I’ve never been very good at fighting games. In most cases, if you know two or more combos I’m powerless against you. However, that’s never stopped me from enjoying them, and that feeling multiplied exponentially when I watched most of this year’s annual EVO tournament in Las Vegas. Then I participated in GamesRadar’s 24-hour gaming marathon last weekend and got a healthy dose of fighting game goodness, and suddenly I can’t get enough.
Starting with EVO, I heard about Street Fighter III: Third Strike being ported to PSN, and with my recent addiction to the fighting genre I figured I would check it out. I had never experienced the game when it was new, so this would be perfect. I was warned by other fighting game fans that the game wasn’t exactly forgiving of newcomers or as easy to pick-up-and-play as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is. So that’s why I decided to review the game from a beginner’s viewpoint, hopefully to enlighten other casual fighting game fans on whether or not this is a game that they would enjoy.
The first thing you should know is that those warnings were spot-on — the game is relentlessly technical. Your inputs have to be much more precise than in a game like Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and whiffing on a move can open you up to some grueling combos against good players. Reading and learning your opponents patterns is something you need in any fighter, but it’s doubly true here.
There’s also a technique called parrying to deflect your opponent’s attacks without taking damage. This is executed by tapping forward at the moment your opponent’s attack hits you, and this is vital in low-health situations in which a normal block would still chip away at your health. It’s tricky, but ultimately pulling it off with consistency proves not only useful, but extremely satisfying.
To help players grasp the concept, the game features a Trials mode to practice — five Basic Parrying trials and five Advanced Parrying trials. The first few do a great job of helping you get the hang of it, but the latter ones become very difficult and require tournament-level skill to pull off. The ultimate proof of that is the very last trial, which is simply titled Evo Moment #37 and requires you to duplicate the iconic moment in which Daigo Umehara executes a full parry of a Chun-Li super with no health and combos into a game-winning super of his own.
There are other trials for individual characters as well, but they’re not nearly as robust as what you’d find in SFIV or MVC3. Where those games offer 24 and 10 trials respectively per character, Third Strike Online offers only five, and their difficulty spikes very quickly. I found myself only able to complete two for most characters, while others I could only do one (or sometimes none). Without any real help coming from the game as far as these trials go, you’ll have to hit up YouTube and fighting community sites such as shoryuken.com to learn more advanced techniques. One such video is embedded below:
Above: Thanks to @kdotlo on Twitter for linking to the video
The game’s online is unique in that it’s the first Capcom game to use the fan-made GGPO netcode system in an official capacity. It works by hiding input lag through the recording of gameplay and instantly making changes to the visuals before the player can notice, allowing for seamless gameplay with almost any connection. From what I experienced in the matches that I played, it worked really well, with only the worst connections causing any sort of visual hiccup.
It’s not perfect, however. While connecting to player match lobbies is almost never a problem, the same can’t be said for connecting to ranked matches. On the day of the game’s release, every single attempt to get into a ranked match was fruitless. The next day, it would take between 20-30 seconds to find each opponent. This is a problem that Capcom acknowledges and apparently also affects the Xbox 360 version, and they say that a patch is in the works to fix it. As it stands, ranked matches leave a lot to be desired.
Third Strike Online is also beautifully presented. It has great-looking menus and still animates beautifully after 12 years. It also features a rather addictive Challenge system, similar to what you’d find in something like Call of Duty’s multiplayer and rewards you for completing different tasks. In this case, you earn VP (Vault Points) by executing parries, throws, EX specials, beating arcade mode, and so forth. The game keeps track of your VP and challenge progress in real-time in the game’s sidebars, so you always feel like you’re accomplishing something, even if you’re not playing especially well. This VP is used to unlock concept art and music from the game’s vault and is a nice reward for hours of gameplay.
So, what does all of this mean for the casual fighting fan? If you want a game that you can you can mash buttons in and have fun staring at all of the resulting flashing colors, save your $15 because this is absolutely the wrong game for you. If you’re looking to evolve your game into something more cerebral, it’s going to be difficult. You’ll find people online that have been playing it for 10+ years and they will punish you every chance that they get. If you power through it, you’ll be rewarded with one of the absolute best fighting game experiences that you’ll find anywhere.