Capcom’s latest brawler feels like little more than a highly-polished Early Access experience
As a longtime fan of Capcom’s pioneering one-on-one fighting series, I’ve been more than a little excited to get my mitts on Street Fighter V ever since the game was first showcased at the PlayStation Experience back in 2014. However, now that the fifth numbered entry in the series that essentially invented in the fighting game genre is finally upon us, I’m not sure what’s on offer was particularly worth the wait. That’s not to say the game is completely devoid of good ideas; Capcom’s fighting spirit is alive with an engine that’s tight and refined, and the new V-System adds a lot of exciting ways to shake up a bout with unique abilities that give each character a distinct edge when utilized. Also, the new additions introduced to Street Fighter V’s cast of characters round out the roster of World Warriors in interesting ways, but the game’s utterly anemic selection of modes and inexcusable connection issues make this beleaguered brawler feel more like a glorified Beta than a worthwhile $60 slugfest.
Like a professional kickboxing paraplegic, all of Capcom’s core refinements to the sturdy foundation that Street Fighter IV laid down are squandered by the game’s absolute lack of essential features when compared to even its predecessor. After sitting through Street Fighter V’s tutorial sequence you’re greeted with a staggeringly meager selection of modes. However, what’s most baffling is what you won’t have find on display; Arcade Mode – the traditional bread & butter of single-player fighting game modes – is nowhere to be found, instead replaced with an uncompromisingly stingy Story Mode (which I’ll get to in a second), in addition to the requisite Survival and Training Modes. If you’re looking for more out of the game’s single player component, you’re shit out of luck.
Story Mode allows players to choose from any of the game’s 16 playable character and duke it out through a whopping 2 or 3 fights as a brief vignette unfolds. Yes, you read that right, the Story Mode is that brief. To make matter worse, the matches only run for a single round, and the computer’s A.I. is completely toothless, meaning even the most inept World Warriors will breeze through each character’s story in about five minutes. Sure, Capcom plans to release free Story Mode DLC in June to expand these stories, but if it’s as uninspired as what’s on display in Street Fighter V’s initial offerings, don’t expect a whole lot there. On the plus side, the storyboard art for these scenes is done by Capcom’s legendary artist Bengus, who at least does an admirable job rendering the game’s colorful cast through his work.
Considering how brief the bouts are in the game’s Story Mode, at least Survival Mode allows you to test your mettle a bit more efficiently as you duke it out against countless opponents and improve your score, which in turn allows you to unlock new costume colors for your combatants. While the payoff isn’t anything astounding, Survival Mode is a great tool for learning the roster’s repertoire of moves and combos (of which there are many) before taking the fight online against real opponents.
That is, so long as you can actually get online.
Street Fighter V boasts the requisite Ranked and Casual online modes, but as of the time of this writing good luck actually being able to participate in any online bouts. Syncing up with another player easily takes several minutes. During my last online session I was lucky to find three matches in the span of a half-hour, which doesn’t bode well for Capcom’s fighter if some serious work isn’t done to improve the game’s seriously shabby matchmaking system. The potential for greatness is certainly there, because when things do go right the matches they are a blast. They run fast with minimal lag, and the varied roster of characters ensures the fights are consistently exciting, it’s just a damn shame they’re so hard to come by. If Capcom can iron out the kinks – and I’m sure they will eventually – there is certainly the foundation for a superb one-on-one brawler here. And the decision to integrate cross-platform play between the PC and PlayStation 4 versions of the game could really serve to bolster the game’s community significantly. Unfortunately, as it stands it’s hard to recommend in its current state.
One of the biggest additions to Street Fighter IV’s established fighting formula comes in the form of the V, or “Variable System”. Similar to the V-ISMs introduced in Street Figher Alpha 3, these abilities make use of a new bar that appears above your EX Bar, which you’ll make use of to unleash EX Moves and powerful Critical Arts. These Variable Arts grant character-specific abilities in addition to combat buffs that can turn the tide of a battle. For example, Shadoloo assassin F.A.N.G., an expert in fighting with potent poisons, and his V-Ability will allow him to imbue his opponent in a potent, life-sapping cloud of toxins. Likewise, Chun-Li’ users hers able to execute rapid, free-flowing combos on her adversaries. Nash, a pseudo-zombified version of United States Airman Charlie can even absorb projectiles from enemies. V-Reversals also function as combo-breakers, giving you some welcome breathing room when your enemy pushes the offensive, V-Triggers are a bit more interesting, adding buffs to players such as giving Ryu the ability to parry attacks à la Street Fighter III: Third Strike. The fearsome warrior Necalli’s V-Trigger, Torrent of Power, allows him to stay transformed into a devastating, Super Saiyan-esque state for the duration of a round. Simply put, the Variable System adds a ton of depth to the experience and allows players to change the dynamic of a battle in a variety of interesting ways.
Speaking of new additions, the number of returning brawlers and fresh faces who make their way into Street Fighter V is impressive. As previously mentioned, the eccentric Shadoloo operative F.A.N.G. is an interesting character. He has a passion for poisoning his foes, and his life-sapping concoctions and unpredictable movements make him a versatile force in the ring. Unlike F.A.N.G., Necalli is best when dealing damage up close and personal, and is an absolute menace when grappling opponents or delivering punishing barrages of punches. His ability to become super-charged makes him a serious force to be reckoned with in the hands of a seasoned close-range player. Rashid, the series’ first Middle Eastern warrior, is a pretty solid addition to the lineup as well. He fights with a fluid, parkour-inspired fighting style and can control powerful buffets of wind which he uses to pummel the opposition, making him a pretty fun addition to Stret Fighter’s roster. Street Fighter Alpha favorite Rainbow Mika makes a welcome comeback as well in Street Fighter V, and she’s more over-the-top than ever with her bombastic moveset, pendulous physics and mighty grappling abilities. However, my favorite of the new additions is Laura Matsuda, the older sister to Street Fighter III’s Sean, who is a vicious Brazilian bombshell with a mix of balanced striking and nasty Jiu-Jitsu that makes her a truly formidable fighter. All in all, it’s hard to fault Steet Fighter V’s lineup, we only wish there were a few more characters readily available. However, Capcom plans to let them out in a slow trickle over the course of the year, expanding the roster of fighters to 22 combatants throughout 2016.
Thankfully, we won’t have to pay for these new combatants if we don’t want to, either. Street Fighter V’s story and online modes allow players to rack up in-game currency to unlock bonus content and characters, meaning you’ll only be forced to plunk down the cash on these new additions to the game’s expanding roster if you’re feeling impatient. Permitting the online infrastructure gets fine-tuned, we don’t see many players having a problem amassing a substantial war chest of in-game credits to unlock the new characters as they’re released over the course of the year, making this addition to the formula a welcome gesture on the part of Capcom, and I hope to see other games take a similar approach with their DLC.
In terms of visuals, Street Fighter V is a bit of a mixed bag. The character models themselves look very impressive, and feature a respectable amount of detail in their varied animations. These are especially striking in the facial animations. Seeing Zangief’s eyes bulge out of his head as he receives a mighty punch to the gut, or the coy grin on Laura’s face before she snaps an opponent’s arm like a twig look great. Critical Arts also look impressive, and fill the screen with flashy effects as the game’s cast of pugilists unleash their most devastating attacks. Unforunately, this same level of care wasn’t taken when it comes to the game’s rather bland selection of stages, which lack any real imagination or standout features to speak of, especially when compared to the game’s predecessor. Here’s hoping we see a selection of more interesting locales in future installments, because as it stands Street Fighter V’s environments mark a real low point for the series.
Given how much Capcom has done right when it comes to fine-tuning the mechanics of its predecessor, it’s a damn shame how much of what could have made Street Fighter V truly exceptional was inexplicably left on the cutting room floor. The V-System is fantastic, and the new additions to Street Fighter V’s roster are all interesting and add a little something to the overall package. However, the game’s anemic selection of modes and overall abysmal single-player experience is unforgivable, especially considering just how hard it is at the time of this writing to actually participate in the game’s online component. If Capcom can square away the game’s online woes and introduce some more compelling Story Mode content, then the game may be well worth revisiting, but unless you plan on spending a ton of time playing local multiplayer, I’d sit this fight out for now.
Final Verdict: 2.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) PC ; Publisher: Capcom ; Developer: Capcom ; Players: 1-2; Released: February 16, 2016; Genre: Fighting ; MSRP: $59.99