It’s been a long time since I played an opening sequence as good as the one in Sifu. The game puts its best foot forward with a moody, brooding exhibition of uninhibited power at the outset. It’s the kind of tantalizing introduction you might remember from God of War II or Vanquish: frenetic and awe-inspiring, but in this case also shocking.
It hits with no real context, but you can tell from the vibes that some serious business is going down. That implied knowledge comes from pathetic fallacy, the attribution of mood to the environment. It’s a thunderstorm, heavy rain, darkness, lightning splitting the sky. And you’re some shady-looking boss, stalking into a quaint little compound, the claustrophobically close camera emphasizing your menace.
That scene setting, such powerful evocation of tone, pays out in seconds as you take control, busting down a door and laying waste to a roomful of surprised foes. Crunchy attacks, precision inputs — you immediately get a sense that Sifu is more akin to something like Tekken than the 3D brawler it presents as, especially with the sizable list of combos and attacks tucked away in the pause menu. But you’ll scrutinize the granularity later. For now, you move further through the compound, pummeling your way through anyone who dares step in your way.
There’s no background to your actions, no telling whether you’re an avenging angel wreaking havoc on those who have wronged you or something more sinister. The way that question looms over your actions is a tease, luring you forward as effectively as the wrecking ball nature of your play.
Although the feeling of power is heady and compelling, Sifu is keenly aware that it won’t last forever. The introduction doesn’t waste your time by throwing you into one tedious goon fight after another. Instead, as you stride through the complex, you come across your allies, casually chilling and fiddling with their weapons amidst scenes of utter devastation. Sifu doesn’t need photorealistic graphics or beautifully choreographed cinematics to provide character insights. Callousness and cruelty are etched into the very fabric of these figures.
*Shakes magic 8-ball* Are we the baddies?
Signs point to yes.
That comes to bear when you stride into a dojo to confront a liver-spotted old man, your sifu, who tries to cut you down with words before his fists.
“You were a mistake.”
Beyond a few cryptic remarks, the game withholds the knowledge of what your sifu means — another tease, a dangling morsel of information locked away, only for those bold enough to chase it. That’s fine, though. You assume you’ll find out later; that’s how stories work, after all.
The old man puts up a fight, but our man Yang is the embodiment of power. Once that’s over, we meet our real protagonist. That introduction is… well, let’s just say if you still had any doubts that Yang is the Bad Guy before, you won’t afterwards. It’s a statement.
Yet, somehow, what follows tops it.
The Sifu opening titles are a pulsing display of energy. As the real protagonist, now grown, you enter a dreamlike sequence. Like something out of Kill Bill, the fights are lurid — blood-red backgrounds as you eviscerate silhouetted versions of Yang and his five minions. Again, there’s that sense of unstoppable force as you have another chance to practice the essential skills of blocking, dodging, and parrying. The feeling of being subject to yet another patronizing tutorial is washed away in the wake of an incredible sense of style.
The first impression is just too damn good.
The pacing and presentation of the Sifu opening sequence is just sublime. It makes you want to play on to see how developer Sloclap takes this same approach to drip-feeding encounters and information throughout the remainder of the game…
And then reality kicks in.
Sifu’s gameplay remains compelling, and it has an incredibly high skill ceiling. If you want to succeed, you have to play on the game’s terms. Button mashing will get you nowhere but dead. In that, it’s not dissimilar to Soulslikes, except the speed of Sifu gives it an entirely different and more challenging nature.
For all that, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t connect with it. I tried for hours, coming to understand the nuances of the gameplay. I think it’s the grindy nature of skill progression that put me off. This isn’t Kratos or Nariko getting back to the height of their strength. This is you fighting and dying on repeat to get access to XP-gated skills. It refused to click for me.
But that’s okay. The core loop of Sifu is strong enough to attract a dedicated fanbase. It’s great. It’s just not for me… but I will absolutely play that intro on repeat.