Street Fighter V Review
A highly polished gameplay core can't fully make up for lack of content
Few franchises carry a bigger legacy than Street Fighter - it's a household name that spans generations of players with a history of defining the fighting genre. Capcom has always helmed this iconic franchise, keeping the competition amongst players alive since 1987. Each main entry in the series has usually enjoyed a slew of follow-up games that expanded on the roster, most recently the Arcade, Super and Ultra editions for Street Fighter IV. But with the dawn of a new console generation, it was time for a major update to the series, and the release of Street Fighter V hopes to usher in a new era of competitive virtual fighting.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of any SF title is the gameplay, and SF V brings with it a slew of changes that are sure to keep hardcore fans engaged. The basics are timeless – you fight one on one with an opponent in a 2D plane, trying to bring their life gauge down to zero with successful hits before they do the same to you. Players have a variety of simple attacks at their disposal, as well as throws and special abilities. The EX gauge is back and acts as a combo meter, used to power up special moves for extra damage or, if you fill it completely, to perform Critical Arts combos which are unique to each character and cause devastating damage. A visible Stun Meter also returns from earlier SF games, giving players a clearer indication if they are about to be dizzy the opponent. The in-game tutorial only introduces players to the simpler maneuvers, which means you’ll need to do some reading to fully comprehend the mechanics, especially the new additions.
A brand new meter is called a V-Gauge and is comparable to the Ultra Meter from SF IV; it builds during the fight, as players execute new moves called V-Skills. V-Skills are equivalent of the Focus Attacks from SF IV, with each character possessing a unique move. V-Skills can range between offensive and defensive; for example Ryu and M. Bison get parries to deflect incoming blows or projectiles, while someone like Cammy gains attacks that help round out her move set. Once the V-Gauge is filled to at least a bar, it lets players use V-Reversals and V-Triggers. The former acts as a powerful counter-attack and burns one bar of the meter, while the latter lets players unleash unique attacks for a limited time; they are often high-damage versions of your character’s usual moves.
Overall, Capcom has clearly put a lot of thought into the gameplay and balance of the combat. The controls are precise and not overly complex, while still having a high skill ceiling and plenty of depth. Players that dedicate time and effort to the game will come out victorious more often than not, but just practicing the basics should be enough to compete on some level. There are numerous elements have been refined or redesigned from the past Street Fighter titles, and only time will tell if the game is at the right balance point. SF V also feels like a quicker-paced game because the life bars deplete faster than before, and you're unlikely to ever run out of time. This results in shorter matches and more intense competition.
You’ll be doing the fighting in one of the 11 stages, featuring both new and redesigned locations, from London Train station to the streets of Brazil, to a Russian fight club. The stages feature some background characters and animations that react to the fight, but it’s purely aesthetics. The fight roster offers 16 characters, with four of these being brand new to the series. Returning staples include Ruy, Chun-Li, Dhalism, and Ken, among others. The new fighters are FANG, Laura Matsuda, Necalli, and Rashid. As mentioned, due to lack of any comprehensive tutorial, you'll have to learn these characters and their moves on the go, or by consulting the menus and spending time in practice mode. There are detailed stats for each character’s combat focus, and the new combatants clearly help to round out the fighting styles available in the game. SF V is a decent offering in terms of roster and stage selection, and the already confirmed future DLC will likely pad it out further.
In Story mode, players will complete 2 to 4 single-round matches as each of the 16 characters in the game. These fights contain some narrated cutscenes with idle art backgrounds. While the franchise was never known to be story-focused, recent efforts such as MK X show that it’s possible to have a worthwhile single player component in a fighting game. Unfortunately, the Story Mode in SF V is very short and has no difficulty settings. The cut scenes look nice but the voice acting and dialog is simplistic, and there is little in the way of a cohesive narrative. Capcom has said that a proper single player campaign is coming as free DLC later in the year. A Challenges mode is also present, but that's also coming as free DLC next month or so.
While on the subject of DLC, as mentioned above there will be more fighters added, and those can be purchased by one of two currencies in the game. Zenny currency is bought with real-world cash, while Fight Money currency can only be earned by playing. Fight Money is granted from all online play, leveling up characters, as well as your first-time completion of the single player content. Players will be able to use either currency to unlock future DLC, thus making it possible to enjoy new content without spending any real money. How well this works in practice, we do not yet know - the Store function is not launching until next month. But based on what has been promised, players should be able to afford one DLC character just by beating the short story mode.
Because of the fact that Fight Money actually has some value to it, at least for Capcom, Street Fighter V is considered to be an always-online game, and if you're not connected to the servers, you won't be earning any Fight Money for your accomplishments. It sounds fair in theory, but unfortunately the game also kicks you out of whatever you were doing if the connection drops. In the middle of a fight with a friend, or in the final rounds of the Survival mode on Hell difficulty? Doesn't matter, you’ll be kicked to the main menu and lose all progress. Frustrating, to say the least. Once offline, you won't earn any Fight Money regardless of what you accomplish.
The aforementioned Survival mode is the only other offline mode worth noting. It throws a series of opponents at the player, as they try to make it through 10 to 100 fights (depending on chosen difficulty). At the end of each round, players get a chance to buy a temporary boost at the expense of their Score, such as restoring their health meter (which carries over between fights), adding attack or defense modifiers, and so on. First time clearing this mode nets you new costume colors, experience and Fight money. Regardless of chosen difficulty, the mode starts out with easy opponents, making it feel like a grind. Survival can be entertaining, but we wish there was more variety, such as in MK X towers.
Competing with others has always been at the heart of the franchise, and it's clear that in SF V it's the focus of the whole experience. A local Versus mode against a human player is present, as expected. Once you head online, there are casual and ranked multiplayer options. After a very rough initial 24 hours, the servers have more or less stabilized and matchmaking is working well. Matches themselves are perfectly smooth with no notable lag. Playing in ranked matches nets you League Points - winning adds to your tally, while losing reduces it. Earn enough points, and you'll be automatically moved up to higher skill divisions. You also get some Fight Money in multiplayer - an abysmally small amount, and only after a win.
Gone are the iconic character selection screens before a match - instead, players define battle settings ahead of time - fighter and stage preferences, as well as custom badge and profile color. It saves time from waiting in the menus, but it also takes away from the thrill of seeing who your opponent will select. Your profile also showcases highly detailed stats of all your skills, broken down by characters and match types. Preferences can be set to compete against players with a good connection and on the same platform only – SF V supports cross-platform multiplayer between PS4 and PC players.
But the most useful online feature of SF V is the Fight Request option. With battle preferences set, players set their status as looking for a match (competitive or casual), and can then proceed to undertake single player activities. The game will continuously matchmake in the background, and as soon as an opponent is found, you’ll be either prompted or taken directly to the fight. This is a great way to allow players to mess around offline instead of waiting at a matchmaking screen. After the fight, you can return directly to the single player mode that you were in.
For competitors wanting to really get involved in the community, the Capcom Fighters Network is an informational hub of sorts. Here, you can view leaderboards and download replays of other matches. You can also tag players as your favorites to follow their progress closely. CFN also lets players find their rivals based on a variety of factors. Also available is a Battle Lounge - letting two players fight it out with customized match rules. In future DLC, the Lounge will be expanded to a higher number of participants.
As mentioned, the game performs well online when the servers are up and matchmaking works. The action on screen maintains a smooth 60fps, regardless of the amount of effects - which look good, but otherwise this isn't the sharpest looking PS4 game you've ever seen. That's OK however, as SF5 retains its predecessor's somewhat painterly visual style. Over the top character designs - extremely muscular men and scantily clad women - remain a staple of the franchise, whether you like them or not. Stage designs are a bit less impressive, with sometimes washed out colors and poorly animated NPCs. The soundtrack is well done, with lots of catchy and character-specific tunes. Unless there are server issues, the game also loads rather quickly.
Capcom made a somewhat controversial choice when it was revealed that Street Fighter V will be a PlayStation 4 console exclusive. And it appears the risky design choices did not end there. The game feels decidedly barebones - between the brief campaign and repetitive Survival mode, the offline options are extremely slim, when you're not getting kicked because the connection was lost. Online options are fairly straightforward, and when the servers are working, there's solid competition to be had. A lot of DLC promises have been made - from a proper story mode, opening the Challenges and the Store, to adding a spectator mode and more slots in Lounges.
Perhaps with time, SF V will become a well-rounded game it was always meant to be, but at launch it feels purely like a hook for competitive players to finally get their hands on the new experience. It's a great experience, no doubt, with highly polished and balanced gameplay with a good variety of fighters and stages. But everyone else will undoubtedly feel at least a bit annoyed with what they get for a full price tag. If you're just looking for a solid fighting game, it might be a better idea to stick with the more well-rounded MK X until Capcom makes good on some of their free DLC promises.