It’s always tough to talk about new games in a long-running series, particularly when one isn’t especially invested in that series. And few series are more venerated and discussed than Capcom’s Street Fighter. I’ll be the first to admit that I prefer Arc System Works’ fighting games and have been an adherent of theirs since BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger.
Still, we’re here with the latest in Capcom’s venerable fighting series, Street Fighter V, and respect must be paid because without Street Fighter we wouldn’t have Guilty Gear, much less BlazBlue. None of this means that Street Fighter V is spotless, or even that it’s an especially good deal for your money…right now.
There’s two ways we can go about this. First, we can talk about what Street Fighter V is: it’s the latest iteration of the definitive 2D fighter. It’s got sixteen characters, four of which are new. It has a set of “prologue” scenarios for each character, consisting of a few fights against a brain-dead CPU opponent and some questionable art. It also has a survival mode, where you battle more CPU opponents to earn points, then either spending those on boosts to help with future battles or saving them to increase your high score. There’s a training mode as well, with a decent number of options but none of the variety we’ve come to expect from mainstream fighters.
There is, technically, an online mode. I say “technically” because the game has been plagued with a difficult launch and persistent server issues despite several highly-publicized betas. When it works, Street Fighter V allows for cross-platform play between the PS4 and PC versions of the game; there is no Xbox One version because someone got paid while someone else didn’t, so sorry if you chose the wrong giant black box, guys, your business is worth less to Capcom than PS4 players’. There’s a vast array of stat-tracking and profile customization options available, all tied into a Fighter ID you choose when you start the game. It must have taken awhile to put all of that together. Some of that time might have been better spent elsewhere, as we’ll discuss in a second.
When you can actually play it, Street Fighter V is fantastic. It’s a fighter made for fans of fighters. There’s no question that plenty of time and effort was spent on gameplay refinements. V’s new characters are a varied and interesting bunch, offering unique twists on Street Fighter’s gameplay; Rashid, for instance, offers a jack-of-all-trades moveset with powerful attacks both in the air and on the ground, while F.A.N.G’s poison techniques support a more defensive playstyle. It’s nice to see returning characters as well, even more obscure fighters like Alpha 3’s Karin and R. Mika. New mechanics, like the V-Trigger gauge, make the game feel more rewarding on offense than Street Figher 4’s Ultra Combos, which popularized comeback mechanics (essentially rewards for bad play) in fighters for the past generation.
It’s gorgeous, of course, though with Guilty Gear Xrd to contend with Street Fighter isn’t the prettiest fighter out there anymore. V’s graphics and animations make 4 look positively dated. Battles are explosions of movement and color. The PS4 version, which is the one I tried, ran like a dream. I’m told the PC version does the same, assuming you’ve got powerful enough hardware to handle it.
Now we can talk about what Street Fighter V isn’t. The state in which Street Fighter V was released was an admitted attempt to appeal to tournament players, offering them a chance to practice before the first post-release events. The fact that other players can pay $60 for the game is just gravy, as it’s missing features that those of us who aren’t in that precious 1% are going to be hurting for. If it’s not something Daigo’s going to like, it’s not here, and everyone else be damned – Daigo makes Capcom way more money than Joe Average, after all, so they aren’t even trying to pretend that the two are on the same level anymore.
We see this from indie devs every now and again; PS4 stinker #KILLALLZOMBIES, for instance, made it very clear that it’s a game for streamers and everyone else is a second-class citizen. It’s just unusual to see this sort of attitude attached to a highly anticipated AAA game from a popular developer.
What’s missing? Well, if it doesn’t relate to getting that sweet eSports cred it’s probably not available. Stat tracking for online matches? Sure, we’ve got that! On the other hand there’s no arcade mode, meaning this release is missing a feature that’s been in practically every fighting game released for a home system since, ironically, Street Fighter 2. There is no story mode beyond the prologue scenarios, which last around fifteen minutes each at most. Your sole single-player option is the aforementioned Survival mode, including the brain-dead AI from the prologue scenarios. Better hope that the always-online DRM doesn’t fail while you’re playing, because you’ll be Lightning Kicked back to the title screen with your progress gone before you can say Shoryuken.
The list continues: at some point there will apparently be SF4-style combo challenges for each character. I know this because it’s a greyed-out option on the game’s title screen; if you try to select it, you’re told that the challenges aren’t yet available and are due in March. Recent data mining suggests that the challenges are already in place and just inaccessible until March for whatever reason. Same with the Store option, and it’s telling that they didn’t polish this bit up because it’s usually every developer and publisher’s favorite feature. Street Fighter V isn’t just unfinished, it’s deliberately and blatantly unfinished. It flaunts how unfinished it is every time you load it.
Look, let’s look at this another way: Guilty Gear Xrd and every no-name anime fighter I’ve reviewed over the past two years has released with fully-functioning online capability. Street Fighter V, with its practically limitless budget, its legendary pedigree and its team of industry veterans, did not; the game’s servers were dead for launch day and have only just recovered, with matchmaking times still being measured in minutes. BlazBlue seems to put out a new iteration every year with an absurdly detailed single-player story mode and flawless online play. Street Fighter V, with all its advantages, did not. Mortal Kombat, a series previously known solely for its Fatality gimmick, has spearheaded the evolution of fighting game story presentation over the past few years with its cinematic style. Street Fighter V doesn’t even have an arcade mode.
Capcom appears to have forgotten that there’s competition, even in this relatively small niche, and it looks like it’s come back to bite them. If I were Arc System Works, I’d be throwing a party right now. I’d probably invite Netherrealm Studios as well. It’d be a pretty sweet shindig. Capcom would be too busy finishing up their DLC store to come.
There was a time when a game in this state wouldn’t have been released at all. Thirty years of console gaming has taught the industry three things, though: the first is that there’s no limit to how much they can get away with, the second is that games consumers have the collective memory of a malnourished goldfish and the third is that promises are an easy commodity to sell. Street Fighter V will look very different in a couple months. It’ll probably look better. It’ll probably play better. It’ll certainly ask for more money on top of what you’ve paid for it now. By then, we’ll have forgotten all about this.
Honestly, the state of Street Fighter V, as it stands now, is Capcom saying blatantly, to your face, looking in your eyes, without a hint of hesitation, that they value a very specific subset of fighting game players more than they value you. If you’re willing to accept a very bare-bones experience, however, Capcom will happily take your money in exchange for that experience and a handful of promises. It’s just not a game I can recommend at the moment. If everything turns around in March and we see a fantastic story mode release in June, then change that Nay to a Yay and enjoy. I just wouldn’t put your eggs in that basket for now.