Street Fighter 5 Review: Good Gameplay, Incomplete Game

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Street Fighter 5, Ryu

Street Fighter 5 is the successor to the iteration of Street Fighter that basically revitalized the fighting game genre. Full disclosure: while I enjoyed watching SF4 later on in its life, I was never a SF4 player, and though I’ve played fighters competently since Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES, I am relatively new to the “hardcore” side of the genre.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to business. For my money, Street Fighter V is a very entertaining fighter, packaged in an unfortunately sub-optimal online experience and (at launch) nearly nonexistent single player content. But let’s start with what works.

Graphics

SFV is a beautiful game. While your mileage may vary on the actual art style (SF’s trademark gorilla hands and feet return), there is no denying that the game itself is pretty and its animations are silky smooth. The characters reel in different directions depending on which side the attacker’s roundhouse is coming from, and the animation of moves is as glorious as they are expected. Heck, even Karin’s outro is beautifully animated, and you can actually get a sense for these characters’ fighting styles and personalities just from looking at the way their attacks animate. [gallery link="file" columns="2" size="large" ids="5917,4434"] Karin is fluid and technically precise with a combination of hard and soft power, Ryu’s attacks are straightforward and economical with no excess energy spent; Zangief hulks around the screen and throws haymakers that you feel when they connect. In terms of animation, SFV nails the characters, and the stages aren’t too far behind. They aren’t as dynamic as something you’d find in, say, Killer Instinct, but they are all appealing in their own ways and are suitable battlegrounds for the combatants. There’s certainly “wtf” elements in some of the stages (why is there a ninja in pink sneaking around the Kanzuki estate?), but that too is a staple of the series.

Sound

For my money, SFV might also be the best-sounding Street Fighter game ever. While not every tune is as catchy as Guile’s from Street Fighter 2, there are some really nice takes on Ryu and Ken’s tunes, as well as some really good new entries. Necalli’s theme in particular is ominous and foreboding in a good way -- the man is a dangerous savage! -- and stood out to me in a way that most Street Fighter music haven’t done over the years. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUn549UmSlw?rel=0&showinfo=0&w=800&h=366] The rest of the sounds go much as you would expect -- there’s the trademark shout of “Hadouken” as the shotos chuck plasma, the furious whooshing of air as Zangief leaps 40 feet in the air with a spinning pile driver, and the meaty sounds of normals and specials cracking into your opponent. The sounds for all of these are meaty and satisfying, and there’s actually a decent amount of audio cues to help you indicate what you’re being hit by. Hearing the crush counter chime and the brief mute of a V-Trigger cancel is going to be iconic and will lead to either elation or despair depending on which side of the particular exchange you’re on. Character voices for the most part are good I think, although some of them (looking at you Laura) are equally annoying in both English and Japanese. Still, the option to choose language character by character is nice and welcomed feature.

Gameplay

Now for the bread and butter of any fighter, the gameplay. SFV is a fun game, and there’s not too many other ways to say it. At its best, it’s a chess match played out with punches and kicks and teleports and SPD’s. The fighting game triad of attack, block, and throw are present and essential, and the game can be merciless in punishing any failure to appropriately apply them. Crush counter combos can steal half a life bar or more if you get tagged by an opponent with the proper resources, and the combos, while easy, have a certain weight and meatiness to them that I find immensely satisfying. When you tag someone with a five or six hit combo in this game, you feel it not only because of the excellent animation quality and sound design, but also because those five or six hit combos do a lot of damage. A lot! Ken vs Charlie, Street Fighter 5 The V-Trigger system adds a neat wrinkle to the otherwise fairly straightforward combat engine of the game, giving each character a unique skill or mechanic that serves to make them more dangerous in the neutral, and can also pull double duty as an effective potential comeback factor once the bar is full. The V system isn’t nearly as arbitrary as SF4’s Ultra mechanic (should’ve blocked – here’s half your health gone!) or as overwhelming as UMVC3’s X-Factor mechanic (lvl 3 Vergil to the rescue!), but smart application of it can and will save your bacon. All in all, it’s an intelligent system that gives you some recourse once the chips are down all the while requiring you to play smart. [gallery columns="2" size="large" link="file" ids="5106,5504"] And really, encouraging smart play is what SFV is about. You can certainly mash out DP’s on wakeup if you like (or the mash jab preferred by the online hordes), but in SFV you will get utterly destroyed for making these decisions rashly or at inopportune times. The crush counter system means there is a legitimate penalty for always pressing buttons on wakeup, and the fact that all DP’s and reversals are counter hits on landing (with no way to FADC them or otherwise make them safe) means that once you decide to wakeup shoryu, you are now wedded to that decision. Guess wrong, and you’re to going to have to eat this 40% punish and use that time to reevaluate your life choices. I love the system -- it punishes mashing and ensures that smart and careful play is rewarded, while still providing options out of pressure should the need arise. While the game isn’t particularly fast or frenetic and the pace is overall a bit slow for my tastes, this is pretty much on the tin for a Street Fighter game and no knock against it. You want hectic and chaotic neutral and a jillion things happening on screen, go play Marvel. You want hype and borderline unfair pressure options married to a continuous mind game, go play Killer Instinct. If you want methodical approaches, footsie based neutral and a truly iconic cast to play around with, then you should be playing Street Fighter V. My only knock against it might be that it can be boring when the opponent isn’t anywhere near your skill level, but fighters in general don’t tend to be much fun when wailing on newbies, so I can’t say it’s a huge demerit against the game.

The Bad...

First off, for a game with somewhere near 10 official and unofficial betas and stress tests before it launched, SFV released with an unbecoming and altogether annoying number of flaws with its online play. This review was actually delayed because the blasted game borderline did not work online at launch, and while Ranked and Casual searches now seem to function mostly okay (excepting strange 10-15 minute droughts where it just refuses to find a match), its Battle Lounges are still broken. One hour they’ll be working just fine and I can run a FT10 without issue -- the next hour the whole system will crash and disconnect the instant I create or try to join a friend’s lounge. Street Fighter 5, Laura choking Ryu For a game with this much visibility and this much pre-release testing, the shoddy online experience has been hugely disappointing. I imagine these kinks will be worked out relatively quickly, but it’s still really annoying that these kinks couldn’t be worked out ahead of the game’s launch. When the matches do connect, the game’s online is very good and its cross-play between PC and PS4 works to perfection. However when it’s off, it’s really off, and because of the lack of single player content, don’t expect to get much enjoyment from the game when the servers are acting up. Which brings us to our next flaw... Street Fighter V is almost inexcusably bare-boned in its single-player content. If you aren’t playing in Battle Lounges with random players or friends or testing your mettle in Ranked or Casual, you probably aren’t doing much. At present, there are only “Story”, Training, and Survival modes. Story mode is just a collection of three 1-round matches for each character, with painted cutscenes (see below) interspersed between each match. The problem with this is that the matches are wildly unrepresentative, with braindead AI opponents and a maxed V-Trigger and Critical Art to start out with. Remember, I can do 50-60% easy with most characters with those resources. Training is functional and useful (the record function is particularly well done), but the lack of frame or hitbox data is disappointing to me personally. Street Fighter 5, Ryu story Survival is really the only single player mode that you can spend an appreciable amount of time with, but while it has some cool wrinkles in the form of post-battle supplements, the fact that your costumes are gate-kept behind the various Survival challenges is super annoying for anyone who wants more than two colors for their character but doesn’t like Survival in general. And if you get to level 49 of Survival on hard and lose, well thanks for playing, but no new costumes or Fight Money or anything of value for you. Joke’s on you, sucker! That leads into my final flaw of the game: Truly baffling user interface (UI) and progression decisions. The “Survival runs for costumes” for each character is bad, but I’d really like to meet the guy who thought “man, it’d be really cool if only Player 1 has the option to go to character select in Vs. mode!” I just don’t know when or why that would ever be good, but lo and behold SFV does it. In general, the UI is slick, but requires a lot of clicks (“effort” in UI terms) to get to things. Searching for replays is tedious and weirdly time consuming, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why key features for players are hidden behind fine print button presses and queues. It’s just a shame. I’m sure a lot of these network bugs and UI things will be patched out, but it’s really just not cool that a full-priced AAA game released lacking content and having some of these kinds of issues.

Final Thoughts

Street Fighter V is a very good fighting game wrapped in what is a decidedly not-great launch. The game lacks content for those who aren’t super interested in getting online and grinding out against the hordes of the internet, and has some weird misses that make things like running tournaments a lot more difficult that should be. The online is also currently janky, which is a real problem for a game that’s missing any meaningful single-player content.

8

Great
That said, the actual presentation and application of the combat is very well executed, and there is no doubt I’ll be playing this game for months and years to come. Combat is pretty, deep, and truly exciting when fighting an opponent of similar skill. Launch hiccups aside, I think that Capcom really has designed a worthy successor to the game that restarted the fighting genre and rejuvenated the fighting game community.

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