Street Fighter is the fighting game. The first game came out nearly thirty years ago in 1987 but it was the sequel which really made the whole world stand up. Occupying gamers the world over in arcades at first and latterly their own homes via console, Street Fighter II and the subsequent upgraded iterations are still adored by fans young and old. Street Fighter III was less popular with the masses but for competitive fighting it is considered one of, if not the, highpoint of the series. This was largely due to the complexity of the systems, and in particular the parry mechanic. Street Fighter IV brought the series back to the forefront of all gamers and really it also inspired a comeback of beat ‘em ups. In the years since its release many more series and one-off games have benefitted and achieved success. In part this was because the game managed to work for all gamers and the competition players. The Super and Ultra moves allowed a losing fighter to get straight back into the game, but with mechanics like FADC and the many and varied combos for the vast roster of characters, there was massive depth. Perhaps a little too much - as time went on there was a nagging suspicion that once again, Street Fighter had become a little too hard for newcomers or those less capable of pulling off a multi-hit, unblockable combo.
Or so Capcom thought, anyway. WIth the announcement of Street Fighter V and the subsequent development programme it has often been talked that the idea was to ensure it’s entirely balanced and easy for everyone to really get involved. I’m not sure that’s been achieved. What is clear is that the fighting itself is second-to-none and exactly what you would hope and expect from Ono-san and team. That doesn’t mean you will like it any more than Street Fighter IV. But you might.
On booting up the game it’s immediately noticeable how different it is to its predecessor. There’s no dodgy pop song (which everyone secretly loved by the way) and as such is a little bit colder, instantly more focused. You don’t get to do anything either until it has logged you into the Capcom Fighters’ Network, or at least tried. Whilst you can play offline the game is really - as so many are these days without anyone really noticing - always online. You see, Street Fighter V is the only version of the game you’ll ever see on sale. There will not be an ultra, hyper or super version of the game. Think of it as a platform to which there will be additions. Capcom has laid out the plan for 2016. March sees the addition of challenges and trials (think the combo trials from the last game), the shop, improved lobby support and the first of six new DLC characters. June sees the introduction of a cinematic expansion - expected and hoped to be something like we’ve seen in recent Mortal Kombat and Injustice games, and in other months we’ll get five more - already announced - DLC characters.
The game is effectively always online for more reasons than the fact you’ll be wanting to play against real folk around the world. See, you earn fight money each time you battle, either in multiplayer or single player. Fight money (check the Balrog reference!) will be used to purchase items from the shop such as the new DLC characters. Everything that will ever be available as DLC will be entirely free to those who have earnt enough in-game currency. If you want to boost your way to the goodies more quickly you’ll be able to buy Zenny, an in-game currency.
Whilst these plans are exciting and the game is setup to do the right thing, i.e. not force you to buy new versions or the extra content, it does highlight the paucity of the game’s content now at, and just after, launch. There are sixteen characters each with a ‘story’ mode. Said story consists of two to three single round fights per character (each of the sixteen have their own little story) at a default, and straightforward, difficulty level. These are interspersed with static cutscenes and you’ll make your way through all sixteen within an hour or so. After that you have nothing to do except head to the training dojo, or online. That’s right, there’s no standard arcade mode. Given the tutorial is very simple too, touching on nothing more than the basic moves and movement, and the current lack of anything even talking about combos - let alone getting you to practice them - there’s not much to help a newcomer, or less capable player before they go online.
Online you can find ranked matches as well as non-ranked ones. The natural tendency is to head for the ranked matches but the main problem with that is the lack of feedback to someone who doesn’t know how to use a character in their totality. You can beat someone one game, and lose another. You can destroy someone in the next fight but have your behind handed to you straight after. If you keep getting a string of beatings it can be demoralising when you don’t know what they’re doing, or what is needed to stop it. You will learn, and already there are various Youtube videos explaining what the best match-ups are, what combos each character can do and when to use them, i.e. dependent on your opponent - are they coming at you from above, or down low? You will learn if you practice. You will get better. But the fact there’s very little in-game to help you seems counter-intuitive when the intent was to enable new players and old enjoy, win and lose. This is coming this month, but still, the game has been out a long time by then.
As with seemingly every major release these days the online infrastructure had a very bad start and whilst it has improved immeasurably it has not got quite where it needs to be. The servers struggled to work consistently at first and whilst they do pretty well now, certain aspects of the online game need work. Every ranked match enables you to win or lose points to move up the rankings. Sometimes matches will award nothing because the connection to the servers had a problem. Often people’s ranking can be miscalculated and this in turn leads to less good match-ups, as you’re supposed to be pitched against equal foes. The way you fight - attacking, balanced, defensive, is meant to be tracked over time and shown on a spider web chart but it doesn’t currently work so well. Rage-quitting is not punished (unless Capcom manually takes action) and over time this has become more prevalent with people happy to waste time and effort rather than lose a piddling few ranking points. It’s a shame as when you get into a fight it tends to work very well. In around 80% of the fights we have had, the netcode works perfectly and you win, or lose, according to the strengths and weaknesses of the player. The other 20% or so leads to some moments when your opponent seems to be moving at one or two frames per second and you really have no chance. Room for improvement here but in all the code is impressive.
What is perhaps most galling about the online aspect of the game is a small but impactful choice by the dev team. You choose your favoured fighter, stage and preferred saying and go into battle. You then fight as this person each time unless you back out and change your favourite fighter. Why can’t you choose who to play as once the opponent is connected? It is probably designed to speed things up but for people wanting to try all the roster before choosing who to major as it can get a little frustrating. It’s an important choice too as you level up yourself and each character you play as in the game. This in turn leads to more rewards (titles and so on) but also helps towards trophies.
I haven’t spoken about the fighting mechanics themselves yet. That’s because I wanted to end on a high - they’re excellent as you would expect from any Capcom beat ‘em up. The game is high tempo with a massive variety of fight styles available by way of character choice, and the use of the Variable system. The Variable system is new to Street Fighter V and is different for each character. It is broken into three different tools; the V-Trigger, V-Skills and V-Reversal, with each controlled by the state of the V-Gauge. Fill the gauge by being hit or using your V-Skill successfully. The V-Skill is triggered by pressing medium punch and medium kick simultaneously. Do this and Ryu will parry an attack, or Cammy will pirouette across ground and smack you in the midriff. Your V-Trigger is more powerful and again will vary by character. In many cases it powers up the character and affects some of their standard and special moves. The V-Reversal is a strong counterattack. There are no super moves this time around and whilst this mechanism is in place of that, it’s very different. As the actuality of what each tool does is different for each character, it’s another reason why you need to pick and use a character for a while to keep improving. It’s also the single most important reason as to why a roster of sixteen characters is more than enough. Learn how to use the Variable system and learn how to use a character and the gameplay options are limitless.
Whilst we don’t have Super moves anymore - nor do we have Ultras - we do have Critical Arts. The EX-Gauge remains and in addition to the use of EX moves where one portion is used up, Critical Arts can be performed in exchange for the whole bar. These are basically Ultras and is really your easiest way back into a given fight, although mastery of the V-Gauge is the way to win if you can do it. It’s worth noting as well that the majority of characters this time around have movesets executed as you would expect from Ryu or Ken. It’s all quarter circle, half circle and so on - very few charge characters remain. It’s a lower price of entry into capability of handling all the lineup, with mastery coming from V-Gauge use and combos.
Street Fighter V is a wonderful game that’s not ready yet for launch. That’s not to say it doesn’t work - and work well - at what it does (most of the time). The problem is there’s not really enough of it, all working all the time, to warrant a release now. Capcom has defined their strategy and this launch with additions along the way is what they’ve chosen. It may well be driven by competitive play, as otherwise there seems little reason not to wait until the Summer when trials, the cinematic story and so on can be included, making for a much more impressive single and multiplayer title. This seems to be the way game design is going nowadays. In time I have no doubt we’ll look at Street Fighter V as the pinnacle of 2D/2.5D beat ‘em ups but right now? No, it will take some time.