An entire console generation has come and gone and so, too, must a fighting game generation. It's finally time to wave goodbye to the Street Fighter IV series and move forward. And while Street Fighter V offers enough to keep the fighting game faithful satisfied, it also offers a greater sense of simplicity for newcomers to pick up their arcade sticks (or controllers) for the first time. If only there was just a little bit more.
Back to the Dojo
With each iteration of Street Fighter, Capcom has established a foundation that most players can, at the very least, grasp and understand. There are fundamentals like the six-button layout, the special moves, the critical arts, the footsies, the anti-air moves, and the other basics that make anyone feel like they have a fighting chance in any given match. The game then builds from there with its own distinct gameplay mechanics. For the Street Fighter IV generation, there was a greater emphasis placed on more advanced tactics, like the Focus system, that was more difficult for a large sector of players to comprehend. With SFV, the learning curve is thankfully much simpler.
Each fighter still comes with an array of unique moves and special moves, but there doesn't seem to be that 'information overload' aspect that was present in the last generation of SF games. Matches mostly revolve around the fundamentals and around successfully timing characters' special moves, making this feel closer to the Street Fighter II generation. More modern mechanics like the beefed-up EX moves are still around for harder-hitting combos or powerful counters and are easy to pull off. Critical Arts moves (a.k.a. Supers) feel more responsive to player inputs than before, while the Ultra Combo system has been replaced with the far simpler V system. The V system not only makes characters feel unique, with every one getting a different boost or move, but the actual V-Trigger attacks are executed by a simple press of the High Punch and Kick buttons.
Even with SFV's move towards simplicity, that's not to say there isn't room for a degree of complexity. Practicing and recognizing a character's V abilities is essential, as is knowing when to apply them. While matches don't quite feel like the intense USF4 chess match as before, knowing when to block, timing certain moves and counters, and understanding a character's moves is still crucial. Just because the tools to do so are easier doesn't mean a player won't have to earn their victories. Experts can grasp this game's mechanics just as easily, as well. They'll also have a little more to play around with, whether it's Vega's two-stance system or F.A.N.G.'s poison attacks. There's plenty to learn, but learning has never felt easier.
Best of all, a match's pace feels considerably quicker, with hits performing greater damage and a noticeable increase in charater speed. However, SFV also introduces one major change from previous games. Chip damage will no longer end a match, unless it comes from a Critical Arts move. That adds an even greater degree of strategy, since players could use EX moves to try and shorten the match, but if they're up against a defensive player, they may opt to wait to fill their entire EX Gauge. Or they could simply try and finish with a throw. The matches feel faster, but there's still just as much strategy and intensity to every one.
Here Comes A New Challenger
A Street Fighter game is often as good as its versus game and SFV appears to succeed on that front. Finding online matches is a simple process and goes beyond simply going into those online modes. There are settings in the Options menu that allow users to constantly be on the search for online matches, allowing them to kill time in Training mode or any other single-player mode. There's even an option to prompt the user to accept this match, in case someone doesn't want to take the same challenger repeatedly or if there's a pivotal moment in a single-player mode that just can't be interrupted.
Online operates crisply, as well. Throughout the past week, even with Capcom repeatedly rebooting the online servers (and erasing my user info, as a result), online matches operated without a hitch. Load times were minimal and I never felt the need to blame my many (many, many, many) online losses on latency. The whole experience felt smooth and once my online session was finished, I was placed right back in the last mode I was playing in.
There's a fighter profile to fill out prior to jumping online that has players pick their favorite character and costume first. When an online opponent is found, that character is always used in battle. That's both a convenience and a hassle, because there are times when the urge will hit to use other characters, especially if it's against the same opponent. Unfortunately, that doesn't really work, unless the fighter profile settings are adjusted between matches. On top of that, if there's a particularly close match that was decided by a mere sliver of life, there's no option to play an immediate rematch. Everyone goes back to the mode they were previously in and then just sits in hope that they'll get matched again. There's a game mode that aims to potentially fix that... but that's not ready yet. In fact, let's get into that.
This should be prefaced by saying that what's included in SFV feels like a decent offering. Online sessions feel smooth. Story Mode goes into individual characters' story arcs, which feature anime motion comic-style cutscenes. These are fun, but feel woefully short at roughly 5-10 minutes for each character's story. Survival Mode provides an intense, if slightly repetitive, single-player challenge that requires players to run a gauntlet of fighters through to the end.
While what's playable in Street Fighter V feels fine, there are several features and game modes that aren't quite ready for play yet. There's a Challenges mode set to test players' strength with characters in various ways, allowing them new ways to earn the Fight Money currency. The in-game Shop to spend that Fight Money currency isn't ready yet, either, which means anyone that unlocks the costumes from Story Mode won't be able to access them just yet. The Battle Lounges are currently not running and even when this feature starts up, it'll only max out at two friends for the time being. Online lobbies and Spectator modes should also drop around that time. The ETAs for those features are all in March, except for Story Mode, which will hit in June.
Street Fighter V has the capability to be a mighty fighting game, filled with robust game modes and different ways to play. And based on the gameplay experienced over the past week, there is reason to believe it will eventually be an incredible package. However, at launch, it feels like an incomplete product. Given that fighting games in recent years have been offering more and more content, the fact that much of SFV's content isn't ready feels massively disappointing.
Street Fighter V feels like it could be an incredible fighting game in the summer, filled with robust content and numerous game modes for both single-player and online multiplayer. But Street Fighter V isn't coming out this summer. It's coming out in February. The fact that a handful of game modes and features aren't ready for consumer use feels frustrating, especially since the quality of those inclusions can't be judged until they make it into the game. Battle Lounges, Online Lobbies, and Spectator modes could be awesome, but right now, nobody can say for sure. Thankfully, new features are coming down the line and whatever else is released afterwards can be earned through in-game currency, which is a welcome change from the past.
Fortunately for Capcom, what is available now is a lot of fun. The overall fighting game mechanics feel incredible and a big step up from the Street Fighter IV generation. Even someone eternally in scrub tier, like myself, can feel like they can have a good time and eventually get better. That's why the aforementioned is so frustrating, because Street Fighter V feels like a genuinely great fighting game and it's hard not to want more.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital copy provided by the publisher. Street Fighter V will be available February 16 at retailers and through Steam and the PlayStation Store. The game is rated T.