Hey, you. Have you ever read one of those super enthusiastic articles I’ve written about fighting games, or seen/heard me banging on about some incredible Street Fighter IV moment on Twitter/the podcast? Maybe you got caught up in all the EVO hype and thought “Fuck it. I’m going to play Guilty Gear Xrd and become the best player to ever live” and almost immediately hit a brick wall in terms of what that game expects of you? Are you someone who enjoys watching fighting games played at a high level - completely understands what they’re seeing, in terms of tactics and ability - but finds the execution barrier to high level play just a bit too high, in terms of time and dedication it would take to get there?
You want to get this Rising Thunder checked out, mates.
The brainchild of Seth Killian, former competitive fighting game player turned game designer, who has previously worked on Street Fighter IV and *cough* PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, this is a fighting game that has been designed by someone who knows the a thing or two about the genre. He’s certainly someone who knows what a fighting game needs at all skill levels, as well as the stuff that causes newcomers to bounce off them. Rising Thunder is free of one of the major aspects that puts people off fighting games - Execution.
Execution is the ability to perform special moves and combos every time without screwing them up. Do you think you could throw 100 Hadokens from each side of the screen, consistently, without dropping one of them? Could you do, say, Abel’s Trial 22 in Challenge Mode 10 times in a row, again from both sides of the screen, in a real match situation? Execution is a major factor in becoming a good player and without question, the hardest part. A lot of it is just practice. Constant, daily practice at what can be quite boring stuff. The legendary ‘EVO Moment #37’, where Daigo parried every blow of a Chun-Li Ultra before countering with a finishing combo of his own, didn’t just happen as a fluke - the amount of practice that went into that level of execution actually makes me feel a bit ill.
Rising Thunder ditches this completely with its incredibly simple setup. You have three attack button - light, medium and fierce - and three special moves that are also mapped to three buttons. No need for inputting button combos to pull off a particular move, you simply press the appropriate button and the move happens, triggering a cooldown timer before you can use it again. You have a button to throw and a single button press that launches your Kinetic Attack, essentially your Ultra from Street Fighter IV, and that’s all there is to it.
Without having to worry about whether you’re good enough to perform what you think you need to do at any one time, you can concentrate on other aspects of the fighting game - zoning, spacing, countering, punishing and reactions. The fun stuff, basically. There’s a training mode so you can get a feel for one of the six characters currently available and see how you can piece combos together and once you’ve found your favourite you’re ready to get stuck into some ranked matches. I’ve found myself playing as Talos, some massive Grecian robot lad. I’ve no idea how they could afford him, but he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s a grappler, very similar to Abel in Street Fighter IV. He’s absolutely useless at range, but once he is up close he’s devastating, so his entire gameplan revolves around using his moves to close the distance between him and his opponent. If see an opportunity to do so, I know exactly what I have at my fingertips at that exact moment, so its down to my own reactions to pull it off, rather than having to rely on my stupid fingers to communicate with my brain fast enough to successfully perform what I want to do!
One thing I wasn’t initially sold on, but have since found it to offer some really interesting strategies, is the fact that all the special moves are on cooldown timers. So, if you throw a fireball, the cool down timer on those is like half a second, so you can toss them out quickly. On some of the bigger moves, however, the cooldown timer can be 3-4 seconds, so using them at the right time is paramount and you can’t just spam them and hope for the best. An example of the strategies around this is that Talos has a throw that will catch anyone stupid enough to try and jump at him. He plucks them out of the air and smashes them into the ground and can even follow it up with a few extra hits, if you’re quick enough to react. However, if you can bait it out of him, causing him to miss, you categorically KNOW that he cannot perform that move again until the cooldown timer has finished, so you have a free jump-in and Talos will have to rethink his approach.
Even at this ‘technical alpha’ stage, the characters are varied and well balanced. Chel is basically your standard fireball throwing, uppercut dishing out Ryu-a-like. Dauntless shares a few similarities with Street Fighter’s resident boxers, Balrog and Dudley, as she rushes in on her opponents and hits hard. Crow and Edge are technical characters that rely on mixups to confuse and create openings, whilst Vlad, the big Russian unit, is a bit of an odd one, with his slow projectile from range but devastating strikes up close. More are likely to be added as development continues and, as Rising Thunder is set to use a free to play model, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you only have access to a few of them at any one time, unless you pay to have them permanently unlocked. The simplified controls do mean that if you are playing for free all the time, suddenly being locked out of using your favourite character is likely to be less of a big deal.
Another thing absolutely worth mentioning is the netcode, which runs on the GGPO 3 middleware. GGPO has been the gold standard for as-lagless-as-possible fighting game netcode for a few years now, even being used by Skullgirls and Killer Instinct for their matchmaking, and this third version seems like the best yet. There’s a few bugs and issues at the minute (it is a technical alpha, after all) but when it works, it’s absolutely perfect. Makes Mortal Kombat X and Ultra Street Fighter IV look a little bit amateurish in their handling of online play, in comparison.
It’s pretty brave releasing a fighting game that not only has robots in but also nearly has the word ‘Rise’ in the title, after what happened the last two times someone tried that. Two things absolutely synonymous with bad fighting games. Although still extremely early in development, Rising Thunder looks set to buck this trend. Removing the need for perfect execution is also brave, as fighting game fans pride themselves on their skill and ability to play the games to their highest standard. There will always be a place for difficult execution - it is never going to be dull to watch a final match at EVO and see the a top player playing to absolute perfection, knowing what that takes and being aware of how difficult doing any of that stuff is - but it is going to be awesome to at least get a taste of what that must be like.