Street Fighter V feels like it yearns for a simpler time, for the fighting games from 20 years ago, before juggling and endless combos became the genre’s order of the day. It’s both stylish and disciplined, simple enough for newbies to jump into and technical enough that the hardcore can dig right in. But it’s also far from complete, and that may be a big turn off for some.
One of the most significant changes Street Fighter V makes from Street Fighter IV is that your combo openings are far longer. They’re not trivial to pull off by any stretch of the imagination, neither is your absurd, competition-level technical prowess now rendered moot. For those who aren’t as proficient in the language of fighting games, Street Fighter V feels much more fluid and that’s absolutely a good thing.
Returning fans will certainly see a lot that’s familiar about Street Fighter V. That said, Capcom have included a number of new tweaks and adjustments to the gameplay, along with a couple of startling new in-fight elements that may surprise. The new V-Skill and V-Trigger elements will be the first things experienced players will notice, as they are replacing the revenge meter and focus attacks present in Street Fighter IV. V-Skills are specials performed by hitting med punch + med kick together, providing a special advantage unique to that character. Ryu, for instance, gets a parry move that veterans will recognise (immediately showing their age) from Street Fighter III. Time it right and Ryu will simply bat an attack away and stand ready to launch a counter-attack. Everyone’s V-Skills are different – Bison absorbs damage and sends it back on the attacker, Chun-Li uses an area control move that sees her sweep across the level at low height, Ken gets a burst of speed that allows him to move from one side of the level to the other in the blink of an eye.
V-Triggers are functionally quite similar to V-Skills but are rather more powerful and can’t be used unless your V-Gauge is full, and at this point I would like to promise you that I’m not picking words and putting “V-” in front of them for a laugh. Your V-Gauge gradually fills whenever you take damage and, once full, lets you hit heavy punch + heavy kick together to use the V-Trigger. These function as stat boosts, bolstering your regular or special moves so that they’re more powerful or otherwise behave in such a way that you can build entirely new combos around them. Further, some characters treat the V-Trigger as a legitimate move all its own which open up even more devastating combo opportunities. In one particularly egregious example, Nash can use it to teleport after hurling a sonic boom, reappearing behind his opponent and causing them to change their block direction, getting them owned anyway.
The V-Trigger system works really well and feels like a natural replacement for the revenge system from SFIV. It still gives players on the backfoot a way to turn the match around, but it also lets you figure out what you want to do with it. Two-button activation also means that those who don’t own fight sticks will, beyond reversals, no longer require you spider-hands to activate your specials. These systems all work together to provide Street Fighter V with a feel all its own, allowing it to stand aside, but be distinct from, the other main games in the series.
The roster of available characters feels a bit on the anaemic end which may disappoint some players, but we did at least see that coming prior to launch. You get 16 different characters to experiment with, only four of whom are wholly new and another four returning from as far back as Street Fighter Alpha. You then have 8 other familiar faces returning from SFIV. It must be said that all four new characters – F.A.N.G., Laura, Necali and Rashid – are all extremely fun to play and add a lot to any fight they’re a part of, either at your fighter or as an opponent.
Laura feels a bit like Capcom took Elena and Abel and mashed their styles together into one person. She’s the elder sister of Street Fighter 3‘s Sean and is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, denying large swaths of the level with her long, flailing legs.
Rashid has, so far, been my favourite new character. Hailing from the Middle East, Rashid can control the wind and leverages speed, some impressively technical cross ups and special attacks that will confuse and startle his opponents. Super fun, super fast and I can see him appearing frequently at EVO 2016 and in the Capcom Pro Tour.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Street Fighter game without at least one character who is weird and seems to break the game’s own rules. F.A.N.G. is Bison’s newest goon, holding his enemies off with Dhalsim-esque long range and (get this) poison attacks. To say that his fighting style is unorthodox would be to undersell just how strange this character is and its a big part of why I have so far found him incredibly difficult to deal with,
Necali is your new monstrous Blanka archetype, specialising in fast-moving rush attacks that put him directly in your face and dealing damage before you have time to prepare. His V-Trigger makes him even faster and I can see him becoming a real pain in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing. I’ve heard some fans say that they would have expected him to be the game’s final boss, but here’s the thing: at the time of writing, Street Fighter V doesn’t have what could be considered a traditional arcade mode.
What it does have, called Story Mode, cuts to the chase and has you fight three, one-round battles connected by some lovely-looking still-frame art that quickly explain each character’s history and current motivation. Some have praised Capcom for cutting the chuffa and giving each character a short, but pointed arc in this mode but I still feel like it’s a bit content-light for my liking. Some of the stories are pretty great – they are by turns funny, bizarre and genuinely sad – but I was able to blast through all 16 characters in the space of an hour and I felt a bit short-changed by it when all was said and done.
The reason for this Story Mode Lite addition is that the game’s actual story mode isn’t actually ready yet. Capcom says that the fully-fledged story mode will released as a free update this June. This is good news, but it definitely feels like something the game should have shipped with, especially when you consider just how thin-on-the-ground your options are if you just want to play offline.
In terms of offline play, you’ve got a new survival mode that is pretty solid and has you taking on an endless stream of fighters, your remaining health being taken from match to match. You can buy what are called Battle Supplements between matches though, and they’re all that stand between you and your streak coming to an end. These will provide various buffs to your defense, offense or give you a bit of health back, or you can choose to Double Down which applies a frankly absurd handicap for a big payoff in the event of a win.
Outside of that however, your options for fighting the AI are exhausted. Challenge mode won’t become available until next month and the store that lets you spend your accumulated in-game currencies (called Fight Money and Zeny which, annoyingly, can only be earned online, even during single player games) on characters and cosmetics won’t come online until around the same time.
This is my biggest issue with Street Fighter V by a wide margin. It just isn’t finished and it seems to think that promising to fill all those gaps as they go is enough to justify a (currently) $79 price tag. What you are paying for right now is an admittedly strong baseline for a game that will grow and evolve over the course of its life cycle. This does not in any way change the fact that you are paying full fare for half a game, one that has nothing to offer players uninterested in online play yet, and I take issue with that.
That said, I do understand Capcom’s motivation for this roll out model – it’s a similar mindset that Blizzard now finds themselves in a lot of the time. Street Fighter V – in deference to its high level of accessibility – has been built to become the SF game du jour for competitive fighting game enthusiasts. With the game headlining both the Capcom Pro Tour and EVO 2016 this year, Capcom wants to give potential competitors as much time as possible to become familiar with it.
To that end, online play is really well put together and (when the servers aren’t being crushed by the traffic) it works really well. Even on our garbage, piss-poor excuse for internet here in Australia, I very rarely experienced serious lag unless I was up against an overseas player. Better yet, Street Fighter V offers cross-platform play, allowing those on both the PS4 and PC versions of the game to play against one another. This provides a huge player pool and keeps you moving through fights quickly. Returning from Street Fighter IV is the ability to jump into any of the game’s other modes and warm up while you wait for your next match, which is nice. Servers have been up-and-down since launch but when it works, the experience has been very smooth indeed.
Street Fighter V more than lives up to the enduring legacy of the games that came before it. It is accessible without diluting the pure fighting game experience fans crave. Those who jump in now will be rewarded with ongoing content up until at least September, and likely beyond, so if you’re the sort of person who will spend many hours on the game, you’ll be well served. If you’re on the more casual end of the spectrum, or you think you’ll really only put time into the arcade and story modes, then you may be better off waiting until June.
Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Great visuals; Easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master; PC/PS4 crossplay!
Lowlights: No real single player options to speak of yet; Sky-high price tag for what is in the game at launch
Developer: Capcom, Dimps
Released: January 18, 2016
Platform: PlayStation 4, Windows PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4