Wot I Think: Street Fighter V

With any long-running series, there’s a delicate balance between retaining the things that people love and refreshing the decor. With Street Fighter V [official site], Capcom have come close to hitting a reset button marked ‘1991’ when it comes to fighting systems and yet this is the most forward-looking game in the series, with one eye fixed on the world of esports. It’s a streamlined entry in the mighty fightin’ series, for better and for worse, and we sent fisticuffs expert Andi Hamilton into the fray to see how it all works. He returned with these words of judgement.

Street Fighter IV’s release feels like a lifetime ago. It’s the game that dug fighting games out of a particularly bleak spot, the game that pushed that genre in terms of quality and what an audience would now expect going forward, and the game that laid the foundations for fighting games to be part of the ever-growing eSports market, but it’s also a game that was released before Twitch, before streaming and even before the term eSports. All of this stuff that is just a part of competitive gaming in 2016 showed up during Street Fighter IV’s lifespan, when outsiders would likely see it as the latest iteration of some old biff ’em up series that was really hard to get into.

Street Fighter V is Capcom pushing the reset button on a community that has grown exponentially during the life of its previous game. SF IV characters have been mastered, techniques have been discovered, learned, figured out and seemingly created. All of that knowledge and learning is now being pushed to one side to make way for this fresh start. Everyone, from the pro players who battle it out in the Capcom Pro Tour to the kid who picks the game up for the very first time, is going to be battling from the same, all-new base. One that is more accessible than the series has ever been before.

Gone are focus attacks and one frame links (moves where in order to make them combo you had to press the next button with the accuracy of ONE SIXTIETH OF A SECOND) and instead Street Fighter V is a much more stripped back and – whisper it – ‘easier’ game than the previous. It shares quite a bit in common with Street Fighter II, where your six attack buttons were your primary tools and learning when best to utilise them was what separated the best players from the rest.

Lowering the bar in terms of executing combos and simplifying a lot of the special move inputs means that, after a couple of hours, most players are going to be a lot further along than they would be at that point in other fighting games. This allows for a greater focus on the fighting meta – learning matchups, optimal punish combos and a whole load of things that don’t mean anything to the newcomer.

Not yet, anyway, but this time everything just seems more achievable and within reach of every player. It’s smart, because if Capcom really are serious about this eSports drive, they can’t turn away the majority of players with a vertical learning curve.

One thing that Capcom have been keen to implement this time around is a set of characters that are all unique. There’s no more Ryu/Ken palette-swap shenanigans, with both of those lads now offering substantially different means of playing Street Fighter. The roster of 16 fighters contains returning favourites, including Ryu and Ken, Chun-Li, Zangief and a few others from the series’ history. There are also four completely new fighters – fast-paced and acrobatic Rashid, grappler Laura, in-your-face aggressive Necalli and the tricky F.A.N.G, who brings a poison status to the series for the first time, allowing him to set traps and throw fireballs that cause his opponent to take damage over time. That damage can only be stopped if the opponent lands a hit on him, which should reward playstyles that switch between aggression and defense whenever he’s in the fight.

It’s one of the most varied rosters in a fighting game for quite some time and the balance is, unsurprisingly, perfect. Every character feels like they have a fighting chance in any match up and you never feel like you’re out of options. That allows you to pick the character that bests suits your playstyle without feeling like you’ve backed a total duffer.

Further adding to the variation among this bunch are the three new systems the game is built upon, fittingly falling under the umbrella of ‘the Versatile System’. Every character has a V-Skill, a V-Trigger and a V-Reversal, all of which are completely unique to that character. You can use a V-Skill whenever you want and they range from Ryu’s ability to parry, Dhalsim’s ability to float in mid-air and Zangief’s flexing, which allows him to absorb a hit of damage. They’re all little situational manoeuvres that allow you to get in or out of an exchange, giving you yet another option in the battle.

The V-Trigger affects the fight in a much greater way. For instance, when he activates his trigger, F.A.N.G starts leaking poison so he only need get near you for its effect to take place. Unpleasant. Rashid summons a tornado that slowly moves across the screen, offering him some breathing room or the chance for a bit of trickery. And Vega lobs a rose at his enemy then follows up with a damaging attack.

V-Reversals are the moves used to extract yourself from a high pressure situation, either by knocking your opponent away, setting them up for a special move or allowing you a free evasive move. Again, all are character-specific and work to the strengths of the roster. They all have universal inputs too, so you only need learn the commands once. Again, this is another way that Street Fighter V allows you to think about what you want to do and then gives you the tools to do it, rather than preventing you from executing a plan because you screw up the ridiculous button combo necessary to execute that plan.

At the time of writing, the online servers are being reset twice a day on average, which one can only assume is due to some last minute network testing. When the online play works, it’s fantastic – significantly better that Ultra Street Fighter IV. The slightly relaxed input times for moves and combos also mean that if you do experience a tiny bit of latency, it doesn’t affect your timings too much at all.

However, because of the type of netcode Street Fighter V uses, when things do go wrong the game is rendered absolutely unplayable. As the game tries to figure out what instance of action is the ‘correct’ one, you get all sorts of daft stuff like seeing special moves connect only to find out they actually didn’t, not seeing punches and kicks until they’ve already hit you and finished their animation, and fighters teleporting around the screen. Hopefully, after the significant testing that has taken place pre-release, this won’t be the norm at launch, but as always we’re only going to find out when the masses pile onto the game come Tuesday afternoon.

Despite the brilliant variety of the launch roster, there’s a bit of an elephant in the room regarding the single player content. In terms of modes, there’s a survival mode with four tiers of difficulty and a ‘story’ mode that is so bare bones it’s almost certainly an afterthought. For example, Street Fighter main man Ryu’s entire story mode takes place across three one round fights. In fact, between Story and Survival mode, there’s no way to have a normal best out of three rounds fight against the computer in the release package!

Capcom have confirmed that a ‘true’ story mode is coming in the Summer as a free add-on – but right now there’s very little to satisfy those who plan on playing Street Fighter V on their own. Which is fine, as long as you know that in advance – I know people like to get wrapped up in things like ‘lore’ and ‘storyline’ and that, but the reason Street Fighter is such a beloved franchise and has lasted such a long time has very little to do with what M. Bison is up to this weekend. Street Fighter is a tool for players to compete against one another, like showing up to a park with a football.

The main issue regarding content is that there’s a lack of supplemental stuff to the multiplayer. The Challenge mode, which gives you ever increasing combos to test your execution against and improve your skills, is greyed out. That’s being patched into the game in March. The same is true of the Store, which is launching alongside the first DLC character within the next few weeks.

There’s also a slightly baffling decision regarding alternative costumes. You unlock the ability to BUY them by playing the story mode scenarios – you don’t just earn them outright – but because the store isn’t here until March, they’re impossible to unlock. The most damning piece of missing content currently lies in the multiplayer lobbies you can create, ‘Battle Lounges’. As of launch, you can only have one other player in your lounge with you, increasing to eight in – you guessed it – March.

Now, I’m happy to sit here and defend the paltry amount of single player content. Look at Mortal Kombat X, with its wonderful, over-the-top cinematic single player campaign and a whole host of modes and unlockables, but with multiplayer that hasn’t worked properly for over a YEAR now and a PC version that may never be fixed. I know what I’d rather have if given the choice and it’s a solid multiplayer mode with (mostly) excellent netcode, but there’s a still a feeling that this one could’ve been left in the oven for another month, launched fully featured and with an additional character ready to go.

Saying that, I don’t know a single Street Fighter player who wouldn’t take a multiplayer only version of the game a month early if given the chance. Hell, they’d Spinning Piledriver their own mother for it.

Critiquing the first release, in terms of its content, risks losing sight of what Street Fighter V is. Or what Capcom’s intentions for it are. It’s the game that the publisher intends to build an eSport upon and the figurehead in a push in that direction for the entire genre. It’s not going away in a month. Hell, it isn’t going away for several years.

When played locally with others or when the netcode is as good as it can be, Street Fighter V is an astonishingly good fighting game. Simplified without being dumbed down, deep without being utterly impenetrable, it’s as good as the series has ever been. I’m glad that there’s no need for a number at the bottom of this review because how do you score this game? In many ways, it’s the perfect fighting game, an easy 10, but it is woefully lacking in some areas. Waiting for content to be added to the game sucks, but what’s a month when you could be playing this for many, many years to come.

Hopefully, this botched launch doesn’t put too many people off sticking around, because when Street Fighter is at its best – when you’re learning, improving, competing and winning – there are very few games that even come close.

Street Fighter V is out tomorrow for Windows, with a Linux/Steam OS release planned for Spring. Linux/Steam OS support will arrive as a free update to the Steam version of the game.

52 Comments

  1. ran93r says:

    I can’t quite comprehend why they would push for a launch instead of perhaps extending the beta so they can fix the servers and (to put it bluntly) get their shit together.

    I would have waited another 6 weeks for that.

    • nhorne says:

      The push to release this month is mostly about the tournament schedule. The first event in the Capcom Pro Tour 2016 season is in two weeks.

      • Ansob says:

        Yeah, it’s this. It makes complete sense, but it would have been a lot more intelligent for them to call tomorrow’s release Early Access and then have the “real” launch in March.

        • pepperfez says:

          They have to make it clear that no more balance changes are coming, and calling it early access or beta doesn’t do that.

          • Ringwraith says:

            Yeah, they did say they’re not going to re-release another edition like previous Street Fighter games (or Capcom games in general, they have a problem), just do major updates now and again.
            They released it ‘early’ with 16 characters, the currently-revealed additional ones were originally planned, but would’ve added another year to the development time, and that would also make it more awkward for their own scheduled tournament thing.

        • QSpec says:

          Perhaps you’re right, but if it all comes down to a semantic argument of what they should have called it… I think the consumer might be the one with the problem.

    • Auru says:

      It’s because they have a monster schedule of tournaments and events tied into the pro tour coming up very quickly.. that is the reason it’s not delayed for more single player focused features or lobbies.

      Now, that in my book at least.. is not cool (and this coming from a huge follower of this series, this is the biggest game of the year for me :) ) but thats the reason :/

      They needed this thing to launch now so it’s ready for the competitive stuff, simple as that

  2. Bremze says:

    However, because of the type of netcode Street Fighter V uses, when things do go wrong the game is rendered absolutely unplayable. As the game tries to figure out what instance of action is the ‘correct’ one, you get all sorts of daft stuff like seeing special moves connect only to find out they actually didn’t, not seeing punches and kicks until they’ve already hit you and finished their animation, and fighters teleporting around the screen.

    Rule of thumb with rollback netcode is that if you’re getting significant warping, the connection would be absolutely unplayable with delay-based netcode. What’s missing from the SFV implementation is the possibility to set a fixed delay, letting you avoid warping on poorer connections to a certain extent.

    • QSpec says:

      Even if it isn’t unplayable, rollback ruins crucial muscle memory to successfully playing offline.

      • pepperfez says:

        Rollback? I would have thought input delay was worse for that.

        • QSpec says:

          Yeah I meant delay (this is second time I’ve made that mistake).

          Rollback = good

          Delay = buh-bye timings

  3. Fnord73 says:

    Did you copy-paste any part of this text even slightly? Because I could feel the personality draining out around 1/3d of the text.

    Having said that, I miss fighting games that are less split-second. When the pose you choose is more important than combohell. Neal Stephenson and the folks tried to make a true swordfighting game, I wish someone would dig that out and look at it.

    • LexW1 says:

      I’m not trying to be difficult, but what fighting games do you mean when you say “Having said that, I miss fighting games that are less split-second. When the pose you choose is more important than combohell.”?

      The only one I can think of that seems to fit this description is good old Bushido Blade 1 and 2, which were amazing games and involved stances but not “combohell”, but they were pretty obscure. Earlier Street Fighters etc. were slow-paced and less combo-riffic but weren’t about “pose” (presumably meaning “stance”).

      • Premium User Badge

        keithzg says:

        I mean, I in fact do hold it against fighting game makers that they’ve yet to do anything even as mechanically impressive as Bushido Blade 1 and 2.

  4. ScubaMonster says:

    I’m glad to hear it’s easier to get into. SFIV, while I liked it, just seemed like it had a high barrier for entry. I played SFII a lot back in the day, but I’d pretty much be destroyed in online play in SFIV. Hopefully it won’t be quite so bad this time around. Not nearly as bad as the King of Fighters series though. That had insane stick motions to pull of moves.

    • MisterFurious says:

      I’m generally not in favor of simplifying games (or dumbing them down), but I do think that it’s a good idea with Street Fighter. ‘Street Fighter IV’ was just way too unforgiving when it came to inputs and a lot of the moves were just stupidly difficult to do. I don’t know how many matches I lost because I didn’t get the move I wanted to do because my joystick motion was two degrees off or I hit a button a nanosecond too late.

    • QSpec says:

      To be perfectly honest, you’re still likely to get destroyed online (depending on your skill level of course).

      Removing mechanical requirements like tight links, long combos, etc. lowers the skill floor which is great for new players because they can get in and do something a lot sooner without having to fight the game itself.

      That said, executional requirements are nothing more than the price of entry. The core of good SFIV (and other fighters) is good fundamentals. With crush counters (certain moves get additional properties as a counter hit) applying to the recovery on reversal moves, the “wake-up and dp” players are going to start feeling the pain even more. More emphasis is now placed on the right button at the right time (in SFIV the right button was usually jab).

      tl;dr Good players in SFIV will still be good players in SFV and bad players in SFIV will still be bad playerse in SFV. Hopefully we get some new blood though.

      • Kitsunin says:

        The big difference as I see it, is that fundamentals are something you can work on while having fun. When a portion of the difficulty comes from execution, the best method to improve (at that aspect) is to sit in practice mode, repeating a set of rote motions in a state of abject boredom, until you’ve got them down. I spent so many hours doing that in SFIV (because I was a dummy and picked the character who interested me most, Makoto) and the timings drove me to tears at times.

        • QSpec says:

          I agree 100%. Lowering the skill floor effectively lowers the amount of time that you have to fight the game instead of playing it and the amount of time in training learning the game instead of playing it.

          I was just trying to be honest with him. He will lose… probably a lot. A lot of people pick up a fighter, get bodied 5 times, and then quit. This won’t be an exception, but I do hope that the lower skill floor provides more incentive to keep at it.

  5. Pich says:

    can’t wait to buy it, get mad and refund it because i’m a scrub at fightning games.

    • pepperfez says:

      Just wait a little while until it goes full on free-to-play.

  6. Vandelay says:

    Have I just missed it mentioned in the article or are they really going to ship this without a customer match mode that can be played against AI? I would easily take that over what seems to be a slimmed down story mode that comes with the game.

    Still, I’m kind of tempted to get this at some point. I enjoyed SFIV, but I am terrible at it. A version that does require split second timing in order to even score a hit against a competent opponent would be welcome.

    Will this be featuring cross platform play with PS4? Wouldn’t mind getting it on there, but wouldn’t want to remove the possibility of playing with friends that might get it on PC.

    • Vandelay says:

      And by customer game mode, I of course mean custom game.

    • Ringwraith says:

      It is crossplay, although the online accounts cannot be linked, so you can’t buy it on both and have the same profile.

      You can sort of set-up an AI mode apparently by adjusting options in training mode, but that’s the closest you’ll get to standard vs. AI match.

    • brat-sampson says:

      No 3-round Vs AI mode until March.

      Tbh reading around, unless you already kinda know what you’re doing and want to jump into online ranked play etc, don’t buy the game yet. It’s not ready.

  7. Jokerme says:

    “It’s the perfect fighting game, an easy 10!” -Rock Paper Shotgun

    • Jac says:

      “Unpleasant.” – Rock Paper Shotgun

      • xrror says:

        “Hell, they’d Spinning Piledriver their own mother for it.” – Rock Paper Shotgun

        • MD says:

          “Street Fighter V is … unsurprisingly, perfect.” “The game is … baffling … excellent … astonishingly good … dumbed down … utterly impenetrable … woefully lacking.” “The game sucks.”

  8. Zankman says:

    Meh, I still just want Tekken on PC. Always been the superior series to me.

    I do like the Capcom Pro Tour thing; I read a breakdown of the entire thing and it sounds very comprehensive and well-conceived and I may actually follow it as it goes underway; It’s the closest thing to an ATP Tour-like structure in E-Sports so far.

    Also: Even though all of the character designs are incredibly over-the-top, I still say “boo” towards Cami’s redesign and Chun Li’s preorder costume, as well as the new Brazilian girl. There is sexy and then there is “oh come on, overkill”.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Although the two wrestlers are at least wearing ridiculous outfits, so that’s all good!
      (Chun-Li’s pre-order costume is pretty pants).

      • pepperfez says:

        “Pretty pants” got my hopes up for a second that, despite what I’d read, it was her Alpha outfit…damn you, idiom!

        • Ringwraith says:

          Sorry, but “lacks trousers” doesn’t have the same snappiness to it!

        • Chillicothe says:

          Same. But then again, either Fight Money or the sweet, sweet hearts of modders will get me that.

    • DrollRemark says:

      As someone who’d not really touched the series until buying IV fairly recently, the male gaze in that game is strong. I particularly enjoy how every female character’s backside is the most important part of their introduction video.

      • Ringwraith says:

        Most fighting games are like that, annoyingly. At least everyone’s kinda exaggerated to some degree in Street Fighter. Although they have toned down the proportions a bit from IV.

        • Zankman says:

          Have they?

          Again, Cami looks ridiculous and got “buffed”.

          Chun-Li’s legs are still ginormous… Yet shapely. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

          But, yeah, as much as I “appreciate” it in that sense, the game really is heavy on the “male gaze” as the other commenter put – and that is, at least for me, always lame/cheap/tasteless.

          Still not sure what to think about Tekken 7, though.

          • Ringwraith says:

            A bit. It’s generally a bit less cartoonishly proportioned musculature.
            Unless you’re Zangief. Or Birdie and all his flab.

            There is no excuse at for Laura’s outfit though. At least people like Cammy have the excuse of keeping consistent (and her alternate outfits look loads better anyway).
            Oh really, there’s very few female fighters as it currently stands, so the variety isn’t there yet. The ninja Ibuki is yet to come to join Karin’s properly-dressed club. As is the rather cacklingly-evil Juri who is far less sensibly dressed, but also apparently incapable of saying anything that’s not innuendo, so I’m more liable to give her a pass as at least they ran with the idea wholesale.

          • gwathdring says:

            It’s odd that you’d point out Chun-Li’s legs, as they’re emphasized in exactly the same way as the male muscuature–they’re ridiculously largely muscled. Those are cartoon athlete legs not cartoon pinup legs. That’s not to say the camera doesn’t look at her with “Male Gaze” or that there aren’t other better examples with respect to character design in Street Fighter IV being male-focused … but that’s what makes me mention it. You picked one of the worst possible examples. There are LOADS of better examples.

    • DanMan says:

      I want some Virtua Fighter, damnit!

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Ooh yes. I enjoyed those games. For some reason they’ve always appealed more to me than the other fighting games.

    • Gailim says:

      at least Chun has the great in Cop outfit.. in march

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      Hearing about this reminds me how much I want Soul Calibur on the PC.

  9. Jac says:

    Esports as a term definitely predates SF4 as sites like esreality will testify.

  10. CrowPath says:

    Release has been moved up to midnight: link to steamcommunity.com

  11. Reefpirate says:

    Be careful calling Fighting Games ‘eSports’! There’s plenty in the FGC that are still salty about that term.

    Also, e-sports most definitely predates SFIV… It goes back to the Brood War and Quake days at least.

    All that aside, I look forward to watching some SFV tournaments even if I don’t end up buying the game.

  12. gwathdring says:

    They went to lengths, it seems, to lower the skill ceiling and make the game more accessible … without keeping the robust single player and training options that the predecessor had? Hopefully all of it is in the works, not just the most absurdly absent stuff like best-of-3 AI matches …

  13. Herzog says:

    So Pip will report live from EVO this year?

  14. Da5e says:

    So essentially it’s a quarter of a game, some of which doesn’t actually work anyway, for £45?

    If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this. 73%

    • gwathdring says:

      Sounds like its a genuinely improved fighting game underneath all the underbaked nonsense. Once it has been in the oven for a while longer, it sounds like it’ll be fantastic.

      Until then, buying it sounds like a mistake.