Let me tell you a story from my childhood that describes how I felt after having played Final Fight: Streetwise for the first time…
I was around nine-years-old, walking alone on the sidewalk totally lost in thought. Being that it was 1984 and summertime, I was probably daydreaming about going to the arcade and playing Donkey Kong Jr. I really loved that game.
Anyway, there I am, walking.
When I reach the curb, I gingerly step into the crosswalk without first checking both ways.
Next thing I know, I'm laying in the middle of a 3-way intersection and my hands, arms, and knees are cut and bleeding. I had scampered out in front of a van that had the right-of-way.
Final Fight: Streetwise knocked the wind out of me like that van did.
Soon after loading up the game, my nostalgic memories of beating up Mad Gear goons in the original side-scrolling Final Fight were replaced with the horrific realization that Capcom had stuck the franchise's name on a poorly-produced ripoff of games like State of Emergency and 25-To-Life (which, while not so hot, are superior in every regard to what Capcom crapped onto this disc).
They have transformed one of the great 2-D beat 'em ups, which spawned a couple of equally-awesome sequels on the Super NES, into a generic and wholly unenjoyable free-roam thugfest.
It's not the 3-D viewpoint that offends me, although, truth be told, the graphics and camera aren't very good. What offends me is that Final Fight: Streetwise fails in every regard to live up to its potential. Capcom set out to mimic games like State of Emergency , Shenmue , and The Warriors , but neglected to sufficiently build-in the charm, variety, or flair that made those games enjoyable.
Here we have yet another of those "sandbox" games, where players can wander freely around the in-game world and beat up or talk to just about everyone. Metro City isn't very large. There are five main areas, each consisting of a handful of interconnected streets, some single-room shops and eateries, and one or two multi-floor buildings. Since the areas are so small, moving between them is easy. That's good, since Kyle, the main character, has to walk on foot from one location to the next. It's also bad, because players can see and do everything within an extremely brief period of time.
Combat is simplistic and repetitive, much like the classic beat 'em up the game is based on. Kyle can perform quick or strong attacks, grab his targets, pick up and use various weapons, and perform a dozen or so canned combos. Status items, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and sodas, can be consumed to re-fill Kyle's health and instinct meters, which keep him alive and let you put extra oomph behind his attacks. Gang members travel alone or in packs, and will attack Kyle when they notice him. They typically only employ basic attacks and a modest usage of weapons, so mopping the streets with them is usually guaranteed. Boss characters, which await at the end of each story mission, offer a meatier challenge, since they tend to dole out more damage and make trickier attacks. Much of the game involves tapping the attack buttons and the block button, repeatedly, while moving from one pack of thugs to the next.
People generally don't mind it when a beat 'em up is simple and repetitive, so long as the interactions between the characters are good. Here, the only payoff from fighting one batch of opponents is the chance to fight another batch. The characters have zero personality; they look generic and react the same way every time. Fans of the original Final Fight will be surprised to see how boring Metro City has become. The Mad Gear gang has been replaced by generic thugs and gang bosses with stereotypical names like Vinnie, Stiff, Dino, and Vito. A few old favorites, such as Mike Haggar, Guy, and Andore, do make appearances, but only as minor characters. The only major character from the original game that has any significant role in this one is Cody, Kyle's older brother, and that's only because he's the driving force behind the story.
I won't spoil the entire story, just in case anyone reading this actually plans to pick up the game, but I will say that it involves Cody, a powerfully addictive performance-enhancing drug, and Kyle's efforts to clean up the streets (and his older brother). The F-word is also spoken at least once per sentence during dialogue scenes. Mercifully, the story mode doesn't take long to finish. Each of the eight story missions (chapters) that guide the main narrative along only require 20 minutes or so to complete. Personally, I blew through the whole thing in under 5 hours, and that was with 95% of the side-missions completed.
Capcom tried to bulk up the game by allowing players to go on optional side-missions, play mini-games, and purchase upgrades to Kyle's abilities, but they did so in a half-assed fashion that leaves players wanting more rather than feeling satisfied. It's wonderful that you can walk up to non-player characters and go on missions for them or participate in mini-games. It's not so wonderful that there are only roughly 50 side-missions and six mini-games, or that most side-missions barely require more than a minute to complete, or that the mini-games are downright pathetic. Fans of the original game may appreciate the "break car" mini-game, but the rest involve such silly pursuits as arm wrestling, rat stomping, slide puzzles, card memorization, and three-card-monte.
In addition to the story mode, the disc also includes two unlockable bonuses in the form of an arcade mode and an emulated version of the classic Final Fight arcade game. The arcade mode is slightly more fun than the story mode is, because it's a straightforward beat 'em up that doesn't involve any of the story mode's backtracking, side-missions, or movie scenes. There are four different characters to pick from (Kyle, Cody, Haggar, and Guy) and two players can play simultaneously. Unfortunately, players have to play through the entire story mode in order to unlock all of the arcade mode's levels and characters. The other bonus on the disc is the original Final Fight arcade game, which you'd think would be a good thing, if only Capcom hadn't totally hosed the emulation. For one, settings such as difficulty, number of lives, and number of credits can't be changed. For two, the animation is so choppy that it makes the game unplayable. What a letdown, considering that the version included with Capcom Classics Collection was arcade-perfect.
I could waste more of your time by describing the graphics and audio in great detail, but there's really no good reason for me to do that when a basic summary will suffice. The audio consists of some cardboard voice acting, a typical assortment of beat 'em up sound effects, and roughly two-dozen music tracks from actual B-grade rap and hard rock artists. Fans of the Cowboy Bebop and Big O animated series will immediately recognize the voice of Steven Blum, who voiced Spike Spiegel and Roger Smith in those shows and who voices the role of Kyle Travers in this game. This isn't his best work though, and that's putting it lightly. As for the graphics, we haven't seen a 3-D world and characters this plain, a polygon count this low, or textures this murky since the early days of the PlayStation 2 (five years ago!).
Do yourself a favor and stay far away from Final Fight: Streetwise.