Street Fighter V – a review for those returning to the fight

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In terms of game design here’s little simpler than two players duking it out on a single screen, on a single 2D plane even. The fighting game has an illustrious history, at one point such games were system sellers and you couldn’t launch a console without one, but in recent years it’s become a more enthusiast calling.

If you were a fan of the last edition, you’ll almost certainly be buying Street Fighter V and this review really isn’t for you.

Still, there must be those, who like me, remember the genre and Street Fighter in particular with great fondness from their youth. I’ve been playing Street Fighter on-and-off since my local pub got a SF2 machine (with only three buttons per player) back in the early nineties. Part of my wasted youth means that, like many, I can execute all the special moves with reasonable accuracy. If you’re like me, then should you buy Street Fighter V? Should you try and get back into fighting games?

Content drop-kick

If you’re not currently playing fighting games then let’s put all the others to one side for starters. If anything is going to get you back into the genre then it’s going to be Street Fighter V. You’re probably familiar with some of the characters, you’re certainly familiar with the moves as most are still based around the old quarter-circle and dragon punch inputs, blocking will come back to you pretty quickly too. This isn’t then a comparison between SFV and other games, for you it’s either Street Fighter V or back to Hearthstone or your MOBA of choice.

And the similarities are striking, Street Fighter V certainly isn’t the kind of game you pick up for a couple of weeks and play and then move onto something else. You might be paying for it upfront, £40 on disc or £50 for a digital copy, but you’re going to playing this like a free-to-play game, consistently fighting and improving over the coming years – which is why I strongly suggest you pay the extra £10 on PS4 and buy a digital copy to save you a lot of disc swapping in the long run.

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Capcom recognises that the game’s here for the long haul, though that does mean it feels a bit lean upfront. The 16 character roster is generous enough and you’d have to be incredibly dedicated to get your head (and hands) around even half of them over teh next few months. And then there’s another 6 characters coming in 2016 alone, you’ll be able to earn these by playing and winning a lot, or buy them with cash at around £5 each. Capcom has stated that there will not be an Ultra, Super or Turbo version of SFV, so these characters won’t be bundled later in a new version.

Initially, the single-player offering only amounts to 3 fights for each character with some manga-styled stills and voiceover in between. These Character Stories are simply a prologue for what Capcom is calling the Cinematic Expansion, which will come in June for free for all players, beyond that we know very little. It’s a brave and bizarre move given that solo content often helps ease in new players. Other post-launch expansions include a spectator mode for online play, a challenge mode with tips, trials and daily challenges, and expansion of the Battle Lounge social play and hangout to more than two players at once.

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There’s also a survival mode, which you play to unlock costume colours, but there’s really very little here in terms of assets, compared to say your average full-priced action title.

Online delivery

The meat of the game will always be in its versus modes of course. Street Fighter remains one of the best games for two evenly-balanced opponents to play on a single screen. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to have a convenient sparring partner at home of course, so online play is likely to make up a lot of your playing time.

In our pre-release testing I was generally impressed by the netcode, with matches running smoothly. There were a couple of laggy horror shows but these were a tiny minority. You can select on a scale of 1-5 how bad a connection you’re willing to play on, but I was happy to practice my Hadoken in training more while the game found a top-quality matchup.

And you will need to practice in my experience. I thought I could play Street Fighter, after all how much can Ken and Chun Li have changed? A lot is the answer, I lost the vast majority of my early games, mostly without winning a single round. It was only once I’d really got my head around their new moves, worked out how the EX and V gauges could be best used, and popped online to grab some pointers (Twitch and YouTube are your friends) that it all really started to come together.

Controlling influence

The other issue I had is that I had to get my head around playing on the PS4’s DualShock 4. Now some will wail and gnash their teeth at the thought of using such a controller, but if you’re coming back to Street Fighter then I’m afraid your Sega Saturn Hori stick in the loft isn’t going to be compatible (unless you do a lot of soldering, possibly). The game is compatible with PS3 sticks, but if your layoff’s longer than that then you’re looking at at least £50 for a stick, and more likely £70-100 for something respectable. That’s a lot of money when you’re not sure this is even the game for you.

After struggling with the D-pad for 10 minutes I switched to the DS4’s analogue stick and never looked back. Characters that use entirely quarter-, half- and full-circle rotations are easy to get to grips with, dragon punch motions are harder to perfect as are charge characters. Thankfully, much of the roster can be played without either of those inputs. Having only 4 face buttons is simply a pain, though, making numerous moves very hit-or-miss I found. Yes, the game is playable on the controller, but you’ll need to invest in a better controller sooner or later to get the most from all the characters.

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Character count

Looking at that character roster in more detail you’ll find a fantastic and varied group of characters. You’ll recognise Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Zangief, Dhalsim, Vega, M. Bison and probably Cammy. Nash (sometimes known as Charlie), Karin, R. Mika and Birdie has all featured before in Street Fighter games; while Rashid, Laura, F.A.N.G and Necalli are entirely new. Plus Alex, Guile, Ibuki, Balrog, Juri and Urien will be joining them this year.

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Whatever your preferred style of play there’s something here for you. If you like to get close and grapple then R. Mika or the classic Zangief are good options. There’s speed and immense combo potential from middle-eastern newcomer Rashid. Ken and Ryu are more different than ever, Ryu is strong and can play well at range and close up, while Ken is all about dashing in and executing devastating combos. Dhalsim and F.A.N.G will cater to those who simply like to be different, preferably winning without having to get too close to their foes.

As an aside there was considerable coverage online before the game’s release concerning the depiction of women in the game. I’m not going to go into it all in detail here, but Street Fighter V certainly isn’t shy about showing female flesh. It’s pretty tame stuff compared to some of the content that comes out of Japan, watch the first episode of The Seven Deadly Sins on Netlfix if you want to see something far more worrying, and played for laughs. I’m not going to judge the game, many will find the levels of violence far more worrying than some impractical outfits and jiggling flesh, but you have been warned.

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FIGHT!

So how does it play? Well if you’re coming at it relatively fresh then it’ll seem very fast and brutal. A lot of Street Fighter used to simply be about playing keep-out, with a series of finely timed projectiles and anti-air moves designed to dominate space and keep your opponent off-balance. These days, it all feels a lot tighter, characters can close quickly, there’s numerous ways of parrying or dodging past projectiles and fights can swing wildly from one side to the other. All good.

The game is apparently less technically-demanding than it predecessor, with less super-hard-to-execute chains of moves and fewer tricksy ways to become temporarily invulnerable or dodge out of trouble. Bigger moves now tend to beat down lighter ones, so taking risks with heavier attacks (that have longer recovery times) can pay off.

That means you have to get to know your whole moveset well, it’s no longer simply a couple of standard moves, plus your three specials and possibly a super. Knowing which standard attacks to pull out and when is key, plus there’s a lot more variation in every character.

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Rashid, who’s quite straightforward by SFV standards has a spinning ground attack and a flying kick as well as an unconventional rising projectile, all of which work quite differently based on the button pressed. He can also pull the spinning attack and kick out of a forward dash and use the flying kick as a dive kick. Then his V-system moves let him do a quick somersault over opponents, again with a dive kick option or slide or roll to close distance on the ground. He also has a big super that’s easy to combo into and a V-Gauge move that sets a giant whirlwind crawling across the screen with some great pressure and combo potential.

Plenty to get your head around there and that’s not including dashes, crush counters, various ways to escape throws and stand up without getting hurt all over again. If you want to know about all that, read our earlier piece of SF V mechanics (not by me).

The graphics are largely great. Everything is super-smooth, the characters have more character than anything else out there and the various super moves are both pyrotechnically impressive and imaginative. The only duff point is the hair, which has a really plastic-like feel to it, like the models were based on their action figures, rather than vice versa. The graphics also have a kind of over-sharpened JPEG look about them, but that’s just a style thing that’ll divide opinion.

Conclusion

The decline of fighting games could be partly ascribed to the death of arcades at the hands of fancy-schmancy video games consoles, exactly the kind of console that we’re all now playing Street Fighter upon. However, better internet connections now both allow for online play and have also allowed a community of fans to flourish, from whom you can learn a lot via Twitch or YouTube.

This most traditional of genres then is now in rude health thanks to the very technology that practically eradicated its birthplace. That said, the game still plays best when you’re sitting (or standing) next to your opponent and if you get the chance to visit somewhere like Heart of Gaming in London then you’ll find there’s still a great competitive scene for fighting games in the flesh so to speak.

Street Fighter V’s cost of entry is high, and I wish that Capcom had been brave enough to create a free-to-play version to try and draw more new players into the game without them having to spend £40-50 on what is a very punishing game for novices. I also wish there was a more affordable joystick or 6-button controller available, as this element effectively doubles the cost for newcomers. That said, if you’re looking for a new gaming hobby, one that rewards knowledge and skill in equal proportions, then Street Fighter V makes a fantastic alternative to the current crop of shooters and MOBA’s.


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