Developers: Capcom, Dimps
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Platform: PC [Steam] (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Street Fighter V came out in February, but I didn’t review it then. Instead, I wrote an article about how the newest iteration of the venerable Street Fighter series was an example of the modern trend of releasing endless betas to the public. In this “software-as-a-service” model, the game receives continuous updates over its lifetime, adding features, altering the balance, and, of course, fixing bugs. The problem with this model, however, is that it means developers might release a game well before it’s done on the basis that later patches can finish it.
Capcom did just that with Street Fighter V. Its initial release, which was likely rushed out in order to ensure the proper start of the professional Capcom Pro Tour, felt woefully unfinished. Only sixteen characters were playable, the game featured no single-player arcade or cinematic story mode, no character trials, and the in-game store wasn’t available. Worse, the online play had a number of issues, leading to long waits searching for a match, as well as a broken matchmaking system that would often pair players of wildly different skill levels. In ranked matches, if either player left the match before it ended, neither player would gain or lose any points, and no penalty system was in place for such leavers.
Most of these problems have since been addressed. In fact, the largest update to the game was released on July 1, adding two new characters as well as a 3-4 hour cinematic story mode. The cast has now been increased to a more respectable 20, with two more characters on the way over the next couple of months, and many of the online issues have been addressed, even if the penalties for leavers in ranked matches remain underwhelming. Thus, it seems fitting to take a second look at the game that’s likely to remain at the centre of the fighting game community for the next several years.
An Accessible but Deep Fighting Game
Fighting games are always hard to learn. The simplicity of two combatants slugging it out on the screen hides an enormous complexity that can often be overwhelming for newer players. Knowing when to strike, block, or throw necessitates a deep understanding of systems and characters. Performing combos can often require perfect inputs, even though they’re necessary to maximize damage.
Fortunately, Street Fighter V offers one of the most accessible modern fighting game systems without sacrificing much depth. Gone are the one-frame links of Street Fighter IV that gave players 1/60th of a second to make the inputs necessary to continuing their combo, as are the confusing focus attack mechanics. The required input timings have been greatly eased. There are still long combos, especially for certain characters, but they no longer demand months of constant practice to perfect.
The core systems are relatively straightforward and will be familiar to most fighting game players. Most attacks are normal attacks of varying strength, speed, and height. You can block, jump, throw and do all of the normal fighting game things. Every character also has a series of unique special moves—such as fireballs or uppercuts—that often defines their play-style. Then there’s your EX gauge which can be built both by doing damage and taking it. You can spend a third of it to empower a special move, giving it different properties. You can also use the full gauge to do a super special “Critical Art” move that usually features a long animation and does a ton of damage.
However, the main new system to Street Fighter V is the V-Trigger system. Every character has a new unique V-skill performed by hitting both medium attack buttons simultaneously. In some cases, this just a special strike, but in others, it could be a parry, a ranged attack, a special movement ability, or something that empowers your attacks. Using this skill, or taking damage, will build your V-Gauge. The V-Gauge can be used to perform a counter attack move that will interrupt your opponent after you block one of their attacks. When it’s full, you can also perform your V-Trigger. V-Triggers vary widely by character, but in many cases, they’re a limited-time power up. In some other cases, they produce special powerful attacks such as Rashid’s tornado or Ibuki’s bombs. The V-Trigger system goes a long way towards making each character feel unique.
Perhaps more importantly, however, the game feels natural and responsive. Despite what you might have heard about eight frames of input lag, you’re very unlikely to notice this, and the game does what you tell it to do with enough tolerance for inputs that it’s never too hard to pull off what you want to. Attack damage has been scaled fairly high in this iteration, leading to fairly quick matches, and offensive styles have clearly been favoured in both the design of the system and the characters.
This is especially true with the addition of the stun bar. In previous Street Fighter iterations, it was possible to put your opponent into a stun state (and give yourself a free combo) by hitting them often enough within a short span of time, but it was never exactly clear when that would happen. Street Fighter V, by contrast, puts every characters’ stun bar on the screen, and it can fill fairly quickly, leading to some nail-biting moments.
It’s clear that Capcom wanted to encourage solid, straightforward play in this instalment. Winning or losing is often primarily determined by the “neutral” ground game (sometimes known as “footsies”): the state of equality in which both players try to gain the advantage or hit the other player in a way that allows them to go on the offensive. Some characters buck this trend with gimmicks, but largely, Street Fighter V emphasizes solid fundamentals and reading your opponent over abusing powerful or tricky techniques.
A Cast to Remember
After the most recent update, the Street Fighter V cast stands at 20 characters, with two more to be released as DLC over the next couple of months. Largely, the cast consists of returning characters from previous series entries, including series mainstays like Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li, as well as some lesser-known returning characters like Karin and Birdie. Four characters are new to the series: the villainous Chinese poisoner F.A.N.G., the middle-eastern master of the wind Rashid, the spunky Brazilian Ju-Jitsu expert Laura, and the ancient soul-devouring Aztec spirit Necalli. All of the new characters are colourful, interesting, and most importantly, feel both unique and powerful in play.
Indeed, balance is one of the best aspects of Street Fighter V. While players will continuously argue over tier lists, the consensus appears to be that there’s very little power variation among the cast. For new players, this is also nice, knowing that any character you choose is perfectly viable as one grows in abilities. And every character feels very different to play. For perhaps the first time, Ken plays little like Ryu, and every other character feels wholly unique.
The characters also largely look great, as do the combat, animations, and actions. A few costumes have notably bad clipping problems, or in one notable case, facial modelling, but these are of little consequence. The actual combat looks great, and the continuing DLC costumes and stages keep things looking fresh. Fortunately, most of this DLC can be bought with currency earned in-game by completing any of the single-player modes, or by playing online matches. The only DLC that requires real money are some special character costumes, which sell for around $5 each.
Problems Remain, Online and Off
The core fighting mechanics and characters of Street Fighter V are quite possibly the best in the series’ history. But it’s the surrounding features that underwhelmed at launch and still pose problems today.
First off, a single-player story was recently added. Before this, there were only terribly short character stories featuring laughably bad voice acting and a few drawn still-frames to fill the gap between fights. The new cinematic story mode takes about 3-4 hours, and uses the game engine to animate the scenes and tell the core story of the game. It’s cheesy, but for fans of the series, quite enjoyable. Watching these well-known characters team up to take down the evil Shadowloo is undeniably satisfying for any fan of the series. Voice acting takes a noticeable step up, and many of the encounters feature non-playable enemies with entirely new move-sets. You also get to try out forthcoming DLC characters Juri and Urien. Clipping and animation remain problems, but I found it hard not to have a smile on my face throughout the whole affair. It hardly raises the bar for fighting game single-player modes, but it doesn’t disappoint either.
There’s also the survival mode, which, as its name suggests, sees you fighting waves of enemies with the chance to gain a buff in-between. This is a long, boring, awful mode full of frustrating difficulty spikes that few people will want to play. It’s made worse since costume colours are locked behind its completion, and you have to unlock colours for each costume individually. Capcom is apparently looking at other ways to unlock costume colours, and hopefully they scrap this mode in favour of something else.
There is of course a standard training mode, and there are now character trials that task you with completing ten specific combos for each character. This latter mode is useful for figuring out how a character works, but the combos it teaches aren’t often the ones you would use in a real match. Some brief demonstration tutorials also teach you the basics of the game system and how each character plays.
The single-player content remains a bit thin, even if it’s much better than it was at launch. It’s disappointing that a straightforward arcade mode wasn’t included, and Capcom hasn’t mentioned including it in the future. The standard 2-player versus mode, the true heart of any fighting game, works well, although one odd oversight for tournament play is that it gives the winner the option to rematch or change characters rather than the loser.
As for online play, a number of latency and matchmaking hiccups have been worked out, but finding a match can still take a bit of time, and lag can never be dealt with completely. At least it’s possible to search for a match while in training mode or the menus, and you can limit your search to a single platform or to a connection quality.
There are two primary online modes: casual or ranked. In ranked, you gain or lose ranked points for each win or loss, respectively. However, this is undermined somewhat by the problem of leavers, or rage-quitters: those who disconnect from a match when it looks like it’s going poorly for them. Capcom has instituted some punitive measures for those found doing it repeatedly, but a disconnect still prevents either party from gaining or losing points. Winning a close-fought match only to have the opponent disconnect and deny you your points is one of the most frustrating experiences in Street Fighter V. Hopefully this issue will be better addressed in the future, because otherwise online play would be truly enjoyable.
A Work In Progress
Street Fighter V remains a work in progress, although it’s already come a long way from its underwhelming launch earlier this year. The new story mode, characters, and fixes for online play have added a great deal. Capcom has made it clear that new characters, costumes, and stages will be released every year as DLC. Fortunately, you’ll never need to buy a new version of the game like Super or Ultra Street Fighter IV. The game will simply be fixed and changed through patches.
Nevertheless, an arcade mode would be a huge improvement, as would further changes to online ranked play. The existing survival mode is very lacklustre, and the single-player story mode is enjoyable, but hardly excellent.
Ultimately, Street Fighter V has a fantastic core fighting game surrounded by mediocre features and content. This content has come a long way, but it’s still the major downside to the game. If you’re someone who mostly wants to play locally with friends or enter the tournament scene, Street Fighter V is easy to recommend. It’s one of the most enjoyable fighting games I’ve ever played. But if you’re mostly into single-player content, then the game isn’t your best option. If you prefer to play online, the fundamentals are there, but your mileage may vary.