Playing Streets of Rage 4 is like returning to the old neighborhood and discovering that your childhood home still stands. Very rarely does a media property receive a well-crafted followup years after its initial success that builds and expands upon the original concept. Blade Runner 2049 and Twin Parks: The Return immediately come to mind, though, and this beat ’em up by developers LizardCube, Guard Crush Games, and Dotemu is Streets of Rage through and through. Featuring a diverse cast of new and returning martial artists looking to clean up a fictional city’s mean streets from a deeply embedded criminal syndicate, Streets of Rage 4 offers the hard-hitting combat, dreary urban environments, and sheer fun that’s defined the series since 1991. The few design issues in this PC game don’t prevent Streets of Rage 4 from being hailed as one of the best contemporary beat-‘em-up titles.
The Streets of Rage Story Continues
Streets of Rage 4’s tale begins 10 years after Streets of Rage 3’s events. The series’ stars, ex-cops Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, are pulled back into vigilantism when a new crime family clutches their city with a vise grip. The pair partner with two new street soldiers with similar goals, the guitar-wielding Cherry Hunter and cybernetically enhanced Floyd Iraia, to take back their town.
The adventure takes you through a city seemingly trapped in an alternate dimension where gentrification and rising living costs haven’t sterilized the locales. Each stage bursts with life, from pulsating neon signs to rats scurrying across stages. It’s clear that the development teams aimed to capture urban living’s flavor (as seen through a fictionalized, Walter Hill-like filter), something that the previous Streets of Rage games do with aplomb.
As you play through the game, you’ll unlock other fighters, such as Adam Hunter (Cherry’s father, last playable in the original Streets of Rage) and characters from the first three games that are rendered in a 16-bit visual style reminiscent of their Sega Genesis appearances. You’d think that those retro characters would clash with the game’s contemporary elements, but they do not. Their inclusions are celebrations of Streets of Rage’s storied history. Unfortunately, like River City Girls, you cannot have an AI-controlled partner help you regulate the mean streets.
Characters and Controls
The brawler’s default four-character roster battles way through more than 10 levels of goons, mini-bosses, and bosses. Like the other games in the series, Streets of Rage 4’s characters each have their own fighting styles. Floyd, for example, is a slow-moving hulk who dispenses big damage. Cherry, on the other hand, is the swiftest of the bunch. As a result, it’s important to select a character who suits your playstyle.
Though Streets of Rage 4’s heroes all share a standard control scheme that includes a standard attack, special attack, throw, and super attack, some characters have unique abilities that cause them to stand out from the rest. Cherry, for instance, can run across the screen, which is great for closing the distance between you and an enemy or quickly getting to a life bar-extending health bonus. Adam has a dash move that serves a similar purpose, but to a lesser degree. It’s unfortunate that not all characters can run or dash, because once you move from one that can to one that cannot, you’ll feel as though you’re missing a valuable gameplay technique.
Combos, Specials, Supers, and Difficulty Spikes
Still, Streets of Rage 4’s combat is highly enjoyable, and part of that enjoyment lies in what the game borrows from fighting games. Combos are a surprising focus, as the combat engine enables juggles, aerial special moves, and wall splats. With proper timing and foresight, you (and a partner, if playing in the multiplayer mode) can link attacks for high hit totals. The combos not only looks badass, but grant a score bonus based on your damage output that leads toward extra lives and character unlocks. Thankfully, the game is lenient in how it registers combos, which gives you room to explore what works toward building the wild hit and damage numbers. Pro tip: attacking anything keeps a combo going, including garbage cans.
Like Final Fight, Zombie Revenge, and many other classic beat ’em ups, Streets of Rage 4 saps some of your character’s life bar when you perform a special move. It differs from those games, however, in execution. For example, if you perform Axel’s fiery special, a portion of his life bar turns green. The green section represents a potential health loss. If an enemy successfully attacks you while you’re in the green, that life is lost. However, if you give goons knuckle sandwiches while in the green, that potentially lost health returns. This system works, as it lets you bust out specials as much as you like, without necessarily amassing penalties that keep you in a near-death danger zone.
Also like fighting games, Streets of Rage 4 has characters who can bust out high-damage super attacks. Instead of being powered by super meters, these flashy and deadly super attacks are acquired by finding gold stars hidden in the environment. So, it’s worth your time to smash open every trash can, box, or vehicle to dig them up.
Streets of Rage 4 wouldn’t be a proper beat ’em up without numerous weapons for smashing opponents. Over the game’s many stages, you’ll find knives, shuriken, swords, bats, broken bottles, and other objects for downing enemies. And you’ll need them—particularly when you reach the later stages. The enemies become super cheap in an old school game design fashion. In fact, the biker gals mobs who charge at you and perform high-damage piledrivers prove more difficult to defeat than some bosses and mini-bosses. Some of the difficulty would have been alleviated if the game included a Double Dragon Neon-style evasion move.
Extras and Music
Streets of Rage 4 requires you to play through the main Story mode in either singleplayer or multiplayer action to unlock characters, Battle mode (player vs. player fights), gorgeous production art, and the narrative-less Arcade mode. Playing through the Arcade and Story modes also unlocks retro goodies, such as 16-bit style characters and Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima‘s beloved, club-inspired musical tracks from the Sega Genesis games.
Speaking of tunes, the Streets of Rage games are known as much for their music as much as the street violence—particularly the second installment. Though Streets of Rage 4’s score isn’t as memorable as the previous games’ music tracks, it contains remixes of classic compositions, solid EDM-esque sounds, and one piece that dips into the synthwave genre. It would’ve been cool if the game included songs; River City Girls demonstrated that it’s incredibly fun to bash faces while singing along with vocals.
Streets of Rage 4’s 2D, comic book-style graphics don’t require particularly high-end PC system requirements to properly run. According to the game’s Steam page, your gaming laptop or gaming desktop must have at least an AMD Phenom II X4 965 or Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 CPU, AMD Radeon HD 6670 or Nvidia GeForce GTS 250 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage.
My gaming PC—one that contains an Intel Core i5 CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU, and 8GB of RAM—pushes the game at a super-smooth 60 frames per second. In online multiplayer action, Streets of Rage 4 runs just as smoothly. Streets of Rage 4 supports two-player online battles and a surprising four-player offline battles.
Streets of Rage 4 leverages many Steam features, including Remote Play Together, Steam Leaderboards, and nearly 40 Steam Achievements. In terms of controls, the beat em up supports gamepad and keyboards. A gamepad option lets you use either a modern or legacy control set up. If you select the legacy option, the controls are stripped down to three buttons, so you can play Streets of Rage 4 in a similar fashion as you played Streets of Rage 1, 2, or 3 on a Sega Genesis console.
There are a surprising number of tweakable PC options, too. The graphics options include V-Sync, Shadow Quality, Particle Amount, Resolution Scaling, and many more. On PC, the brawler is also available via GoG and Xbox (for purchase or for rent via Xbox GamePass for PC).
With its martial arts attacks, weapons, and general urban chaos, Streets of Rage 4 feels like a natural extension of the series. The game may have taken a long, long time to arrive, but the developers’ love for the license and genre shine through in nearly every area. Late-game difficulty spikes and limited movement options dull the experience a bit, but, overall, Streets of Rage 4 is a remarkably fun game, particularly when played with friends. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait decades for a follow-up.
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