenging games like Sifu thrive when the player is able to feel their own personal growth, and that’s clear immediately with the first level’s corridor. The fact that it does so by paying tribute to one of the most brutal fight scenes (and films) in modern history is just the cherry on top.
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