Saturday, August 30, 2014

Stubs – The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties (1939) Starring: James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly. Directed by Raoul Walsh. Produced by Hal B. Wallis (Executive Producer). Screenplay by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, Robert Rossen. Story by Mark Hellinger.  Run Time: 106 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Drama, Gangster, Crime, Thriller

As we continue our look at films from 1939, next up is The Roaring Twenties, a gangster film starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane and Humphrey Bogart. Based on a short story by Mark Hellinger, a journalist turned film writer/producer, The Roaring Twenties was the third and last time that Cagney and Bogart would appear in the same film. Their previous pairing in The Oklahoma Kid (1939), a Western, had not been a box office success. Known at the time for their work in gangster films, Warners returned to that genre for their last appearance together on film.

Three men from New York, Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn), meet in a foxhole at the close of World War I. The three speculate about their future plans after the war. Eddie wants to go back to his job as a mechanic, George plans to go back to being a saloon keep, even with the coming Prohibition, and Lloyd plans to take up his law practice.

Foxhole friends: Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn), Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney)
and George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) meet on the battlefield during World War I.

With the Armistice signed, the fighting ends, but not all American soldiers come home right away. Some, like Eddie, remain for months as a sort of police force. Since he doesn’t return home with the other troops, Eddie is first thought to have been killed. But when he does come home, he finds that things have changed. The job he was promised would be held back at the garage has been filled and prospects are slim to none.

Work is hard to come by and Eddie takes it out on a couple of guys who razz him at his old job.
One thing Eddie is looking forward to is meeting Jean Sherman, the female pen pal who has been writing to him while he was at war. She lives out on Long Island with her mother. He has his old friend and roommate, Danny Green (Frank McHugh), drive him out in his cab. Jean’s Mom (Elisabeth Risdon) tells Eddie that he’s their dream soldier, but Eddie is disappointed when Jean turns out to be a schoolgirl with an adult looking photo from a part in a school play. Eddie quickly and politely excuses himself.

Desperate for work, he decides to share driving Danny’s cab, with each taking a 12 hour shift. One night, a passenger asks Eddie to deliver a package for him to a night club run by Panama Smith (Gladys George), but Eddie is careless and the two are arrested for violation of the Volstead Act. Eddie takes the rap for Panama and gets thrown in jail when he doesn’t have the $100 for the fine the judge levies. But he’s not in jail for very long before Panama bails him out.

Eddie makes a delivery for a passenger and a life of crime begins.
Even though the actress playing the role is five years younger than Cagney, Panama is played as being an older and more experienced woman. She takes the young Eddie under her wing and sets him up in the bootlegging business. Eddie uses taxi cabs as a cover for their deliveries and uses Lloyd to make the purchases for him.

When he goes to collect from a deadbeat show producer, Eddie sees Jean dancing in the chorus. A few years have passed and she’s now of the age of consent. Eddies tries his best to woo her, but she rebuffs his initial advances. But Eddie is not easily dissuaded and makes another run at her the next night. He ends up taking her home via the train and walking her to her house after that. When they arrive at her house, Eddie finds out that her mother has died and that Jean is having to fend for herself. Eddie decides to help.

Eddie takes Jean home on the train. He's fallen in love. She hasn't.
On the train ride, she had sung him Melancholy Baby, so Eddie takes her to audition for a night club Panama helps run. While the manager is reluctant to hire Jean, Eddie insists and promises to make up the difference between the $35 a week the manager is willing to pay her and the $100 a week Eddie wants her to make.

Eddie continues to grow his business, but wants to move from bathtub gin to imported liquor. He approaches Nick Brown (Paul Kelly), who controls the import business, but Brown refuses to cut him in. Not willing to take no for an answer, Eddie takes a boat out to intercept the next shipment. Pretending to be Coast Guard, his crew boards the boat, only to find it is captained by his old friend George, who offers to throw in with Eddie against Nick.

When Eddie leads a group of men to intercept Nick Brown's imported liquor,
he finds his old friend George is the captain of the ship. A new business arrangement is hatched.
As they continue to grow their business, they go so far as to steal liquor from a government warehouse where more intercepted liquor intended for Brown has been taken. During the heist, George gets revenge on Pete Jones (Joe Sawyer), their demanding sergeant from the Army, now a security guard at the warehouse, killing him when he needn’t have.

Unbeknownst to Eddie, Lloyd and Jane have fallen madly in love with each other. Jane appreciates how much Eddie has done for him and, even though she doesn’t want to marry him, doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. But Lloyd insists that she tell Eddie that she doesn’t love him.

While she sings her next number, Melancholy Baby again, Nick confronts Eddie and George. A shootout ensues. That seems to be the last straw for Lloyd, who knows Eddie was involved in the warehouse robbery and the murder of Jones. But George isn’t so willing to let Lloyd walk away and threatens him if he ever talks about what he knows of their business.

George threatens Lloyd about ever divulging what he knows about their business.
Eddie buys the night club and tries to hold a meeting of the underworld leaders, including Nick, who is mysteriously missing. Meanwhile, George is starting to feel ignored by Eddie and doesn’t like being relegated to junior partner status. Danny, who had been sent by George to get Nick, is killed and his body is dumped in front of the night club. When Eddie wants to go get revenge on Nick, George refuses to go and even calls to warn Nick that Eddie is on his way.

Even though Nick arranges for an ambush, Eddie figures something’s up as soon as he enters. There is a shootout and Eddie kills Nick. Eddie suspects George tipped Nick off, but since he can’t prove it, he doesn’t kill him. When Eddie returns to the club, Panama informs him that Jean has quit and is in love with Lloyd. Eddie doesn’t want to hear this and leaves, but Lloyd and Jean have returned to tell him they’re in love. Before words are exchanged, Eddie decks Lloyd, but quickly apologizes and walks back to the night club.

He takes up drinking for the first time and doesn’t stop. And things go from bad to worse. When the stock market collapses in 1929, Eddie is forced to sell his cabs, all but one, to George to cover his investments. The Depression that follows hits the speakeasies hard and with falling profits, Eddie can’t pay for protection and gets shut down and he is arrested. The only person standing by him is Panama. Prohibition is repealed and we’re told that criminal elements have trouble coping in a nation determined to see a return to law and order (as if organized crime went away). But Eddie is clearly hurting financially and reduced to sleeping in flop houses and driving his lone taxi to make a living.

When the stock market crashes, Eddie needs money. George buys him out cheap,
 but leaves him one cab to drive. Lefty (Abner Biberman), one of George's lieutenants, looks on.
One of the fares he picks up at Christmastime is Jean. He doesn’t want to talk much, but Jean brags about Lloyd working in the DA’s office and that she and Lloyd have a four year old boy (that way we know how much time has passed) named Bobby. She invites Eddie in and Lloyd comes home. Lloyd tries to offer help, but Eddie insists he’ll be back on top someday. He warns Lloyd that George hasn’t forgotten his threat to kill him if Lloyd tells what he knows about their business.

The threat looms large as George sends his right hand man, Lefty (Abner Biberman), to pay Jean a call after Lloyd has gone to work. He tells her that if Lloyd doesn’t bury what the DA knows about George, Lloyd will end up being buried.

Jean takes the threat seriously and goes looking for Eddie to help. His meeting with Jean and Lloyd has scarred him. He spends his days drinking in a club where Panama has found a job as a singer and talking about Jean and her family. Panama is tired of hearing it, but lets Eddie keep talking. Both are surprised when Jean walks in.

Jean comes to Eddie for help when Lloyd receives death threats.
Eddie is unsympathetic to Jean’s plight, saying he would do the same thing if he was in George’s place. But Panama takes Jean’s side and urges Eddie to help her, because she and Lloyd have something to look forward to and that neither she nor Eddie does anymore. Realizing that Panama’s right, Eddie goes to talk to George on New Year’s Eve.
Eddie comes prepared for his talk with George.
But the talk doesn’t go well. Not only will George not lay off Lloyd, he fears Eddie, who admits to still being in love with Jean, will turn state’s evidence to help Lloyd. He tells Eddie that he has no choice but to bump him off. But Eddie doesn’t go easily, knocking out Lefty and pulling a gun on George. Telling him, "Here's one rap ya' won't beat..." Eddie kills a blubbering George. He manages to shoot his way out of George’s house, killing several of George’s men on his way out, but outside, with Panama witnessing, Eddie is shot in the back by another cohort and collapses on the steps of a nearby church. Panama runs to the fallen Eddie. The first policeman on the scene asks her a few questions while she is still cradling Eddie’s now lifeless body. When asked what’s his business, she informs the officer, "He used to be a big shot."

Panama comforts Eddie as he lay dying on the church steps.
The Roaring Twenties presents the bad guys, especially Eddie, as simply victims of the times they lived in.  While George has nominal plans for after the war, we’re shown that he likes killing, especially from a distance. He is not as good a soul as Eddie, which is why, of the two, the film focuses on that character. Eddie goes through the biggest transformation from mechanic to underworld leader. But he is turned into a criminal by the system, rather than his own doing. While he continues his criminal enterprise he really wants to settle down with Jean Sherman and get out of the racket. But even though he is rejected by her and ends up in the gutter, so to speak, he still rises to the occasion and does the right thing; the gangster as hero, which is what the Production Code actually feared most.

Gangster films have roots going back to near the beginnings of American film. The American Film Institute (AFI) defines the genre as centering on organized crime or maverick criminals in a 20th-century setting. One of the earliest examples is The Black Hand (1906), thought to be the earliest surviving example of the genre. D.W. Griffith directed perhaps the best known early example, The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), a short film about crime on the streets of New York City.

But the genre didn’t really take off until the 1930’s, when in the midst of the Great Depression; these films seemed to have been ripped from the headlines. Little Caesar (1931), Public Enemy (1932) and Scarface (1932), the first two from Warner Bros. the studio most closely associated with the genre, made stars of their lead actors Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Paul Muni and some feared, glamorized their protagonists. While all the gangsters met violent deaths, they still were shown as bucking a system which had harmed so many in the audience.

The “moral” leaders of the country were outraged at Hollywood, not only for peddling violence, but for the perception of sex and general amoral behavior in the movies. To avoid outside censorship, Hollywood adopted the Production Code, which stated what could and could not be depicted in its films. The genre that suffered most were the gangster films in their purest form as represented by the three films listed above.

Hollywood did not abandon the genre all together, but rather changed the focus to the side of law enforcement fighting criminals or gangsters looking for redemption. Cagney appeared in two films which epitomize this switch, G Men (1935), in which he plays James “Brick” Davis, a federal agent, and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), in which he plays Rocky Sullivan, a hardened criminal, who, in order to steer children from a life of crime, acts cowardly when put to death. These films could be as violent as their predecessors, but since it was law enforcement getting the glamorous treatment, the Production Code Administration gave these films its seal of approval.

The Roaring Twenties is a return of sorts to the gangster roots. The protagonist is once again a gangster, but this is presented as a moral tale. Based on a story by Mark Hellinger, there is a prologue decrying the events it was about to present, hoping as the working title indicated The World Moves On. The story is supposedly based on Hellinger’s own experiences as a newspaper reporter in the 1920’s.

Writer/Producer Mark Hellinger on who's experiences The Roaring Twenties is based.
Hellinger was a syndicated columnist appearing in 174 newspapers, hired by Jack Warner as a writer/producer. He started writing for Zit's Weekly, a theatrical publication in 1921. In 1923, he moved to the city desk of the New York Daily News and began to write a Sunday column called About Town. Intended by his editors to be filled with news and gossip about the Broadway Theater scene, Hellinger instead filled the inches with short stories in the vein of O’Henry. After he received enough fan mail, he was allowed to continue.

In 1928, Hellinger received a daily feature called Behind the News. In 1929, he moved to rival paper the New York Daily Mirror and began writing sketches for the Ziegfeld Follies, plays, magazine articles and short stories. He not only provided the story for The Roaring Twenties, but he also produced They Drive By Night (1940), High Sierra (1941), Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), The Killers (1946),  Brute Force (1947), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) and The Naked City (1948), the latter which he narrated.

The Roaring Twenties, as noted above, was only the third and the last time Cagney and Bogart appeared together in a feature film, even though both had been on the Warner lot for a number of years working in similar films. The other two films were Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and The Oklahoma Kid (1939). But make no mistake, these were considered to be Cagney films in which Bogart appears. At this point in their careers, Bogart was still considered a B-movie actor and Cagney was the star. As such, when the two were on screen, Bogart’s character would eventually prove to be cowardly in the final confrontation with Cagney’s character.

By the time of this film, Cagney had developed a screen persona who was quick with the fists and had kinetic energy to burn. The Roaring Twenties would prove to be a milestone for Cagney, after which he would do more singing and dancing than gangster roles, most notably The Strawberry Blonde (1941) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), for which he would receive the Academy Award for Best Actor. He would return with great fanfare to the genre with White Heat (1949).

Even Priscilla Lane got billing over Bogart. Lane was hitting the top arc in her relatively short movie career about this time. She had made the very successful Four Daughters (1938) and its sequel Four Wives would also be released in 1939. Just to show Hollywood loved a sequel and a trilogy, she would star in Four Mothers (1941). She also appeared in Brother Rat (1938) and its sequel Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). While she would co-star in Saboteur (1942) and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), she would give up acting for marriage and family.

Priscilla Lane plays Jean Sherman, the love interest of both Eddie and Lloyd.
Bogart was still a couple of years away from films like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), films that would highlight his talent and after which his screen persona would back down to no man.

Bogart right shares a scene with Gladys George in The Roaring Twenties.
They would work together again in The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Panama was played by Gladys George, who had been a child actor working on the stage with her parents at the age of three. She found success on Broadway in Personal Appearance (1934), a comedy in which she starred. Her performance is credited with making the play a hit which ran for 501 performances at the Henry Miller Theatre. While she had made a few silent films in 1919 and 1920, her debut being in Red Hot Dollars (1919) when she was 14, she didn’t make a splash in Hollywood until 1936, when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Carrie Snyder in Valiant is the Word for Carrie (1936). Besides her role in The Roaring Twenties, George’s other notable roles include Ida Archer in The Maltese Falcon.

Jeffrey Lynn (Lloyd) was best known at the time for his role as Felix Deitz in Four Daughters, the same film which had made Priscilla Lane and her sisters stars. He would revive the role in the subsequent sequels, Four Wives and Four Mothers. He was auditioned for the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind (1939), a part that would go to Leslie Howard. Lynn would appear in such films as The Fighting 69th (1940), again with Cagney and It All Came True (1940), opposite Bogart. Lynn would move to television when the medium was still relatively new and appear on a multitude of shows. His last appearance was on Murder, She Wrote (1987).

While we think of The Roaring Twenties as a Raoul Walsh film, he wasn’t the studio’s first choice; Anatole Litvak, best known on this blog for Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), had begun work on the film before pulling out. This marked the first film Walsh had directed at Warner Bros after several years at Paramount Pictures. Walsh had been directing and acting in films since 1913 when he directed his first film, The Pseudo Prodigal. He would also appear in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) as John Wilkes Booth. He would direct Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and appear alongside Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson (1928).

While acting and directing In Old Arizona (1929), an early sound Western, Walsh would lose an eye when a jackrabbit jumped through the windshield of a car he was driving. From that day on, he would wear his iconic eye patch. Walsh would be forced out of the picture and would never act again, though he would obviously continue to direct.

Director Raoul Walsh.
At Warner Bros, Walsh directed many of his best known films, including Dark Command (1940), They Drive By Night (1940), High Sierra (1941), The Strawberry Blonde, White Heat and worked on a series of Errol Flynn films including They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Desperate Journey (1942), Gentleman Jim (1942), Northern Pursuit (1943), Uncertain Glory (1944), Objective, Burma! (1945) and Silver River (1948). His last film was a Troy Donahue Western, A Distant Trumpet (1964).

The Roaring Twenties is in many ways an homage to the gangster films made earlier in the decade. Less gritty than the earlier films, this one makes up for it. While it has been said to have a documentary feel to it, one can see that film techniques and budgets had come a long way since the exploitation days of Little Caesar and The Public Enemy. This is an A-picture all the way, even employing graphics and special effects to explain the stock market’s rise and fall to an audience that no doubt still wore the scars from the crash. The characters are better developed and the story a little deeper than its predecessors, though the same rise and fall arc and ultimate death of the protagonist are repeated here. A little melodramatic at the end, as a fatally wounded Eddie stumbles and climbs steps so he can die in front of a church, perhaps symbolic of his salvation, but you forgive the little excesses.

A visual effect used to show the rise and fall of the stock market.
This is a tour-de-force for Cagney and one of the last films in which Bogart will take less than top-billing. He is an actor on the cusp of finally achieving the stardom in the 40’s Cagney had enjoyed for most of the 30's. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys classic films and especially gangster films.

The Roaring Twenties is available at

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dead Rising - A True Classic

In preparation for the release of the PC/Steam port of Dead Rising 3, and to get in the mood of playing it, I’ve decided to go back and play the previous entries in the Dead Rising series, starting with the original Dead Rising, the subject of this review. I have a light history with this game, having watched one of my friends enthusiastically play it on his Xbox 360. However, I began playing the series from Dead Rising 2 (on PS3) and eventually decided that I would need a copy of the original, so I ended up buying one with the thought that one day I would play it. When I finally got around to it, I finally discovered some time in what the “Perfect Circle Scratch” was on 360 discs and what that means (additionally, I don’t remember if my used copy already came with this scratch), so I ended up having to buy another copy to finish the game; because of this I now have both the original and Platinum Hits versions. Since finally going through Dead Rising on my own, eight years after the original 2006 launch, I ended up liking it more than I thought I would, though there are some issues with it that I ended up agreeing with.

Frank West, a photojournalist who has covered wars, is flying by helicopter towards a big scoop, which involves learning what’s been going on in the town of Willamette, Colorado. Since the town has been sealed off from the outside world by the National Guard, the helicopter serves as a means of getting inside unnoticed. As he is flown over he decides to take some photos, but something doesn’t seem quite right, as it appears that the townspeople are attacking each other, something they wouldn’t normally do. Frank decides to head to the center of town and is dropped off on the helipad of the Willamette Parkview Mall and informs the pilot to pick him up in 72 hours, since he hopes to have his scoop by that time. When he descends the stairs to the entrance plaza, he sees zombies outside the mall, as well as a mysterious old man behind a locked security gate asking cryptic questions. Eventually the zombies manage to break through the barricade and, in the rush to ascend the stairs to the mall security room, only four people survive the attack: Frank, Brad Garrison, Jessie McCarney and Otis Washington, a janitor who welds the door to the room shut. Brad decides to leave via the air duct to continue an investigation, but when Frank asks about it he is told that it doesn’t concern a photojournalist like him. Frank convinces himself that whatever Brad is investigating must relate to what’s going on in Willamette and follows Brad into the mall, where he gradually uncovers a vast conspiracy that he has no choice but to continue uncovering even when his life is continually threatened.

Frank West, photojournalist.

During the course of 72 Hour Mode, where the bulk of the story takes place, the overarching mystery set up at the beginning is written very well. A sufficient amount of questions are introduced within roughly the first few minutes in a way that makes the player just as curious as Frank is about what exactly is going on in Willamette. As the player completes the Cases which make up the main story, more answers are revealed to both Frank and the player, which lead to scenes with a genuine emotional impact through all of the highs and lows, in turn creating more of a connection between Frank and the player, as though the player is also a reporter trying to get the facts straight. That isn’t to say Frank doesn’t have a personality; in fact, it’s very interesting to play as someone who’s willing to help others out, not out of genuine kindness, but out of his opportunistic way of getting more information about his big scoop. In other words, he cares more about his own survival and journalistic opportunity than actually saving people.

The supporting characters, for the most part, are also written nicely. It’s obvious that they have more of a stake in the events than Frank does, but we learn enough about them to get a sense of their personalities and histories with each other, something which also extends to the main antagonists. Additionally, the Psychopaths that Frank can fight are interesting in that they can have unique backgrounds and the way they act gives the player a good idea of the kind of people they are and why they went insane, plus they can elicit a genuine emotion from the player; this is mostly tension or fear, but they are also capable of being sympathetic in their histories. In other words, they feel like people and not just a random person you can fight.

72 Hour mode is divided in Cases that the player can complete to gradually unravel the secrets behind the zombie outbreak. Depending on how well the player succeeds in clearing the cases, or if they just outright ignored it, they will get one of six different endings labeled A through F. If the player gets Ending A, the canonical outcome of 72 Hour Mode, they will unlock Overtime Mode, which adds another 24 hours to the story and wraps up the plot. Overtime Mode is worth going through, since Frank, while still very opportunistic, experiences a truly life-threatening circumstance and places more urgency in his survival. The ending, however, is slightly unsatisfactory since one question was never answered, but otherwise all of the remaining pieces of the game’s backstory fall into place very nicely.

When I played Overtime Mode, this walkthrough was a real lifesaver.

As a sandbox game, Dead Rising has some very interesting elements, the most well-known feature being the ability to pick up absolutely anything in the mall and use it as a weapon against the zombie hordes, ranging from beach umbrellas and soccer balls to lawnmowers and chainsaws. It’s satisfying to experiment with the items to see which ones are the most effective and which are simply meant as a joke; if you have no weapons you can go hand-to-hand or use your own spit. Various food and drink items can also be picked up to replenish Frank’s health, represented by yellow squares, and skill books can be picked up to add skill buffs, such as increasing the durability of specific weapon types or the amount of health you regain from food and drink consumption. Learning how all of these items work in tandem and exploiting that is the best way to survive, although there is a particular combination (Small Chainsaw + Criminal Biography (Book) + Engineering (Book) + Entertainment (Book)) that makes the game way easier than intended by making most boss fights a breeze and allowing you to effortlessly carve your way through all but the largest zombie crowds. At that point, the tension comes from having a low level, being under-equipped or ending up between a rock and a hard place.

Protip: Kill this man at all costs.

Even then, there are a couple of annoyances with the weapons you can use. Firearms are a real hassle, since they require you to stand perfectly in place while you aim, so you can’t exactly take cover or maneuver out of the way of oncoming enemies if you choose to do so. There are a couple points when having a firearm does become essential to victory (one of which involves funneling your enemies into a tight space), but apart from that I almost never used them and kept one around as a last resort tactic. Weapons can also break pretty easily without any skill books, so you have to keep a healthy supply of weapons and appropriate books on hand at all times if you want to make it through each day. I’d also count vehicles as weapons, since you can drive them through zombie crowds, so I’ll mention that they have issues as well. It’s very satisfying to drive through thick groups of zombies and gain an absurd amount of PP (more on that later), but the vehicles in general are a little floaty in the steering and it’s often difficult to slow to a stop and get out/dismount in the exact spot you want, which can force you to wade through more zombies to get to your intended destination. Still, the sheer speed of getting to where you need to go is well worth their use.

Dead Rising also has a very slight RPG touch to it by having Frank capable of leveling up via gaining more Prestige Points (PP). PP can usually be earned by defeating zombies and psychopaths, rescuing survivors or taking photographs. Photographs are pretty easy to take, since it’s pretty much point-and-shoot while also allowing you to zoom in and out (plus you can actually walk at a respectable pace while aiming!). Whenever a shot is taken, PP is awarded based on what’s in the photo, which also determines the shot’s overall genre. This is a rather fun and relatively quick way to gain PP, although you have to worry about replacing the batteries every so often, which takes some of the fun out of it. As Frank levels up in general, either one of his stats increases or he gains a special move that can be activated by certain button combinations. There are ways to exploit the game to gain PP much faster (such as Vehicles + Maintenance Tunnels), but the road to Level 50 is actually not a bad one and there’s an interesting thrill in discovering what’s happened to Frank next thanks to the random nature of the rewards.

You'd better love it down here if you want the Zombie Genocider achievement.

As for the other methods, Psychopaths are essentially boss fights that happen in pre-determined locations at specific times. You can easily walk right into one without knowing that they’re there, but you’re often told about them ahead of time by Otis. Psychopath fights can also be incredibly difficult, though the Convicts in Leisure Park really take the cake for being in a moving vehicle with a mounted machine gun; I ended up just hugging the wall to avoid them whenever I had to go through that area after they spawned onto the map. But the difficulty in Psychopath fights can be worth it in the end thanks to the fruitful rewards you can claim, such as Adam (the clown psychopath) yielding some of the game’s most essential aids; defeating him gives you the Small Chainsaw and a survivor named Greg Simpson who gives you access to the Wonderland Plaza shortcut. This shortcut makes it much easier to rescue survivors, although the survivors themselves are dumber than a sack of rocks. Their pathfinding is abysmal and can be a real hindrance, especially when you give them a melee weapon, since then they’ll just happily run into zombie crowds without a second thought, but giving them a firearm suddenly makes them killing machines, which finally gives those weapons a use as well as making the escort experience bearable.

In general, Dead Rising has a mild arcade feel that actually makes for a very enjoyable experience, though I still have a couple major hang-ups about it. The first is Otis, the janitor, who manages to call you on the transceiver at the worst possible times. The transceiver rings incessantly, so you answer to shut it up, but when you do, you can’t move, attack or interact with items or inventory in any way. If you get hit during this time, the call automatically ends and he’ll call you again a few seconds later; answering this call will result in Otis chewing you out for hanging up on him and restarting his rather long-winded explanation. On top of that, he hardly ever has anything useful to say, sometimes just telling you where you are in the mall. While Otis is annoying though, that’s nowhere near on the level of the game’s 72 hour time limit, or roughly six hours in real time (game time is real time x 12, so one real second is twelve game seconds and five real minutes is one game hour). The idea behind the 72 hours isn’t bad, since it creates the time frame of the story, but the way this is handled results in more of a frantic race from Point A to Point B, rather than a game where you can sort of take your time, and often there is very low margin of error during a Case and deviating from the set path can have disastrous consequences (unless you’re doing this intentionally).

Time is known to pass quickly in this realm.

One final sticking point is the save system. You only have one slot per account, so if you decide to do another game mode while in the middle of another, you’ve lost all progress in the original mode. If you die while playing the game, you only have two options, those being to load your last save (which may have been hours ago) or restart the game from scratch with a new save. Additionally, you can only save at specific points on the map, mainly in bathrooms, which are more often than not spaced what feels like galaxies apart from each other, creating true panic if you’re desperately looking for one. The saving grace of this system though is that when you start up a new game, your stats transfer between attempts, so if you end up getting to Level 50 (which is actually the level cap), then you’ll be Level 50 with maxed out stats and moves in every mode you decide to play.

Dead Rising also has a lot of replay value, since there are achievements or items that can only be obtained by deviating from the main story or performing certain actions. Spending playthroughs doing so to boost your chances of survival can be well worth the effort, since anything you unlocked will be readily accessible and obscenely overpowered. Also, completing Overtime Mode will unlock Infinity Mode, where the goal is simply to survive as long as possible. However, the zombie density is thicker and Frank must worry about his health, which deteriorates at a rate of one block every 100 seconds, as well as random psychopath and survivor encounters. Careful rationing of food and supplies, along with a solid game plan, and possibly being at Level 50, can really go a long way to surviving beyond the first day (I survived for a little less than four game hours).

Good Luck

As far as graphics are concerned, I would say that the game has aged amazingly well. I remember it looking pretty good back in 2006, but even eight years later the game has retained a lot of its luster. The characters look realistic enough that they aren’t off-putting and the amount of detail is incredible on every living or inanimate object. Sure there’s some clipping here and there and close-ups aren’t as good on some characters, but the draw distance is also very good and the zombies are very distinctive even with the somewhat limited selection of character models. In fact, one of the greatest feats of this game is being able to have so many zombies onscreen at once, with one report saying that up to 800 could be rendered at once. This is really incredible and adds to the feeling of being truly surrounded by the undead at every turn.

There's plenty more where they came from.

While I would consider the voice acting to be another plus, even though some lines are so narmy that they’ve become running jokes in the Dead Rising community, I’d also like to give props to the music. The running themes, such as the one at the beginning, are composed well and the mall music is actually done well to the point that I’d like to own the soundtrack just to hear it some more (killing zombies in a mall for so long will do that to you). Some of the licensed tracks are also very memorable, such as Fly Routine by Hostile Groove or Slave by The Evolutionaries.

Overall, Dead Rising is a great game. The main mystery in the story is executed very well and Frank West is a very interesting character to play as, especially during the moments of genuine emotional connection that the player may encounter. Some aspects bog down the experience a bit, including the incredibly strict timing of the story and abysmally idiotic survivors, but there’s plenty on offer to balance it out, such as a solid amount of replay value and valuable rewards to anyone willing to seek them. My experience with the Xbox 360 library is limited, but I would already consider Dead Rising to be one of the best games I’ve ever played on it and I’d gladly return to it again in the future. If you’re looking for a great zombie game, seek out this wonderful gem.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Stubs - The Oklahoma Kid

The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Starring: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Donald Crisp, Hugh Sothern, Harvey Stephens, Charles Middleton, Edward Pawley, Ward Bond. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Produced by Hal B. Wallis (Executive Producer), Jack L. Warner (Executive Producer). Screenplay by Warren Duff, Robert Buckner. Story by Edward Paramore and Wally Klein. Run Time: 85 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Western

The Western was one of the most enduring of the genres that Hollywood churned out, first on film and then for the early days of TV. One of the earliest examples of the genre was Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), only a few years removed from the era the stories were set in. During the silent age, all the studios made Westerns, but with the coming of sound many of the Hollywood studios would abandon them, leaving it to smaller studios and producers. But the genre got a shot in the arm in 1939, when the major studios released a slew of Westerns, including Dodge City, Jesse James, Union Pacific, Destry Rides Again, Stagecoach and, our film, The Oklahoma Kid.

The Western is characterized by plots involving America’s westward expansion in the 35 years from just after the Civil War to the turn of the 20th Century. As part of that settlement, Westerns deal with taming of the frontier, the building of the railroads and, of course, the fight between the settlers and the American Indians. The Westerns are also about bringing law and order to the wild frontier and, as such, have a lot of gunplay, with the stereotypical gunfight at high noon.

Looking back, it seems like every star of note from the 1930s and '40s made a Western (and/or a musical) at some point in their career. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule; one obvious exception is Cary Grant, who for one reason or another never appeared in a Western. (His great and good friend, Randolph Scott, appeared in more than 60 Westerns during his career.) But for the most part, name an actor from that time period and chances are good that he appeared in a Western or two.

But there are still some actors that you don’t associate with the genre and two of them star in The Oklahoma Kid: James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. (Even before seeing the film you know how’s going to be killed, the surprise is by whom.) From their resumes, the casting of Cagney and Bogart in a horse opera seems at best farfetched. Both were best known for their roles in gangster and crime films, so the assignment had to come as a surprise.

Bogart was probably used to such treatment by Warner Bros. He was a workhorse, pardon the pun, for the studio, making eight films that were released in 1939, rarely got top-billing or even second billing and was shown little or no respect by the head of the studios. As an example, Warners would later cast him as Marshall Quesne aka Dr. Maurice Xavier, a corpse come back to life in The Return of Doctor X (1939). (Science fiction is another genre Bogie isn’t associated with either.) Taking a role in a Western must have looked pretty good by comparison.

Cagney, who had left Warner Bros. for a couple of years after suing the studio over his contract and winning, had come back the year before signing a five year contract making $150,000 a film. His first film back was a comedy, Boy Meets Girl (1938), and then back to gangster films with Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Unlike Bogart, Cagney always received top-billing and made only a few films a year. Surprising that one of only three he made in 1939 would be a Western.

The film takes place during the Land Rush of 1893 for an area in the future state of Oklahoma called the Cherokee Strip. Then President Grover Cleveland (Stuart Holmes) signs a proclamation that buys the land once ceded to the Cherokee Indians and opens it up to settlement. The Indians are to be paid for their land in silver, which arrives on board a heavily guarded train. However, once it is transferred to a stagecoach for the rest of the journey, the military accompaniment drops off.

This leaves the silver as relatively easy pickings for Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang, which includes Wes Handley (Ward Bond), Doolin (Edward Pawley), Curley (Lew Harvey) and Indian Jack Pasco (Trevor Bardette). They rob the stage of the silver and even take a couple of the horses to carry their bounty. But they are being watched by the Oklahoma Kid (James Cagney), a lone horseman.

Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) plans to steal the silver meant to pay off the Indians.

Using a shortcut, he manages to get ahead of the McCord gang and, after a shootout, takes the horse with the bag of silver.

The Oklahoma Kid (James Cagney). The smart take from the strong.

On the eve of the big land rush of 1893, the Oklahoma Kid shows up at a gathering of future settlers in Cherokee City, including those who dream of founding a new city, led by John Kincaid (Hugh Sothern), his son Ned (Harvey Stephens), Judge Hardwick (Donald Crisp) and his daughter Jane (Rosemary Lane). Jane and Ned are already an item and part of their dream is to start a new life together. Uninvited to the square dance, The Kid dances with Jane much to Ned’s dismay. The Kid then rides off, back into town.

The Kid meets Jane Hardwick (Rosemary Lane) at a pre-land grab dance.

There he spends some of the silver gambling and catches the eye of Whip, who sends Wes to bring The Kid to him. But The Kid would rather sing, having coerced the piano player into playing I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard (which wasn’t written until 1894; music by Henry W. Petrie, lyrics by Philip Wingate). When Wes bothers him, in typical Cagney persona response, he punches him, knocking the much bigger man to the floor. When Whip and the rest of his gang surround him, demanding the silver, The Kid outsmarts them, shooting only one gang member as he manages to escape.

Whip wants the silver back, but The Kid isn't going to do so.
When the Sheriff arrives about the commotion, Whip tells him that The Kid is the one who stole the Indian’s silver and the Sheriff goes looking for him.

The next day, when the Kincaid-led fast riders make it to the Promised Land, they are disappointed to find Whip had already staked a claim to the land they wanted for their town. John threatens to bring Whip up on charges of being a Sooner, but Whip convinces him that would tie up the claim for years, allowing other towns an advantage. He offers instead to split the town with them. They could have the bank, the school and the churches and he would take the saloon and gambling dens. The Kincaids acquiesce.

Meanwhile, back in Cherokee City, The Kid has no interest in the land rush, much to the chagrin of Judge Hardwick, who joins him for a drink. The Judge is to arrive later and help bring law and order to the Kincaid’s town. But The Kid has no interest in the legal system, insisting that the six-shooter is the only real law in the still wild west. He admits that he stole the money and shows no remorse about hijacking the payment, noting the Oklahoma Territory "was stolen from the Indians" at $1.40 an acre, and adding "the strong take away from the weak, and the smart take away from the strong." While they are talking, the Sheriff and his posse arrive to arrest The Kid, who puts up no resistance. But he manages to escape, using the swinging doors of the saloon and jumping on his conveniently untethered horse he rides out of town.

While sharing a drink with Judge Hardwick (Donald Crisp), The Kid is arrested
for stealing the silver, but he manages to escape.

We watch while the town of Tulsa blooms from a city of tents to permanent buildings, as symbolized by the Bank, run by John Kincaid, and the Territorial Saloon run by McCord. But the vice that supports McCord creates lawlessness which the other town founders feel is not good for business. John decides to run for mayor on a law and order campaign and Ned runs for Sheriff. McCord can’t let this happen, so he trumps up charges that John killed a man and the elder Kincaid is thrown into his son’s jail.

Still on the run, The Kid reads an old paper detailing how John Kincaid has been arrested for murder. He rides into Tulsa, even though there is a reward for his arrest. He goes to Judge Hardwick’s house and talks with Jane. He reveals that his real name is Jim and that John Kincaid is his father. Sheriff Ned arrives looking for The Kid, but Jane hides him and lies to Ned, telling him The Kid has already left, even though his horse is clearly tied up out in front of their house. Ned leaves and The Kid goes back into hiding.

With Judge Hardwick scheduled to preside at John’s trial, Whip doesn’t like the odds of a conviction, so he cooks up a plan to get the Judge out of the way and have another Judge, Judge Morgan (Arthur Aylesworth), whom he has on his payroll, handle the trial. Whip falsifies a letter from the Judge's brother in Kansas City, saying that he's ill and asking for a  visit before he dies. Thinking he has time before the trial, the Judge jumps on the next stagecoach and leaves a note for Jane.

Hours later, when she finds the letter, she knows it’s not true. John’s brother had just sent a postcard from Canada. She decides to try and run down the stage. Out on the trail, The Kid overtakes her. He tells her to go back to town and try to delay the trial and he rides on to stop the stage.

While the Judge and The Kid ride back to Tulsa, the trial goes ahead and John Kincaid is found guilty of murder. When The Kid gets back to town, he tries to break his father out of jail, but he refuses to go, putting his faith in the law. But to make sure he gets the result he wants, Whip sends a band of vigilante’s to carry out “justice”. Sheriff Ned can’t stop them and John is hung outside the jail.

Whip calls for vigilantes to carry out justice and hang John Kincaid.

The Kid learns about his father’s hanging from Jane and her father and, equipped with the names of those who led the vigilantes, goes out to seek revenge. One by one, he kills Whip’s cohorts, making sure that, even when there are no witnesses, the circumstances are self-defense, before heading for Whip himself. But when The Kid confronts Whip, Ned has already been there to arrest Whip and has been mortally wounded. In the gunfight, it is Ned who actually shoots and kills Whip, saving The Kid’s life.

After killing one of Whip's men, The Kid blows on his gun barrel.

Afterwards, The Kid returns to the Judge’s house, where Jane sort of throws herself at him, telling him that she’s in love with him. The Kid feels the same and the two are quickly married by her father, the Judge.

The film was not well received by critics nor was it a box office success. In a contemporary review, Frank S. Nugent wrote in the New York Times that while “Mr. Cagney doesn't urge you to believe him for a second;” the rest of cast doesn’t play their parts with his “jauntiness.”, adding, “Had they all been as pert as The Kid, the picture would have jumped into the realm of satire; it's on the border-line as it stands.” John Mosher at the New Yorker called the film “This week’s disappointment.” Other reviews called out the incongruity of having Cagney with his “Bowery Accent” star in a Western, though some, like Howard Barnes, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, called Cagney’s performance a “tour-de-force.” Audiences apparently disagreed with Mr. Barnes.

The Oklahoma Kid does have a certain genre-bending feel to it and that has to do with the casting. Perhaps if it had been Cagney or Bogart alone, things would not seem so odd. But putting them into a story about fighting over the control of liquor and power sounds too much like a gangster film. (Just replace Chicago for Tulsa and move the story up thirty years and you're almost there as it is.) Bogart himself contributed to the notion. In a New York Times profile shortly before the film opened, he said "I speak the same lines and do the same things as I do in any other Warner picture. The only difference is that I snarl at the Injuns from under a ten-gallon hat."

Both Bogart and Cagney look a little stiff in their Western attire.

It doesn’t help that the both lead actors look and sound like fish out of water. Neither would pass for hardened western pioneers. And their costumes and make up don’t help either. Cagney’s ten gallon hat is a little too big for his head, even Bogart was famously quoted as saying that "Cagney looked like a mushroom under [his] huge western hat." Add to that, his boots are on the outside of his jeans and he wears a neckerchief that is almost a stand in for a tie. Despite The Kid’s reputation, he just doesn’t look menacing.

In a publicity shot for the film, Cagney almost looks swallowed up by the costume.

The project was originally conceived as the story of the mountain men by writer Ted Paramore; Cagney was very interested. In his 1975 biography, Cagney by Cagney, he wrote "We researched it and I came up with some things I wanted to do, pretty exciting things, I thought. Warner's, without warning pulled Paramore off the script and without a word to me, changed directors. When I got the final script it had as much to do with history as the Katzenjammer Kids. It had become typical horse opera, just another programmer."

While the film may have some troubles with historical accuracy, this has never been a strong suit with Hollywood. The film acts like this is the only land rush in Oklahoma, when in fact there were several. And Tulsa was not founded in 1893, but rather the city was first settled by the Lochapoka Muscogee Indians between 1826 and 1836. Lewis Perryman built a log cabin and established a trading post in 1846 and the first Post Office opened in 1879 on a ranch owned by one of Perryman’s sons. By the time Kincaid founded the town in the movie the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad had already reached Tulsa 11 years earlier. But no one watches a Western for historical accuracy.

The Oklahoma Kid is not a great Western, but it is not a bad movie. Seeing Cagney and Bogart together, they only shared the screen three times, makes it worthwhile. You just wonder why Warners would have chosen to use up one of those occasions on a story that neither seemed right for. This might be a fish out of water Western, but the fish don’t get much bigger than Cagney or Bogart.

The Oklahoma Kid is available from the Warner Archive:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ultra Street Fighter IV - The Third Definitive Super Street Fighter IV

In the early 2000s, the fighting game genre began to wane in popularity due to the decline in dedicated arcades and the rise of more powerful gaming consoles which allowed multiplayer gaming in other genres. What also didn’t help was that the games being released got progressively more complex, thus making it difficult for players to keep up with the mechanics. As this slump went on into the late 2000s, Street Fighter IV (SFIV) saw a Japanese arcade release in 2008 and a home console port in 2009. By returning to, and updating, the series’ roots (i.e. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior) with striking 3D graphics and a purely 2D fighting system, the game achieved extraordinary success and garnered universal critical acclaim. This success prompted other companies to reboot or create sequels for other existing properties, leading to Mortal Kombat (2009), Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle and a host of other original properties such as BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger and Skullgirls. This resurgence in popularity for fighting games may continue for the next few years, with each new game owing something to SFIV’s success.

However, within the six years since its initial release, SFIV has become the latest victim of what TV Tropes calls Capcom Sequel Stagnation, wherein a game is re-released multiple times with enough tweaks that make it seem like a new game. Capcom is by no means the only company to do this, but they’ve done it enough to be infamous for it. After the success of Street Fighter IV in 2008 and 2009, Capcom has since released (with years for retail releases) Super Street Fighter IV (SSFIV) in 2010, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (SSFIV:AE) in 2011, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (Ver. 2012) (SSFIV:AE12) in 2012 (as a free balance patch, though some players like to think of it as a separate game entirely) and now Ultra Street Fighter IV (USFIV), the subject of this review, in 2014. Having already bought every single version of Street Fighter IV in some way, three of these being in disc form (I kind of want to later buy SSFIV:AE on disc just to complete my collection), I decided “Why not?” and pre-ordered USFIV while I was at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (I also got a free poster out of it). People have already played this version through the downloadable update for SSFIV (more on that later), but having played the physical release, I figured I’d still be able to give my opinion on it. So, do I think the $40 investment was worth it? Yes and no.

"I have no intention of carrying on Street Fighter IV into
Hyper Street Fighter IV or Ultra Street Fighter IV, because I'm aware
of the mistakes Capcom has made in the past." - Yoshinori Ono

Several months after the events of Street Fighter II, M. Bison turns out to have survived his battle with Akuma and formed a new organization called S.I.N. that’s somehow related to Shadaloo. S.I.N. holds another tournament to draw the world’s most powerful warriors into one spot to complete the BLECE project. Every fighter has their own personal motivation for entering the tournament, be it to spread the word of a particular fighting style, share a love of cooking or find out what S.I.N. is up to. The true purpose of the tournament however is to lure out Ryu and study the Satsui no Hado, which S.I.N. believe will be the final piece of data needed to complete the BLECE project.

Because of the placement of this game on the timeline, between Street Fighter II and III, I had a very loose idea of how the events connected based on what I’ve read on the internet for Street Fighter II’s plot. Even then, the story was a little confusing for a couple reasons: 1) I haven’t played any of the Street Fighter Alpha games, which I understand creates some continuity lockout, and 2) it’s been years since I played the vanilla Street Fighter IV. To elaborate, the story actually differs a bit between the regular and “Super” editions of SFIV, but they are connected and require knowledge of both to fully understand what’s going on. Nevertheless, I did like the idea that playing the arcade mode for each character gradually unravels a complex story that becomes rewarding to unlock the entirety of and mentally put it all together. Of course, not every character is relevant to this overarching plot, so it’s possible to go quite a while without seeing anything from the actual story unless you have a guide telling you what characters to play as. In addition, the “Fight Your Rival” animations that play do help with each character’s stories, but for some reason the characters introduced in both the “Arcade Edition” and “Ultra” versions don’t have them (and even then, the countless fights with Seth that cap off each run hardly matter for most of them), which makes the stories of Evil Ryu and Oni especially jarring (not it would help matters with the latter though, since his plot is so bare bones that I can’t figure out what his deal is). In short, if you care about the story, either you play the vanilla and “Ultra” versions of SFIV or none at all, and you have to have knowledge of the stories for Street Fighter II and the Alpha games to fully comprehend it all. Also, keep in mind that the cutscenes for returning characters are exactly the same as they were in SSFIV and Arcade Edition.

This is almost everything you'll ever learn about Oni from his story.

But of course, the story isn’t the main reason anyone plays Street Fighter (unless, again, they really do care about it); it’s the gameplay that really counts. In general, the mechanics of Street Fighter IV are simple: Two players fight each other on a pure 2D plane by pulling off different combos and special attacks. On a controller, the buttons are set up so that the left stick and D-pad control movement and combo inputs while the action and shoulder buttons are allocated so that they represent Light, Medium and Heavy Punches and Kicks; L1 and L2 (on a PS3 controller) also respectively act as inputs for all three Punches and Kicks simultaneously. In addition, pressing certain combinations of the same button will activate certain features: Light Punch + Light Kick will perform a throw, Medium Punch + Medium Kick initiates a Focus Attack (a powerful strike that goes off after a unique animation plays wherein you can block a couple hits automatically) and Heavy Punch + Heavy Kick will perform a Personal Action (aka a Taunt).

There are also a couple of gauges to keep in mind. On the top of the screen you’ll naturally find the health gauges, but on the bottom of the screen are a Super Combo gauge and an Ultra Combo gauge. The Super Combo gauge goes up with every attack you make, even if it isn’t successful, and builds up four different segments. Each segment can be used to increase the power of certain special attacks, turning it into an EX version of the move, but if you wait until all four are available, you can pull off a Super Combo, which is usually an upgraded version of a special attack, but you can’t be attacked during the initial animation. At the end of this gauge is the Ultra Combo gauge, which only builds up when you take damage. It is divided into two segments, though only one needs to be filled up; when flames begin to spout from the edges of this gauge, then you are allowed to perform an Ultra Combo, each with their own unique attack animations and properties (ex. some are defensive or the range can be limited). The Ultra Combo is usually the most powerful attack in any character’s arsenal and can easily turn the tide in an instant, sometimes even giving the player a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Red Focus Attacks (described below) are also pretty deadly.

Between all of the different versions of Street Fighter IV, I’ve found the gameplay to be very easy to understand and grasp, mainly because the mechanics at hand return to a very simplistic style of gameplay while integrating just enough complexity in the main mechanics to keep it interesting and add tenseness and urgency to each fight. It sort of has the good kind of depth where it’s easy to learn but true mastery comes from being able to beat your opponent into submission with a powerful barrage of combos. SSFIV would build on this by also introducing a secondary Ultra Combo for every character, but you could only pick one before a match (represented on the gauge with a Roman numeral I or II), so figuring out which one would work in any given situation was often the key to winning.

Ultra Street Fighter IV, however, introduces three more mechanics: Ultra Combo Double, Red Focus Attacks and Delayed Standing. With Ultra Combo Double, you can pull off either of a character’s Ultra Combos at any normal point, but they deal less damage than if you just picked one; this is represented on the Ultra Combo gauge with a “W” (the use of a “W” could be rooted in a sort of multilingual pun since “Double” is pronounced “Dabaru” and sounds close to “W”, pronounced “Dabaruyu”, or “Double U” as in having double Ultra Combos). Red Focus Attacks are activated by pressing Medium Punch + Medium Kick + Light Punch, which plays the regular Focus Attack animation, but costs two parts of the Super Combo gauge and deals even more damage while granting further immunity to damage (about as much as your health). Delayed Standing is basically the ability to delay when you get up or perform a wake-up attack, which creates uncertainty in the opponent, as they won’t be able to predict when you’ll recover from being forced to lie down. These new mechanics, combined with the ones previously made available, add a bit more depth to a match, especially for those in the tournament scene (which may also overlap with those obsessive over frame data), since there are more options at hand and the ability to fight back has been heightened. I’m sort of glad that these new options exist, since I really didn’t like having to pick one Ultra Combo before and now I can fight more with the element of surprise. These are great options for making a great system even better.

You can now use both Ultra Combos in the same round.

As for the character roster, the original SFIV had 25 characters in the home console release, which got increased to 35 with SSFIV and then 39 with SSFIV:AE. USFIV brings the roster to 44 by introducing five new characters to play as: Poison, Hugo, Elena, Rolento and Decapre; the first four were previously seen in Street Fighter X Tekken (SFXT) and were ported over due to high demand from fans while Decapre is a completely new character. These new additions are interesting, as they control similarly to how they did in SFXT and Decapre is a new charge character (i.e. she requires charge motions, which involve holding down one directional button before completing the motions for a special attack). Normally I don’t like to use charge characters, but I actually liked using Decapre, since one of her key attacks, Scramble, can really dominate the field with the right care in its use. The others control pretty well, although the only one of them I felt comfortable using was Poison, a pretty powerful wrestler/wrestling promoter who has a great array of moves, including one that can become a throw. In general though, it’s pretty easy for a player to find a character that they’ll like and use as their main, especially now that USFIV has them pretty competitively balanced, though I have to say that there seem to be a number of characters who operate similarly, almost to the point of feeling like palette swaps, although their technical differences are the only things keeping them distinct.

The character roster as of Ultra Street Fighter IV.

Other additions include six new stages, all of which are from SFXT, all previously released DLC costumes, an Online Training mode and an Online Team Battle mode, wherein players can play in teams of up to three each and play a match this way. Players can also now upload replays to YouTube, a feature that, like the online modes, I don’t really plan on using, but I understand if this is meaningful to someone else. In addition, it’s possible when selecting a character to also select which balance iteration you wish to use, which makes it possible, for example, to have the SFIV version of Ryu fight against the SSFIV:AE12 edition of Ken. I didn’t use this option too much, but this would make for some very exciting matchups in the right hands.

The possibilities are now racing through your mind.

The music in this game is also pretty good, with tunes that capture the feel of each stage pretty well and don’t distract from the fight at hand. It’s also possible to select which voice track you want between English and Japanese, but you can go further by independently setting the language between cutscenes and battle, as well as the vocal track for each individual character. I just went with a blanket English option, but for those who really want to micromanage the language options, this isn’t bad.

Before I end this review, I’d also like to address something I mentioned earlier regarding Ultra Street Fighter IV being a downloadable update for Super Street Fighter IV. While this is true, enabling you to use an SSFIV disc as though it were a copy of USFIV, this also applies to the physical disc release. The PS3’s XMB (Cross Media Bar) recognizes the disc as a copy of Ultra Street Fighter IV, but the Trophies and Save Data are recognized as Super Street Fighter IV, with trophies for the former treated as DLC Trophies for the latter. Personally I find this a little strange if I have the physical disc, but this is really more of a minor nitpick. Still, if this is something you care about regarding how your system will recognize a disc, keep this in mind.

And now I kind of wish Asura was one of the new playable characters.

Ultra Street Fighter IV is the best version of Street Fighter IV yet. With new content available for players old and new, good balance updates and a plethora of new ways to play, this is the definitive way to experience the game. If you haven’t played SFIV yet, then USFIV is the place to start. If you’re a veteran player who already owns at least one (or all) versions of this game, then consider giving it a shot. Personally, I’m just hoping that this really is the final version of Street Fighter IV and Capcom finally moves on to Street Fighter V; I’m getting restless with these constant re-releases of the same game.

"Arcade Edition will be the end of Street Fighter IV. What comes next?
We'll see. But we aren't planning any more Street Fighter IVs." - Seth Killian