While the eyes of truly dedicated Street Fighter fans will undoubtedly be fixed on the forthcoming fifth main iteration in the popular series – exclusive to the PlayStation 4, no less – Capcom has seen fit to do a bit of preliminary groundwork by bringing the previous entry to Sony's new-gen system. Ultra Street Fighter IV on PS4 makes a lot of sense on some levels; it's the most advanced version of the game which resurrected the world's interest in one-on-one fighting titles and twinned with more powerful hardware, promises to be the best. However, in just as many ways it's an odd release; porting duties have been handled by Other Ocean Interactive – a company with a less-than-stellar reputation – and Capcom's actual involvement has been minimal, with Sony's Third-Party Productions Group doing most of the heavy-lifting.
Loading up the game for the first time makes you realise why this is the case; while Ultra Street Fighter IV on the PS4 should, in theory, be the best edition of the game to date, what we have in reality is a compromised mess of a release which feels more like an apology than the definitive article. In fact, this "update" is comfortably trumped by its last-gen equivalents, with the noteworthy Xbox 360 version remaining the best way to experience this seminal brawler.
Street Fighter is one of those series which surely needs no introduction, but here goes anyway. You select a World Warrior and face off against a series of opponents in one-on-one battles via best-of-three bouts. Special moves and combination attacks are key to success here; each fighter offers a dazzling range of attack options and mastering each one is an endeavour which takes months rather than days. Thankfully, the roster is packed with characters which have been staples in the gaming industry for decades, so even if you're a little rusty there's an excellent chance you'll be able to recall Ryu's fireball move or Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick – and learning their new moves is all part of the fun. Once you're comfortable with fighters you know, you can branch out into the less familiar combatants – of which there are plenty. Learning all of the ropes in this game – tactics for each fighter, combo trees, special exploits, and so on – is a lifetime's work.
Keeping in mind that this is a port of a pre-existing title, we'll move on from listing its various features and facets and instead look at how this PS4 edition compares to its siblings. Serious fans will almost instantly notice something is amiss; the menu screens suffer from atrocious framerate issues, lag, and general responsiveness problems, despite the fact that there's little actually happening on them. There were several times when it took multiple presses of the X button to process past a particular screen, something which gives the impression that the game is downright broken. What's even more surprising is the menus are, by and large, low-resolution and lacking in detail. Mercifully, in the game this is much less of a problem, although it has to be said that the PS4's additional power hasn't been put to much noticeable use; aside from the bump to 1080p, it's difficult to see how this has been improved over the last-gen versions.
In fact, there are some notable issues which make this less appealing than its older relatives. The apparent lack of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering means that some of the visuals look grainy or blurry – impact effects are especially poor here. Newcomers might wonder what all the fuss is about, but those of you who have already invested a considerable amount of time in Street Fighter IV's other iterations may find more reason to grumble – especially if you, like most other reasonably-minded individuals, were expecting this to be a vast improvement in purely visual terms.
Dig deeper into the core mechanics of the game and more worrying problems appear. Other Ocean has apparently tinkered with some of the moves in the game – tinkering which, on the surface, appears minor but has been deemed serious enough for Capcom to drop the title from high-level tournament play. This could be seen as particularly embarrassing for Sony, as this exclusive new-gen version was pitched as the definitive release for competitive players. Input lag also hasn't been improved over the PlayStation 3 version – which already trailed the Xbox 360 edition in this regard – and this is an even greater shame, because lag was one of the areas which Sony was adamant would be improved in this release. Of course, the fact that the game isn't suitable for use in tournaments will impact a microscopic percentage of potential players; to less demanding users these quibbles will make very little difference.
Online play is a truly mixed bag at present. The current lack of cross-region play means you're limited to playing PAL gamers, but even when duking it out against a fellow Brit, we noticed stutter and pauses, despite our fast broadband connection. While it's impossible to say how the netcode will fare when the barriers drop and global fights are on the cards, we got a taster during the review period as we were matched against players from Australia. The result wasn't pretty; crippling lag was present, making the battle impossible to enjoy. Hopefully this is an area that Other Ocean can work on, because in its present state, Ultra Street Fighter IV is less-than-impressive online.
Ultra Street Fighter IV is hardly the disaster that some people are reporting, and remains an enjoyable port of one of the best fighting games ever made. The key problem here is that we were promised – and were justified to expect – so much more than this. With the power of the PS4 on tap and all of the groundwork already in place, Other Ocean should really have created the best version of the game yet seen, free from irksome glitches, laggy online matches, and bothersome performance problems. Capcom's decision to drop the game from competitive play states categorically that this hasn't happened; while this is hardly a totally broken offering, it is comfortably overshadowed by the last-gen Xbox 360 edition and that should leave everyone involved at Sony with faces so red they could be mistaken for a baboon's behind. If you already own Ultra Street Fighter IV for a last-gen system, there's no need whatsoever to purchase this questionable port – PS4 newcomers, however, may be a little more forgiving of its myriad faults.