It's odd to see new faces, new moves, and new stages in a game you've played literally thousands of times already. SSFIV's big upgrade - bigger than anything EA bangs out in a typical annual update - is damned near finished, right now. Every one of the new characters is already in the game, together with the new stages, modes, and bonus rounds.
Juri, T Hawk, and Dee Jay are all playable when we sit down with the game and behind a character select screen (which Capcom hide when someone new is wheeled out) there are half a dozen more faces to choose from. SSFIV is feature-complete and ready for certification, but there's still a long way to go before the game we play in Capcom's Hammersmith offices is ready for release.
There are the usual technical problems to fix, of course - slowdown on the new stages, animation and lighting glitches, and unfinished moves for some of the newbies. Most importantly, none of the game's existing characters have been rebalanced yet - none have their new moves, damage changes, or miniscule adjustments which will shift the game's balance of power. Guile is still the Guile you know, and Ryu and Ken are still unchanged, and Sagat is still seven feet of pure bastard.
In three months it'll be a different story. The game that ships will be a far beefier package than SFIV, and will address the most obvious imbalances in the game. Sagat will be a little weaker (or at least more interesting to watch), Guile and Vega stronger. Little adjustments will change the way certain moves work or how much damage basic moves do, but the most obvious changes will be the all-new Ultra combos for every character.
Like the new stages, the Ultra combos are something Capcom are keeping quiet about while they drip information into the public domain in their Japanese blog, but it doesn't take a genius to see them in the game we played on a windy day in West London. Look to the Ultra meter and you'll see a 'I' or a 'II' - each representing a different Ultra. Like SFIII you'll pick between two combos before you enter the fight - Guile's Flash Explosion or Sonic Hurricane, for instance - and enter the fight with different tactics based around your choice.
It's not all speculation, of course. That Sonic Hurricane rumour popped up in a leak which smashed Capcom Japan's slow-drip of information and turned it into a flood. Back in September the deluge of fresh information detailed Juri, Dee Jay, and Hawk even before SSFIV had been announced. It exposed the return of the car-smashing and barrel-busting bonus rounds weeks before they were mentioned in the pages of Japanese mag Famitsu and laid out a compelling argument for what's in store for the next few months' worth of reveals.
In the last month Capcom have unveiled Final Fight's Cody and Guy, along with Shoto-punishing Adon, all mentioned in the big, fat leak. That means the likes of Dudley, Makoto, Ibuki, and Arabic grappler Hakan are waiting to be played in the rating-ready build, but it's just Juri, Dee Jay, and T Hawk who are up for discussion right now.
Little changes and a new move or two have made SSFII's Dee Jay and Hawk feel different but it's Juri who makes the biggest impression. She's an undeniably flashy fighter who looks great on-screen and better in motion.
Juri is just a Dragon Punch and an Air Throw away from being a boss-level monster. She has an incredible variety of options in any given situation and with her simple motions and links even lengthy combos emerge easily. Even without messing with Focus Attack Dash Cancels the results of her basic combos are impressive and she's powerful even in the hands of a beginner.