The great moment currently enjoyed by fighting games in general, and two dimensional ones in particular, has allowed Capcom to revive one of its old glories. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is not the most commercially successful release in the saga, but it is the most demanding in the series, and now it's returned - with online play included - as a downloadable title for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. This online version is based on Third Strike, which appeared on the DreamCast in 2001 and became the definitive version thanks to its inclusion of new characters and certain mechanical modifications.
This was the first title to implement parries (the special blocking moves that can neutralize any attack without costing any energy). Special, EX and even Super moves can be safely stopped dead in this manner. This opens up a whole cornucopia of combat possibilities... so long as a player can predict his opponent’s moves. If he can figure out, for instance, the exact moment that Ken will launch a Shoryuken, he can come out untouched from it and retaliate right away. The kind of depth this adds to gameplay makes it the most technical release in the saga.
The combat system is based on the usual six button approach, with weak, medium and strong punches and kicks. However, from here onwards there are a few differences. For example, each player has three different types of super attacks, but only one can be used during the game and the player has to choose it beforehand. Each kind of attack requires different levels of energy, so one has to think strategically whether to choose a hard hitting strong move or a lesser move that can be used more often. The game is very strict regarding the execution of the commands for these moves, so although they are fairly simple to execute in theory, it’s best to practice them to perfection before using them in actual combat. It’s due to this peculiarity that the use of an arcade stick is so highly recommended, since it ensures smoother execution.
All of this is included in a package that sports 19 characters, several of them well known from prior entries in the series. There are a few novelties in the lineup with regards to the classic Street Fighter roster though, so you're able to see fighting styles outside the common scope of the series. Characters such as Necro, Q, Twelve and Gold are some of the more unique fighters in this version. Ryu, Ken, Chun Li and Akuma, in comparison, are some of the more traditional fighters that you get to see.
One of the elements that Capcom has taken into account when launching this online edition is that there is a necessary learning curve with respect to Third Strike. So there are several trials that allow you to familiarize yourself with the parry system. It’s not the only addition to the solitary game mode, there’s also a new Arcade mode with different levels of difficulty and a challenging final boss, as well as new challenge modes where you complete tasks like defeating opponents on Difficult while having only a limited lifebar, or flawlessly executing several combos. You also earn points with the completion of the Challenge mode that you can later invest to unlock additional content from the art and music galleries. This mode is particularly useful for rookies, and the only downside is that the challenges are quite limited, with only five trials per category. It may take a while to complete each, but it’s still a low number in comparison to other games.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition is well endowed for multiplayer gaming, with multiple options to allow you to customize your matches. You can participate in balanced matches with preset rules that allow you to climb up the world rankings, or group matches with up to 8 participants while being able to watch other players’ matches and to create tournaments. In fact, you can even record fights and upload them later to YouTube. Pro players will probably gravitate towards the large online gaming ocean while rookies will probably prefer to remain in the safer confine of local matches with friends on a couch; both will be able to find equally satisfactory experiences in each respective environment.
This new version of Street Fighter III: Third Strike doesn't boast a significant facelift like the one Super Street Fighter II underwent with its HD Remix. Capcom have, however, added two filter levels to smooth out the ten year old graphics, but it still doesn’t suffice to erase all traces of pixilation during motion, though at least the game does run as smoothly as the original. But it is the sound department which raises the most controversy. The soundtrack isn’t particularly gratifying, and can at times become outright annoying. Voice acting hasn’t been refined, so the voices sound as rough as they were originally and are definitely another aspect that should have been improved.
The depth of the combat system, the parry scheme, and the skill required to master it, add up to make Street Fighter III: Third Strike an ideal game for competitive players. The availability of several tests and trials to hone your expertise with each character are a good addition to this version. However, it’s the online mode that must be considered the high point of the game. Balanced games, combat rooms, tournaments, and replay options that allow you to relive your experiences make this version a perfect fit for group play. It's rather lackluster in the audio-visual department, but at least it doesn't tarnish the gameplay experience as a whole. Complex and profound, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition is a fine gift for demanding fans of the genre.