There have been three versions of Street Fighter IV on Steam: vanilla SFIV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and now Ultra Street Fighter IV, which is a $15 / £12 upgrade from SSFIV:AE. Capcom's business model is obviously outdated. Being outdated is sort of Street Fighter's
Poison, one of Ultra's new characters, is a libidinous glam caricature whose clumsily-handled identity has spanned 20 years of games and controversy. The manual is presented as a document you can zoom and pan around. The 'continue' countdown every time you lose a fight in Arcade mode is a needless bit of old-fashioned flavor. The menus are just all-around awful. Street Fighter hasn't grown up with us.
And yet it's the best modern fighting game, and if you play Street Fighter IV or have any sustained interest in fighting games, you should play Ultra. It's the new competitive standard. It's like being able to play football at a pro level whether or not I'm any good at it, and that's really appealing, even when I'm getting stomped.
It'll take rigorous professional play to fully assess Ultra's total character rebalance, but so far, so good. With 44 characters now in the roster, you will encounter skewed matchups, but every character is fun to try out again. Online, I'm meeting a lot of previously bottom-tier characters like T. Hawk, and I'm having to rework my Cammy play to deal with her reduced stun and adjusted Cannon Spike.
Ultra's five character additions are all interesting. Decapre's aggressive, multipurpose charge-based dash is my favorite new move, and requires careful positioning and timing, though I find her 'mash punch' attack a bit dull to spam for light chipping. Elena, Hugo, Poison, and Rolento have come over from Street Fighter x Tekken, and introduce playstyles worth trying. Hugo is the weirdest: a hulking André the Giant reference who consumes a huge percentage of the screen and can pull off very high-damage throws with timing and patience. I have the most fun playing against him, buzzing around like a fly with the agile Elena, avoiding his insane anti-air grab.
Every character has some new tactical opportunities, as well. You can now choose both Ultra Combos at the cost of reduced damage for each, a balanced trade-off that adds some great uncertainty. Delayed Standing, which allows players to recover a moment later than normal after a knockdown, is the currently effective answer to the crushing defeat just one knock down could lead to in SSFIV. Red Focus Attack, a variation on the Focus Attack which hits the Super meter hard, is effective at breaking combos by absorbing all attacks during its animation and has punished me heartily when used to initiate an Ultra.
There are new stages and modes, too, and rounding out all the new features is Edition Select, which lets you play any character in any of its SFIV iterations. It's a great feature (though it isn't available online), and it's essential on Steam, where the digital upgrade replaces your SSFIV:AE copy (you could uncheck the DLC to revert, but who wants to do that?).
But the best thing about USFIV is the same thing that's always been great about Street Fighter: just about anyone is willing play it, whatever their skill level. If you have a PC hooked up to your TV, and you have friends, you have a match. It's one of the most universally understood games in the world, and while there are few masters, there's never a shortage of competition.
I've never had a problem finding an online match, either, but my in-game experience hasn't been as positive. Even when my opponent's connection quality is green, one out of every six or so matches stutters to a halt multiple times. There are other annoyances, too: Selecting “Quick Match” just spins a wheel and comes up empty. Finding a custom match lists out a bunch of lobbies, but a quarter of the time I fail to join, and have to search again. There's no way to quickly request a rematch, either.
Capcom is aware of the lag issue—a stink left behind after the departure of Games for Windows Live—and it's been getting better since I started playing, but it's still an annoyance. And sometimes it's hard to get Ultra to work at all. In Windows 8, I can't get it to recognize fightsticks or controllers unless I hit Alt-Enter to enter windowed mode, and then again to go back to fullscreen. At some point it refused to recognize my Start buttons altogether. In Windows 7, I had no problems with a Mad Catz fightstick and Xbox 360 controller, but it has crashed to the desktop multiple times on both OSes.
The good news is that any relatively up-to-date system should be able to handle max graphics settings and maintain the smooth framerate fighting games demand, and USFIV still looks great for an update of a six-year-old arcade game. If it weren't for the online lag, crashes, and controller support annoyances—things I hope are patched—the PC version would be the best.
And, if you can play on a TV or in a suitably spacious desk area, Street Fighter is really meant to be shared in person. The online modes are a fine way to practice, but it's way more fun if you can see your friends' salty tears in person (or in my case, so they can see mine). Until the next Street Fighter, USFIV is my default answer when someone asks, “Want to play something?”
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