A great game. A really great game. When it works.
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Released: February 16, 2016
Copy provided by publisher
When Splatoon launched on Wii U last year with minimal content, missing features and the promise of gaps being filled in over time, Nintendo largely got away with it. Splatoon‘s servers were rock solid from day one, features were stable, the feature rollout was transparent and everyone was having far too much fun to care that the business model was bad on paper.
Ultimately, I think this is why my first few days with Street Fighter V left such a sour taste in my mouth. When the gameplay is rock solid it’s an amazing game, but days of server issues, crashes, missing features and minimal single player content have just served to highlight how weak the launch day package is.
I could probably have forgiven a lot of the issues with SFV if it worked consistently at launch. In this state, the problems stand out like a sore thumb.
So, when Street Fighter V is working, how is it? Well, it feels like an incomplete but refreshing reboot for the series. It’s a new coat of paint, a mechanical shake up and a reset for any muscle memory built up playing Street Fighter IV.
When Street Fighter IV launched, one of the most obvious aspects of its design was that it had lowered the complexity of the series’ core mechanics, creating a lower barrier to entry with a smooth difficulty curve toward a high skill ceiling. In short, Street Fighter IV welcomed in new fans, and encouraged them to work their way toward being competitive players. This change in approach did a huge amount to help grow the competitive Street Fighter community into what it is today.
Many of the changes made to Street Fighter V feel like they are similarly trying to create a fresh opening for new players to jump in and work toward becoming competitive. Returning character movesets are altered, as are their inputs, to hinder returning players’ ability to rely on muscle memory.
Focus Attacks have been replaced with V-Trigger, a new ability that puts your character in a state where they do extra hits with attacks or gain extra strength for guard breaks. Critical Arts replace Ultras, which are functionally similar but use faster animations to maintain the pace of fights.
While it’s very clearly still Street Fighter, there are enough changes to how the core mechanics work that new players have a fighting chance online if they jump in early.
Street Fighter V also has incredibly granular stat tracking, which can be really useful if you’re taking your skill improvements seriously.
I was able to look at a set character I had played as, find out what percentage of times I successfully landed a hit with any given move, and learn where I needed to improve. In the short term, I could work out which attacks I most often messed up and should probably use more sparingly or defensively. These highly detailed stats for every character were incredibly helpful for understanding my own in-game performance.
Everything about the moment to moment gameplay in Street Fighter V feels better to play than it did in Street Fighter IV. Specials feel faster, but improved hit pause implementation makes normal attack exchanges feel more weighty and impactful. Every punch feels like it lands with a thud, but specials don’t feel like they take endlessly long to happen. That shift makes a real difference to the way the game feels, and it’s nothing but an improvement on the Street Fighter core.
SFV also seems to have a focus on increasing the pace at which gameplay flows. From Critical Arts featuring shorter animations than Ultras to the decision to replace character selects before every match with a “favourite character” you select on the main menu and automatically fight as in every battle, SFV feels aimed at getting you into matches fast, and through them fast.
Unfortunately, while the core game loop feels stronger than Street Fighter IV, there are some very notable issues with the launch day package, most obvious of which is the number of greyed out options on the main menu.
Where Splatoon presented what content it had at launch and added later, Street Fighter V greets you with a screen where half of the features you want are visible, but not accessible. That really hammers home how much content this game was really meant to have, and being reminded of that every time I boot the game really winds me up.
While there’s an expanded story mode coming in a few months, the current story campaigns consist of three to four fights, no big rival fight, and no fancy ending animation. For beating story mode with a character you unlock a new costume for them.
Actually, you don’t unlock a new costume, you unlock the right to purchase a new costume. From the Street Fighter V Store. The Street Fighter V Store that doesn’t launch for quite a while.
Street Fighter V is also missing a challenge mode, instead only featuring training mode. While training mode does have its place in Street Fighter, it’s not comparable to challenge mode when it comes to giving players a structured path to improve their skills.
Lobbies at launch only support inviting one friend to play with you, and even with that minimal implementation I could not successfully start a single match through the lobby system in my first 72 hours with the game.
Four days down and lobbies are starting to function, but they’re still highly unstable. This instability is a big issue, because it means playing online against a specific friend for the first few days was near impossible.
The fact lobbies were down for so long is a real shame, because when I could actually get into matches online the netcode was undeniably solid. In twenty five hours playing the game, I’ve not faced any lag at all online. Even playing PS4 vs PC, the matches were flawlessly smooth.
This is the problem with Street Fighter V at launch, it’s only amazing when it’s working. When it’s taking me twenty minutes to find a casual or ranked match through matchmaking, unable to connect to a match with a friend I know is online, the cracks in this games launch are made all the more apparent.
You can get away with a feature light launch if what you release with works flawlessly. You can get away with a poor launch if your game is content rich. I’m not willing to accept a AAA game cutting both those corners.
When playing, Street Fighter V serves much the same role as SFIV did when it released. It shakes up the mechanics to improve pacing, but primarily to throw established players off their feet and give new players a comfortable entry point to the franchise.
When it comes to fighting against someone, it’s one of the most polished Street Fighters to date. When it comes to everything outside of that fight, it’s a huge steaming turd that I look at with a scrunched up, grossed out face.