Sifu Couldn’t have come at a better time. Developed by Sloclap, the upcoming indie title is a kung fu action game set in a night of revenge. Slated for a February release, the film comes out at a time when mainstream audiences are about to get tons of media inundated with martial arts action sequences. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings both dominated the box office, and introduced audiences to Marvel’s “Kung Fu Master,” and the hype grew for December. Matrix Recovery, about the master of “I know kung fu,” Keanu Reeves’ Neo.
If all goes well, Sifu could get a boost from those projects as mainstream audiences seek out more martial arts action. The good news is that it will have a lot to go around. During the recent preview session, I saw some new gameplay snippets of Sifu participated in the battle of the game. Sifu combines deep research, cinematic references, and video game basics to create an authentic kung fu experience that respects craftsmanship.
The art of kung fu
Slotlap may be a young studio, but it’s already a pro when it comes to creating compelling action video games. The studio’s previous game, Absolver, is a notable online multiplayer fighting game featuring a plethora of customizable fighting styles. On its surface, Sifu doesn’t seem that far off from the previous game of Slotlap. It shares some visual similarities with Absolver and features well-balanced battles between quick, fluid movements and weighted attacks. The main difference is Absolver built around one-on-one combat, while players will find themselves surrounded in Sifu.
Through three separate parts of the game, I see the game’s unnamed hero take down multiple enemies at once with quick attacks. In one notable film, he battles a group of enemies in an art exhibit that features a giant pendulum that paints a room in ink. Naturally, it becomes a weapon when it knocks enemies off their feet.
Such sequences are the focus of the game, and some of them are explicit references. At one point, the developers showed a battle scene in the hallway to pay homage to the Oldboy. The film features an iconic scene where the film’s protagonist fights through a corridor full of bad guys while wielding a hammer. That is reproduced perfectly here with a similar horizontal frame reminiscent of the movie and side-scrolling beats in a single pass. The developers also cite the works of Jackie Chan and movies like Raid as an inspiration.
Such cinematic stories will be immediately familiar to players, but the game is not just built on movie references. The game’s combat design Sloclap is based on Bak Mei, a kung fu style built around close range attacks. For the game, Sloclap worked with a kung fu master who created some of the main character’s attacks. That research commitment certainly shows, as SifuIts battles are much more grounded than many other video games. You will not find the hero of the game performing flying kicks. Instead, he strikes enemies with quick, effective palm strikes and sometimes low knees.
That realistic style blends well with the basics of video game combat, as players can still perform actions like split and block. There’s even a “focus” system where time slows down, allowing the player to target specific points on an enemy’s body for precise hits.
Sifu there is also a guard break system where both enemies and heroes can only block a certain number at a time. Abuse it and the watches will break, open them up to attack. Sifu wanted players to take advantage of Bak Mei’s quick style, instead of crushing tough battles.
The environment plays a big role in Sifuof fighting, too. In one scenario, the hero fights his way up a spiral staircase, smashing stray bottles into enemies’ heads. At one point, he used a takedown attack to throw a man over the railing. Little moments like that have appeared in a few gameplay clips I’ve watched. When enemies kick the hero against a bar stool, they will roll over it to give themselves some space. In another scene, he escapes a terrible two-on-one scenario by climbing the wall behind his enemy. Such small moments deepen the fight by making situational awareness crucial to winning.
What remains unknown is exactly how the game’s unique aging mechanic works. When the player dies in Sifu, they are one year older. While the preview doesn’t go too deep into what it looks like in a mechanical way, the developers at Sloclap have explained its narrative implications. Sifu Ask if one lifetime is enough to truly master kung fu. The game may take place overnight, but players will discard their decades-old digital lives in an attempt to perfect every nuance of the game’s combat system. Players will not experience as experts about Bak Mei in real life. Instead, it’s about understanding and respecting the level of dedication to being a true master.
Sifu launches on February 20th for PlayStation 4, PS5, and PC.