To the casual observer, Street Fighter V may look exactly the same as Street Fighter IV. To the same observer though, Street Fighter is the same game it was when it ignited arcades in 1991; pick one of a handful of fighters and do your best to reduce the other guy’s life bar to zero.
Ryu do you think you are?
In many ways, that ill-informed casual observer is completely right. The core mechanics in street Fighter V are exactly the same as they were in Street Fighter II. There have however, been tweaks and additions to the formula with each iteration that helped differentiate it from its forebears. Street Fighter III introduced parrying, the Alpha series gave us V-isms, while Street Fighter IV’s evolution gave us Focus attacks, dash cancels, and Ultras.
The latter game was largely responsible for reinvigorating the fighting game scene, much like Street fighter II ignited it all those decades ago. It was accessible, especially to those who had grown up with street Fighter II. More than that, it played on gamer’s nostalgia by including all 9 of the original World Warriors and the four Shadaloo bosses. It initially however, belied a hidden depth to it that took a while to surface, something beyond the single frame-links and focus attack-dash-cancels; the ultimate mastery of mix-ups and mind games. Those that were willing to put in the time to learn its surprisingly complex systems, naturally got the most out of it.
Street Fighter V then, is an attempt to get back to basics. It’s an earnest shot at finding the balance between the fun, but fleeting pick-up-and play couch competitiveness that most players experience, and the deeper hard-core fisticuffs that make the series such a favourite within the fighting game community. And it largely works.
Gone are the long and needlessly intricate combos that required superhuman timing, plinking and the reflexes of Shaolin master, though there are still a number of weighty strike sequences that require skill and will take time to get to grips with. Also missing this time are Street Fighter IV’s Ultras, which isn’t something I’m sad about at all. Though fun to link into, they were to me, a comeback mechanic that could too easily sway a match. Even chip damage is gone, so players prone to blocking all the time won’t be cheesed to death.
Instead, we have a new “V” Mechanic; V-Skills, V-Reversals and V-Triggers. Taking their namesake (and a few cues) from Alpha’s V-isms, these character-unique moves are easy to do but can help even the greenest newcomer pull off something interesting, making usually unsafe moves a little safer to do and adding a welcome bit of variety to each character. Series mainstay Ryu for example, can use his easily-executed V-Skill to parry strikes, nullifying the damage of a single attack. For a novice, it offers a great and easy way to dodge an incoming fireball – but in the hands of a seasoned player, allows flurries and barrages of attacks to be nullified.
Utilising V-Skills powers up a V-Gauge, allowing the player – once it’s full – to unleash a character-unique V-Trigger. For some characters, they increase damage output and allow for more expanded combos. For others, it turns them into tanks, able to absorb damage that would otherwise render them stunned. Thanks to the new mechanics, and the removal of some of the trickier elements, anyone can now get in, spend a bit of time with a particular character, and make a decent go of it. There is a worry that the game’s a little too simple now for the upper echelons of the fighting game community – but that remains to be seen.
Here comes a new challenger
Most of Street Fighter V’s characters return from previous games, including series stalwarts Ryu and Ken. Other original World Warriors return, with Chun-Lie, Dhalsim, Vega (Claw) and M. Bison (Dictator), with much of the rest of the initial roster coming from the Alpha series. There are four new challengers though, each of them unique and interesting; F.A.N.G, a new Shadaloo lord who uses poison attacks and is reminiscent of Darkstalkers’ Hsien-Ko; Rashid, a technology obsessed fighter with a focus on wind attacks; Laura, Sean’s mother who utilises Capoeira and (like all Brazillian Street Fighters, apparently) electrical energy and Necali, a wild fighter influenced by the Aztec god of the Sun, war and human sacrifice.
I must admit though, that I wasn’t impressed with Street Fighter V as I was with IV. By design, Street Fighter V is being built as a service, a sort of platform that’ll see regular content and characters to keep it fresh. At launch though, it feels like an incomplete package. Capcom’s promised that much of the content I’m missing will be added over the coming months, but the lack of challenges – a sort of character specific training room to brush up on combos at launch – hurts. It’s one area that I spent hours and hours perfecting combos in Street Fighter IV. Since updating to the latest version of V, there’s a menu option for challenges, though they’ve yet to go live.
The available story mode is also lacking. Instead of even the usual arcade mode that sees your selected fighter playing in a ladder-styled series of matches, the story mode is reduced to a handful (seriously, three or four!) of single round matches interjected by still artworks with voice overs. They’re short, terribly written and nearly entirely pointless – lasting just a few minutes per character. They occasionally feature some interesting characters or call-backs that series fans might appreciate, but they’re really only worth playing for the Fight Money you’ll earn for completing them. Capcom’s promised a full, expansive single player story mode to come in June. It had better be excellent to make up for this twaddle. Here’s a look at Charlie Nash’s entire story mode.
There’s not much else in the way of single-player content either. Beyond the frankly pitiful Story mode, there’s training and survival mode, which has you pitting your skills against up to 100 combatants one after the other (depending on the difficulty level). In between levels, you’re able to spend some of your points to refill your health, do double damage and other such single-shot boosters, with the goal of making it to the leader boards with a brag-worthy score. It’s about the closest thing to a proper single player arcade, and earns you Fight Money for completing it.
As a single player fighting game, Street Fighter V is a disappointment. But it’s never really been about that, has it?
Street Fighter’s thrill has always been in the one-on-one multiplayer. I invited some friends around over the weekend, and the white-knuckled adrenaline-filled excitement that Street Fighter manages to evoke is still very much there. When matches were close, the whoops, “ooohs!” and cries of “damn” echoed until they faded to silence, replaced quickly with “my turn!”
It feels like magic, all over again.
It’s something that’s well enough replicated online, with both casual and ranked matches available to play. There’s also a Battle Lounge to set up lobbies, though right now, they’re limited to just two people. Given that this isn’t Capcom’s first dance online, this feels like it’s taken a step backwards from the 8 player quarter match lobbies from games past. Once again, a remedy to this is in the pipeline, expected next month.
The netcode is nothing short of miraculous. When you play against somebody locally (with decent latency), it’s not too far removed from a local game – but what’s most impressive is that the game’s adaptive, rollback netcode makes even playing with those on the other side of the world possible. Admittedly, a single bar connection doesn’t make for the most fun fight, but it’s certainly playable. With cross-platform play between PlayStation 4 and Pc, there should be no shortage of players.
This once again highlights Capcom’s plan to sell this version of Street Fighter as a service, a platform instead of a game. That’s fine, but it does make the whole thing less impressive than it ought to be. What it does mean though, is that Capcom’s establishing a game that’ll receive a steady stream of content, ensuring that it’ll be played for months – even years – to come.
An interesting addition to Street Fighter V is the Capcom Fighters Network, or CFN. It allows you to see replays of matches, follow other players and watch tournaments. As with everything else, Capcom promises that the CFN will be expanded upon in the future.
It’s hard to fault Capcom for the barebones presentation in Street Fighter V, because it’s everything they’ve promised it would be. The cinematic story mode is on its way, as are new modes and new characters. That story mode really is disappointing though.