Disclaimer: I wrote a pretty caustic opinion piece prior to receiving Street Fighter V for review. Suffice to say, I think it’s best you’re aware of what my opinion was going into the review.
I’m one of those people the fighting game community loves to talk trash about; the scrub who learns the super moves and some basic combos while failing to execute them more than half the time. The casual who adores the terrible canon and the outlandish character designs and the animation and presentation and style, the elements those versed in the Way of the Fight Stick see as so much chaff. I understand this. I grok the terminology and strategies, the lingua franca of fighters. I know my fierces from forwards, my parries from my pokes. I’ve just been happy to play pretend while the Daigos and Trygos of the world get on with it.
SFV isn’t interested in what I want though. SFV is stripped of any pretense, makes no conciliatory gestures to those too daunted to play it the “right” way. There’s no ringside; you’re either in the ring or outside of it. It hates you for wanting to play alone. It opens with a tutorial leading you through the very basics (moving around) and a light explanation of the new systems.
Its story mode consists of three to four predetermined fights interspersed with sometimes great, sometimes awful art and CPU opponents with all the intelligence of a sea sponge. The survival mode consists of fighting through 10, 30, 50 and 100 matches without dying, depending on the level of difficulty you select. Aside from a rather unique perks system that allows you to boost various factors going into each survival match, they are an exercise in monotony. Even given my rudimentary skills, they pose little threat except for the limited seconds and minutes I’ve been allocated on this mortal plane before I shuffle off it.
The main reason you’ll at least try to play through them is to earn Capcom’s in-game Fight Money (FM) currency, alternate character colour schemes and XP. Fight Money allows you to buy upcoming DLC characters and costumes without shelling out real cash for Zenny, the other in-game currency. Play through all sixteen characters’ story campaigns and you’ll earn something like 160,000 FM in total. Survival Mode, at its hardest difficulty, nets you around 40,000 FM. An alternate character costume costs in the region of 40,000 FM and a DLC character a cool 100,000 FM. In reality, most of us are going to get enough to buy at least one DLC character and a costume for your character of choice. But only when they launch the store. Which isn’t available right now. You can also play Rank Matches for 50 FM a pop. So that’s, what, 2,000 ranked matches for a single DLC character? There’s six of them coming, so you’ve got quite a bit of work ahead of you.
The worst thing is that these modes do no justice to SFV. Because here’s the thing: the game? It’s amazing. And the reason I’m learning this is, in part, because I’ve been driven into the gauntlet of online play. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been angry. In one shameful casual match, I rage-quit the game after a particularly close call with a Chun-Li player who was on the ropes and then inexorably fought back to finish with a dramatic Special KO, foot planted in my face. I’m sorry, Joshuasomerandomstringofnumber
I’m also learning the intricacies of the systems and characters I would have only scratched the surface of before. Take the V-System, for example. A nod to the ISMs of Street Fighter Alpha 3, it adds distinct variety between the different characters while being relatively simple to execute, increasing the strategic options you have at your disposal. V-Skills let you apply pressure and build up the V-Gauge, V-Reversals are get-out-of-jail counters that use up some of the gauge, while V-Triggers require the full gauge to fundamentally alter a character’s abilities for a brief period of time. As it builds up relatively quickly and doesn’t carry over between rounds, it encourages active use. The characters themselves are an eccentric mix, and you’ll no doubt find one that suits your particular play-style. Old and new hands and feet fill out the roster, with staples like Ryu, Chun-Li and Cammy joining Street Fighter Alpha one-offs Rainbow Mika and Karin alongside a couple of new faces.
I’m rather enjoying newcomer F.A.N.G, who allows me to play in an infuriatingly wacky defensive manner. Critical Arts and special moves aren’t difficult to pull off thanks to the game’s loose approach to inputs. And it’s made certain previously opaque variables visible – such as the introduction of the Stun gauge, which allows you to check how close you are to being in a brief defenseless state – so it’s much easier to read the current flow of the match and change your tactics accordingly.
I’ve had one or two connection issues that were criminal, and its much-vaunted network rollback feature has been of little help in these instances. But mostly, the games I’ve found – all with local opponents – have been a pleasure despite me mostly being on the receiving end of a beating.
SFV is a conundrum. It’s certainly easier to understand from the get-go than previous games were. Your toolset isn’t reliant on being able to string together a ridiculous number of inputs with exceedingly small windows of execution just to be average. But Capcom does very little to fan the nascent fighting spirit it could spark within new players, because there’s very little to do aside from online play. And when you’re looking for an online match – although this may be a uniquely South African experience – you’re going to be waiting between 10 and 15 minutes for a casual bout or ranked match.
You can reduce the wait time by setting up lobbies and inviting opponents (or joining one), but they are currently limited to 1v1. This will apparently increase to eight at some point this month with the promised updates. You can’t search or filter lobbies easily, and the ones you’re presented don’t have any indicator of connection reliability. Not in my experience at least; I’ve been told that there is, in fact, a connection bar that shows on the far-left, but I’ve yet to see it. This inevitably results in you randomly entering lobbies hoping for the best.
There’s a training mode that’s pretty robust, that allows you to view button inputs and damage stats, set up dummies in various stances and record character actions to replay for particular scenarios, but it offers no guiding hand. The challenge mode – which in the previous iteration would have introduced you to the subtle and not-so-subtle differences and combo setups for each character – is also missing, thanks to Capcom’s “staggered” feature launch.
A poster on NeoGAF stated that SFV is a great game and a terrible product, and I have to agree. I’m not going to play apologist when we can draw comparisons to other recent fighting titles – Super Smash Bros., Mortal Kombat X, Guilty Gear Xrd, Skullgirls – that manage to provide both great gameplay AND a robust single-player component and better training systems. Capcom is a veteran in the realm of fighting games, but for every lesson it’s learnt from IV to streamline V‘s mechanics, it’s ignored a host of others, relying on the community to pick up the slack and produce the supporting material new players will inevitably be forced to seek out.
Hey, maybe you’ll be into the whole competitive aspect of it! But I’m going to refer back to my Evolve review, because there’s more than enough similarities even if they’re not the same genre. You’re shelling out a lot of money to find out if you’ll enjoy fisticuffs with other meatbags rather than fighting against cold silicon. Unlike Evolve, however, SFV has been delivered incomplete.
It’s a distinct difference. Say what you will about Evolve‘s DLC practices, if they’d abandoned the game at launch and simply maintained the servers, it would still be fully fleshed-out. Here it’s implied that SFV was rushed out to ensure it was available for Evo and the Capcom Pro Tour, and in that they’ve succeeded, at the cost of all the support and cosmetic structures that sit glaringly greyed-out and unavailable in the menu system. Capcom is making a lot of cooing sounds our way, promising that they’ll deliver the missing features by the end of this month and a more “cinematic” story mode in June.
That’s fine. There’s clearly a portion of the audience that have got exactly what they wanted from this: no frills, no fuss. But the rest of us – initiates to the digital martial arts – will find an uninviting, spartan arena with Capcom at its centre, arms spread wide, asking “are you not entertained?”