Review: Street Fighter 5 review: The expert’s verdict

Street Fighter V review

What a difference a week makes. If you had asked me how Street Fighter V was on the day it launched, you would have witnessed a tirade against Capcom, cursing the studio’s very name as inept for being unable to cope with the demand for a sequel in a super popular series on the day it set to launch the damn thing.

Fast forward several days and things are much more settled – problems do arise with connecting to the servers sometimes, and there’s the odd occasion in which points and progression aren’t being tracked, but generally speaking we’re well on the way to the game playing how it should have from day one. As a result, I’m a lot more mellow. Actually, I’m a lot more excited – because Street Fighter V can start to be enjoyed exactly how it should be.

‘How it should be’ will immediately conjure up mental images for the Street Fighter faithful, and they’re likely spot on. It’s one-on-one fighting, choosing from a cast of 16 delightfully bizarre characters who spend their time hurling fireballs at one another, kicking their opponents in the face or piledriving them through the pavement.

It is, basically, one of the purest forms of gaming competition – and at its best one of the most enjoyable.

Street Fighter V tweaks and updates things – as you’d expect from a sequel – altering existing favourites like Dhalsim, making him even more of a keep-your-distance fighter, while also adding four new characters to the roster (well, three new, one returning), each bringing his or her own techniques to master.

Necali is a beast of a man with wonderful hair, a heavy hitter who suits those looking to deal a lot of damage in a fight while sacrificing mobility. Brazilian Laura might remind me of Super Street Fighter II’s DeeJay, but her projectile throwing is backed up by grappler specials – a series first.

Laura

Elsewhere there’s Zangief’s smaller, less hairy analogue in the shape of R. Mika. She returns from Street Fighter Alpha 3 with a broader wrestling repertoire, as well as the ability to call in her tag team partner for supers. Finally, we have F.A.N.G. – who looks a lot like the Thin Men from XCOM’s reboot. This wiry fellow is very clearly for expert players, mixing weaker, ranged offense with trap-laying poison specials to punish opponents who aren’t careful enough in battle.

It’s a solid mix of new characters and I’m already seeing them being used online a bit – obviously not as much as Dirty Ken and Vanilla Ryu, but what can you do? High level F.A.N.G. play is sure to be a sight to behold.

Changing the fight

The biggest change to fights, though, comes in the shape of the new V-gauge. This meter sits atop your super bar, filling when you take damage or use a V-skill – the latter being a replacement for Street Fighter IV’s focus attacks.

Once you’ve filled enough segments, your V-gauge can be used for a V-reversal – using at least one segment – or a V-trigger, which uses the whole thing. Reversals, as you’d expect, can get you out of a tricky spot; activated while blocking they can (and do when used correctly) turn the tide of battle. Also, they remind you of Street Fighter Alpha’s Alpha Counters if you’re old enough, which is nice.

SF

Triggers, on the other hand, are a decidedly more offensive V-option. By hitting both heavy attack buttons (with a full V-gauge), the player’s character enters a powered state, hits with an attack or generally does something that puts them on the front foot. F.A.N.G., for example, starts spewing out a poisonous gas, making him deadly to be near. Ryu, meanwhile, sees a general upgrade to his damage-dealing abilities, along with a powered up Critical Art. Which I keep calling a super, sorry.

It’s a smart way to introduce new elements to the series without shifting things up too much, while at the same time making the additions interesting enough that they’re not just a bit boring (I’m looking at you, focus attacks).

This might not seem like a huge overhaul of Street Fighter IV, and you would be correct in thinking that. That in itself is a bit of a surprise, when you look back at the history of the series – and it really hammers home just how much Street Fighter’s evolution over the years has been in leaps and bounds.

The original game is archaic these days, but was a revolutionary arcade game – even with the gimmicky, pressure-sensitive attack button on some machines. By the time Street Fighter II came around, though, we were presented with a bona fide classic. So much had changed, been updated, added, it was near-unrecognisable beyond a few shared characters and a central theme of battering each other.

SFII was perfect for its era: the arcade was king, and competitive play was why most of us traipsed down to those grimy, neon-drenched hovels. Thinking about it, Street Fighter II’s trip to the SNES is a part of what shunted it in the direction it took for the third and fourth games.

SF

How did we get here?

See, Street Fighter III was another departure from what people might have expected. Fundamentally the same experience again, it didn’t go for the broad audience the second game had managed to attract; instead opting to target the hardcore players who still remained in the arcades, a dying breed even back then.

This was, frankly, a misstep from the perspective of making a popular game. Street Fighter III is adored and was a critical darling, but it didn’t have anything like the cultural impact its predecessor did, and I think there would be a few people involved in making the game who would admit doubling down on the faithful over going the accessible route might not have been the best idea, great as the game was.

The fact that Street Fighter II had been obscenely popular, though, meant Capcom already knew the formula could work on populist, rather than hardcore terms. It took a long time of licking the finger and sticking it in the air to feel which way the winds were blowing, but by the time Street Fighter IV came out we were met with a near-perfect balance between hardcore, high-level play and accessibility.

SF

I think it’s important to understand where Street Fighter V stands in that pantheon. Right now Street Fighter IV is the better game, and offers a hell of a lot more bang for your buck. Street Fighter V hasn’t re-birthed itself as a totally new experience again, instead opting, for the first time, to iterate. It is, to a long-time fan, a strange situation to be in.

But it’s not a bad situation to be in, because while it may be lacking some – alright, a lot – of the trimmings, the juicy centre of Street Fighter V is absolutely excellent. The game’s just bloody good. Fast and flowing, balanced and (largely) fair, it’s everything you want from a one-on-one fighting game. At least in the matches themselves.

Outside, it’s all a bit threadbare – short story modes for single player, which you’ll finish in about half an hour, a survival mode to unlock new costumes and the requisite training mode for honing that frame data knowledge. Beyond that? Not much if you want to play on your tod.

More is coming – trials and targets, as well as a more robust story mode, are all to be added at some point in the near future. But what you get out of the box is, at the time of writing, not something the lone player will want to bother with.

Anyone looking at Street Fighter V from a multiplayer perspective, however, is both Doing It Right and set for a much better experience. It’s here where the game really shines, offering casual and ranked matches alongside the ‘battle lounge’ – which is just a lobby with a fun name. There’s an emphasis on the overall online experience: in-depth stats and rankings telling you all manner of facts about your playing style (I do a lot of ranged attacks, it seems), while replays of your own and other matches foster a closer feeling of an online community all playing together, almost like the arcades of old.

Best of all – and this is ignoring those connection issues mentioned earlier – when you’re in an online fight, Street Fighter V plays incredibly well. This netcode is sublime, as you would want it to be for something encouraging high-level play, with matches feeling just like it’s a local multiplayer match. I don’t know what voodoo goes on behind the scenes to make it possible, but gosh darn if it isn’t something to behold. At least, when you can connect in the first place.

Having said all that, it is still lacking in a number of features – though we do already know eight-player lobbies and a spectator mode will be added soon enough. It does still feel bare, though.

One thing does show that at least part of this lack of content is by design: Fight Money. This in-game currency is earned by winning ranked fights and finishing the short story mode, and can be used to unlock new costumes and – importantly – characters when they release. Alternatively, you’ll be able to buy another form of in-game currency with real cash in order to fund these unlocks. The free-to-play influence cannot be stopped.

Those aforementioned ‘coming soon’ trials and targets will also be handy to pick up Fight Money, I’d assume, meaning there is a fair chance Capcom isn’t trying to stiff anyone with its promise of being able to unlock everything for free. It’s just going to take a lot of play time to do so, and those paid unlocks will be a lot more tempting as a result…

And so it is Street Fighter V is a game to bring up some confusing, conflicting feelings. It doesn’t feel like a huge step like the ones its previous iterations have taken, instead being a refinement and doubling down on Street Fighter IV’s broader concepts and appeal.

But while it might seem as such from a wider perspective, Street Fighter 5 is much more than a hastily cobbled-together sequel that’s trying to disguise its lacking draw.

The core is there: the platform to build on is exceptionally solid, and we already know Capcom plans on adding more as the weeks, months and years go by. How well this experiment will go is anybody’s guess – Capcom doesn’t exactly lead the opinion polls when it comes to fairest DLC practices, but Street Fighter V could be the product to change all of that.

For those not looking to the future, firmly focused on what you get on your disc or download, there’s room for disappointment. Playing alone is pretty much a waste of time, beyond some hardcore practice sessions, and technical hitches have impacted what is an otherwise exceptional online fighting game.

Sf

Verdict: Play it

But all things considered, taking into account where the series has been and where it is today, it’s a very good game. Threadbare? Sure. Quite obviously not the full-and-fulfilling package we might have expected in the PS3/360 generation? Definitely. But you try to tell me there’s no thrill in an expertly-timed parry-super comeback finish with Ryu, and I will tell you precisely why you are wrong.

If one week can make such a huge difference to the perception of a game, I can’t wait to see what we’re talking about when it comes to the Street Fighter V of 2017. Whatever it is in that world of the future, it’s going to have been built on strong foundations.

This game was reviewed on PS4.

Techradar’s review system scores games as ‘Don’t Play It’, ‘Play It’ and ‘Play It Now’, the last of which is the highest score we can give. A ‘Play It’ score suggests a solid game with some flaws, but the written review will reveal the exact justifications.

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