It feels strange finally reviewing Street Fighter V. It has been hanging over the life of most fighting game fans ever since its reveal. Couple this with the fact that a lot of people first got hands on Street Fighter V over six months ago at numerous conventions as well as having participated in the beta, it feels strange that the release has finally rolled around. This game marks a new era for the fighting game community and gives those more casual fighting game fans a new title to play with friends. It's safe to say the gameplay, at its core, is exceptional. However, the current early state of the game greatly complicates the review. A large amount of justified negative press looms over the release of Street Fighter V, tragically overshadowing an absolutely stellar game.
The release of the game has been frankly unacceptable in some respects. Street Fighter V lacks some core features that any fighting game should be including at release with absolutely no exceptions. One of the worst examples of this is the PC version of the game only supporting Xinput, with many players (including myself) having to use third party Xbox controller emulation in order to get PS4/PS3 input devices to even register. On top of this, as of the time of writing this review, those players who want to play on keyboard cannot rebind keys. Whilst I don't think many would recommend using a keyboard for fighting games unless out of sheer necessity, those devoted keyboard players should resolutely hold off purchase until this feature is added.
It's undeniable that the release version of Street Fighter V does just feel like another beta with the multitude of locked off content. The included single player modes are amazingly disappointing, and I would strongly recommend that any player interested in buying the game for single player content wait until the March updates, which will bring access to core gameplay modes such as a full story mode, challenges/trials and arcade modes. The small exception lies in those absolutely devoted players who are planning on playing either locally or online almost exclusively. If you are a very dedicated fighting game fan in which pure mechanics alone will keep you playing either online or with friends, and if you can overlook the dearth of content, then you can probably feel safe with purchasing Street Fighter V right now.
The included character story mode itself in the worst of the bunch. Comprising of a few still pieces of art with scrolling dialogue and a mere two to five fights on average for each character with only one round each. The mode does give a basic introduction to the characters and world of Street Fighter V, but it can in no way be called a complete experience. To call this lacking is an understatement. Again, the full story mode will arrive in March and promises to be longer than what is included already. Whilst I don't mind the visual novel style of storytelling in a fighting game, with games like Blazblue pulling it off very well, SFV's included story as of right now is extremely lackluster. The survival and training mode are what you would expect. The survival mode consists of a slew of single round fights in which you earn XP to spend in between matches to replenish health, gain meter, buff damage etc. This survival mode is entirely generic and the only reason to play is to unlock colors for characters.
The training mode is crucial for any fighting game, it should give you the ability to recreate almost any situation in-game for the player to practice what to do in that specific situation. I can safely say that the training mode is one of the best I've seen. Whilst lacking any sort of character introduction training like Skullgirls or even any trials like those seen in Street Fighter IV, the training mode provides you with a space to practice under a huge variety of situations. Although players will have to rely on other sources to learn character specific combos and tactics, the included basic breakdown of the characters offense, technicality, defense stats etc is a very nice inclusion for new players but is not enough to gain enough of a handle on the character in order to play them effectively. However I would have expected a more in-depth training mode given Capcom's attempts at making Street Fighter V a more accessible title. Whilst no tutorial can ever really teach you how to be good at a fighting game, I still think the basic tutorial at the beginning could be expanded on a little.
One of the make or break elements of SFV is its online performance. With its huge integration with online features and rankings, the netcode needs to be good enough to back it up. I'm glad to report that, after a few hiccups on the release day which is generally to be expected, the netcode is stellar with a few exceptions. The rollback netcode (Similar to GGPO) is already leagues ahead of Street Fighter IV's. The ability to search for opponents with a good connection is also a life saver although some bad matches regrettably slip through the cracks. One of the biggest selling points is the cross-platform play between PS4 and PC, and this seems to function very well from what I've seen. If two opponents with good internet (preferably wired) play from PS4 to PC, the gameplay is about a smooth as you could have hoped for. The inclusion of this excellent feature is very much appreciated, however it makes some of the more obvious release omissions even more strange.
A crucial feature that is missing at the moment is the online benchmark that was introduced in Street Fighter 4 that had to be passed in order for players to play online. Also, there doesn't seem to be any negative repercussions for rage quitting in ranked matches as of yet, resulting in a number of players dropping out of the game before they lose. The choice to make players pre-select characters before going into matchmaking is a strange one, as one was previously able to choose characters right before the match, and having to preemptively select your character and even enable character selection in private games is a change I can't seem to see the reason behind.
It's a testament to the sheer quality of the core gameplay that I would still recommend the title to certain players. In my opinion, the gameplay of Street Fighter V cannot be understated. The game strikes a perfect balance between making the Street Fighter formula more approachable for new players whilst not sacrificing too much of the competitive aspects. Street Fighter V as a result is a simple fighting game, but in the best possible way. Street Fighter V is a game about fundamentals, footsies and mind-games through and through. It's basic, no one frame links, no focus, no grooves, it is just, at this moment in time, pure Street Fighter, and it's looking to become my favorite as a result.
Some more hardcore players might get bored by the lack of such features after a while, but in cutting away the chaff, you are left with a more fun and less daunting title as a result. In terms of specifics, I and a lot of players very much appreciate the higher damage and more offensive gameplay compared to a game like Street Fighter IV. To me, the game takes the best of many other Street Fighter titles of previous years and creates a game that tries its best to appease hardcore and casual players alike and succeeds spectacularly. The game itself doesn't feel particularly new or initiative which is what one has generally come to expect from a new main line Street Fighter release but Capcom have exceeded spectacularly in perfecting core mechanics.
That's not to say there are no new mechanics in Street Fighter V. On top of the typical EX and Super moves (Referred to as Critical Arts here), we have the introduction of the V-systems. These are a fantastic addition that many players have yet to really utilize effectively. First off, every character has a specific V-skill, this is a unique move bound to medium punch and medium kick. This function of the player V-Skills differs hugely. They are sometimes ways of getting past or eliminating projectiles such as Cammy and Karin's, zoning tools such is the case with Necalli and FANG, overhead attacks in the case of Laura etc. Whilst some are far more useful than others, it adds yet more variety to the characters.
Next we have V-Triggers. These are a similar 'comeback' mechanics to Ultras in Street Fighter IV but they differ greatly in use depending on the character. The meter used for V-Trigger and V-Reversals is gained from either using V-Skill or taking damage, and it can be used universally to extend combos similar to a Focus Attack Dash Cancel (or FADC) in Street Fighter IV. The V-Trigger generally gives the player a temporary advantage, with examples being giving the character more moves, upping damage on attacks, or giving characters armour on attacks. Finally, we have V-Reversals, which are far more universal mechanics that are similar to Alpha counters in the Street Fighter Alpha series. These are used to reverse blocked attacks and knock down opponents at the cost of the V-Meter.
The need for a fighting game to run at constant 60fps will obviously result in lower visual fidelity than the average AAA game. However, Street Fighter V's visuals are a mixed bag. Mortal Kombat X demonstrated that this frame rate requirement doesn't need to result in poor visual quality. The stages in particular remain extremely low quality, with terrible draw distance, low poly background models etc.
Whilst this might be a turnoff for some players, it is obvious that the disparity between the PS4 and PC version cannot be too substantial, so this is somewhat forgivable. Street Fighter V makes up for its poor graphical fidelity in some areas by instead creating stylized but wonderfully detailed character models and animations. The visual design overall is a large step up from Street Fighter IV. However, the UI remains rather bare and dull, lacking any sort of character seen in previous games like the garish grunge of 3rd Strike. Despite this, a lot of character models still suffer the Street Fighter IV problem of appearing made from plastic rather than cartoonish. This is especially evident in characters like Zangief.
The core roster features 16 characters, with 12 returning characters and four entirely new faces. Laura, Rashid, F.A.N.G and Necalli all boast fun and unique playstyles, and the returning selection is, in my opinion, a bit lackluster. Capcom's obsession with Street Fighter 2 results in almost every Street Fighter game including most of the World Warrior cast at launch and nothing's changed with SF5. Whilst the returning faces are understandable and welcome for a lot of players hoping to have at least a little character familiarity when starting out, I think Capcom could do well to include more original characters or more obscure legacy characters such as the much requested Skullomania and Q. However, the returning characters from the Alpha series are the highlight of the base roster. Karin, Nash, Birdie and R.Mika have all had fantastic visual and gameplay redesigns. Whilst some of the returning Street Fighter 2 cast like Dhalsim and Ken seem to have had effort put into their redesign, a lot of the rest seem like the same old characters. One point in this roster's favor however is the sheer diversity of playstyles, as no two characters feel the same, and the tweaks to previously similar characters such as Ryu and Ken is a much welcome change.
Street Fighter V is an extremely pure and honest fighting game, polished to near perfection. Sadly, this is completely overshadowed by the lack of core features, online issues and very little single player content. The type of person I would recommend Street Fighter V to at the moment are probably the people who have already bought the game, those self-proclaimed members of the fighting game community who will devote time and effort to get better and play competitively or those more casual fighting game fans who are looking for matches against friends whether online or locally. It pains me to say that I just can't recommend this game to really anyone who wouldn't already own it and even then I would feel guilty about recommending a game with such core features missing. If all these core features are added in, this will be one of the greatest fighting games ever made, and it already is if you just look at the game mechanics alone, but that core gameplay is surrounded by some unacceptable missteps.
Street Fighter V was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform.