I think it’s safe to say that ever since Street Fighter 2 was released in 1991, the Street Fighter franchise has held a firm place in many gamer’s hearts.
Whilst there have been a few other fighting games over the years that have managed to remain relevant, such as Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters and Dead Or Alive, I don’t believe that anyone can deny that Street Fighter truly is the daddy of them all.
In my opinion, what has made Street Fighter so successful over the years is its inclusiveness – whether you’re just a casual player, fighting for fun against the CPU and maybe a friend or two, or a pro, mastering the intricacies of the combat system to compete competitively at a tournament level, Street Fighter caters to all thanks to its easy to pick up yet deceptively deep combat, as well as just enough content to keep all types of players interested. That’s why then, when it comes to the latest entry in the series, Street Fighter 5, it pains me to say that I can’t really recommend it right now to anyone but those aspiring to play it at a tournament level.
It’s nothing to do with the quality of the gameplay; trust me, Street Fighter 5 plays wonderfully. The problem is there’s just hardly anything to do but play online, and even then, your options are fairly limited at the moment with regards to character and stage options. If you’re a single player looking to take on the computer you simply have three options at launch: story mode, which consists of two or three one bout rounds for each character with some story stills between each; survival mode, allowing you to tackle between 10 and 100 computer controlled opponents in a row; and a self-explanatory training mode. There’s no arcade mode, no score attack mode, no time attack mode – it’s truly a poor offering for those that don’t want to jump online. Granted, Capcom promise that the currently unavailable challenge mode will be unlocked in March, and that a cinematic story mode will be added in June, increasing the game’s single-player content, but the current absence of staple fighting game modes such as arcade is inexcusable.
For those that seek only to play online, Street Fighter 5 is much more attractive, but still not as feature packed as it should be. At launch you have the option to quickly find both casual and ranked matches, as well as invite just one friend into a “Battle Lounge”. The ability to invite more friends into your Battle Lounge will be added in March, along with a spectator mode for those who like to watch while they wait. At its core though, fighting online is a great experience, with fantastic netcode allowing you to engage in battles without having to worry about lag. It’s also a nice touch that you can choose whether or not to be matched up with people playing on the opposite platform. Playing on PC, most of my online matches were played against PS4 users that had more than likely acquired the game early, and not once did I encounter any issues that sullied our tentative battles.
When it comes to the fighting itself, Street Fighter 5 feels familiar, yet there are enough changes to keep the gameplay fresh and fighting fans on their toes. It’s got the usual six button setup, the signature special move commands still work, and Super Combos still exist, although now they’re called Critical Arts. Where it differs however, is with the inclusion of the new V-System and the myriad of both major and minor tweaks to the abilities of its character roster. Replacing Street Fighter 4’s Focus system, Street Fighter 5’s V-System offers three mechanics: V-Skills, V-Triggers and V-Reversals. V-Skills offer each character a unique ability and do not require any of the V-Gauge to be filled to use. V-Triggers on the other hand, require a full V-Gauge to use but offer either a powered up state or a unique attack that can potentially be used to turn a match around. Finally, V-Reversals need at least one block of the V-Gauge to be used, and offer a quick counter manoeuvre upon a successful block. Overall, the implementation of the V-System is fantastic, with each character feeling distinctly individual yet equally capable in a range of combat situations.
At launch, 16 characters and 10 stages are included in Street Fighter 5, and whilst they all look good they won’t blow you away. Playing on an i5-4690K with 16GB RAM and an Nvidia GTX 970, I was able to run the game at 1080p with all graphics options set to max, constantly maintaining a silky smooth 60FPS. With all settings at max, the stages look noticeably better than those in Street Fighter 4, and feature lots more background animation, but to be honest I found them a little underwhelming due to their blandness. The character models however are vastly improved, and although the lip syncing is still frequently off by a wide margin, they feel more alive than ever due to their improved animation and finer details. The characters haven’t just had a visual upgrade either, as the returning fighters on the roster have had their movesets tweaked to fine-tune the gameplay, with fan favourite Ken perhaps on the receiving end of the brunt of the changes. Often viewed as a Ryu clone, Ken now feels like very much his own character, and fans should enjoy re-mastering his revised special moves. Meanwhile the four newcomers in the initial roster all offer their own playstyles and movesets that don’t feel like re-hashes of other characters in the series, meaning that fans will enjoy getting to grips with discovering their strengths and weaknesses.
Basically, those interested in Street Fighter 5 should view their purchase as a season pass. At launch, there’s the bare minimum amount of content included to enable players to get used to the game’s fighting systems, but over the coming months it will grow in features and content to make it a better, more rounded experience, for free. The character roster is also set to be bolstered by a further six fighters that are to be released throughout this year, again, unlockable for free by actually playing the game and accumulating enough fight money to buy them – a task which shouldn’t be too hard for most players to achieve. As such, the actual season pass available for Street Fighter 5 at launch should be seen as a hefty micro-transaction, allowing you to unlock the fighters you’ve already paid for quicker. If you go into Street Fighter 5 with this mindset, then you won’t feel quite so aggrieved when you’re sat twiddling your thumbs because you’ve got nothing to do but play online for a month or two.
At the moment, with its fantastic gameplay but a serious lack of content, Street Fighter 5 is a solid 7/10; a good game that is a great for fans of the genre but can’t be recommended to all. Hopefully though, in a year’s time when the promised features have been added and the roster of fighters has been increased in number, it’ll be worthy of a 9/10. Until then however, those looking for single player fighting thrills should look elsewhere to get their kicks, whilst those wanting to just play online will definitely enjoy Street Fighter 5, but may find its repetition of stages and fighters slightly irksome.