When Destiny launched with a dearth of content, a dreadfully repetitive mission structure and a laundry list of broken promises, I couldn’t believe there were people who stood by it. I didn’t understand the appeal at all. How could they recognize all its glaring flaws and arcane systems in one breath, then continue to sing its praises in another? Given the game’s myriad problems, each more baffling and frustrating than the last, how could they continue to play it night after night? I couldn’t figure it out. But now, thanks to Street Fighter V, I get it. Street Fighter V should have been the feel-good hit of the year for fighting game fans. It’s Capcom at its finest: nailing the fundamentals, revamping the netcode, laying a clean slate. It’s also Capcom at its worst: crucial modes are missing, online play was broken at launch and much of what the developer did manage to deliver is undeniably shoddy. Yet here I am, night after night, coming back for more. It’s too good to stop.
Street Fighter V is the worst kind of game to review. There’s such a conflict in focus. You want nothing more than to talk about all the reasons why it’s incredible and why everyone should run out to buy it right now, but there are so many caveats that need to be dealt with first. There is so much wrong with Street Fighter V. Let’s start with story mode.
For most players, story mode is where a fighting game gets its hooks in. It’s an opportunity for the game to introduce itself: its identity, its characters and how to play. Experienced and pro players might scoff at the importance of a story mode in the same vein as the Call of Duty veteran who never even touches the campaign mode, but it is absolutely a crucial part of the experience. In that aspect, Street Fighter V fails miserably. Each of the game’s sixteen characters gets short, shallow vignettes told through motion comics interspersed with brutally unsatisfying one-round fights against brain-dead AI opponents. Most characters get three of these matches, but many only get two before their story is over. It’s crazy. The stories themselves aren’t much better, just loosely connected flashes of happenstance as characters bump into each other around the same handful of locations before deciding to fight without much motivation. Worse, the same insipid events play out over and over across multiple characters’ stories, and none of it makes any sense. Birdie, for instance, shows up in what feels like every single other character’s story with little more to say than “I’m hungry” before a fight breaks out. Street Fighter V could alternatively be titled Birdie’s Bad Day and it would be a more accurate title. Every character’s story takes no more than a few minutes, and nothing remotely interesting happens in any of them.
Street Fighter games — or fighting games in general, actually — rarely ever deliver particularly compelling story modes, so it’s not a huge shock to see Street Fighter V carry on that tradition. But what is shocking is just how gallingly incomplete the game is at launch. The story mode is a hasty mess of a prologue to the “cinematic” story mode coming as a free update in June. Once you’ve spent the hour or two needed to complete every character’s story, on the single-player side you’ll be left with a dry survival mode, which arms you with a persistent life bar against a series of one-round matches, and a standard training mode. And that’s it. If you’re interested in Street Fighter V but not the kind of person who wants to fight online, well, there’s no sense waiting till the end of the review: don’t buy this game — yet. There’s a free update coming in March that will add (among other much-needed features) a challenge mode. You can even see a grayed-out option for challenge mode in the game’s main menu right now, which more than anything just feels insulting. Street Fighter V desperately needs a good tutorial as the one it currently forces players into is a joke, teaching players little more than how to move while completely failing to mention entire systems. For series newcomers and veterans alike, Street Fighter V does an extraordinarily poor job of explaining itself. There is no clear path in the game from starting out with a new character to mastering them, or even learning the basics, without resorting to outside resources, and that’s flat-out inexcusable.
Even the in-game store wasn’t ready at launch; it’s also been relegated to the March update. The store seems like a pretty critical part of the game, too, given that nearly everything you do is in service of earning more in-game currency to use at the store. As you play — be it story mode, survival or online — you’ll be earning “Fight Money,” which you’ll eventually be able to use to unlock new costumes and characters. 100,000 Fight Money will net you a DLC character, while 40,000 Fight Money will get you a character’s story mode costume. “Premium” costumes, though, are only available with the game’s other currency, Zenny. The only way to acquire Zenny is with real money, but the simplest way to put it is: $6 per character, $4 per premium costume. You’ll have at least 160,000 Fight Money if you finish every character’s story mode, so it shouldn’t be too hard for most players to get two DLC characters for free. After you’ve finished the prologues though, Fight Money drips in at a pretty slow pace, so don’t blow it all on costumes. It’s an interesting system for sure — as long as Capcom’s servers hold up because you won’t earn any currency when offline.
It’s insane to think we could be this far into a Street Fighter V review and still not have touched the core fighting system, but that’s a testament to how badly Capcom screwed up the launch of this game.
Street Fighter V is a dramatic overhaul for the series. It’s faster than Street Fighter IV and more aggressive, too. An input buffer has been introduced to help you pull off tricky combos with complicated inputs. Chip damage — the tiny bits of health loss that occur when you block an attack — can no longer lose you a round (except from a Critical Arts super attack) which forces your opponent to come get the last hit and earn a win. Gone is the confusing Focus system of Street Fighter IV and in is the arguably more confusing V-System. Every character now has a V-Meter and three new moves related to the V-System: a V-Skill, a V-Reversal and a V-Trigger. The V-Skill is an attack that can be used freely by tapping medium punch and medium kick together and will quickly build V-Meter. The V-Reversal, activated by pressing forward and all three punch buttons while blocking an attack, uses one segment of a character’s V-Meter to turn the tables on your opponent. The V-Trigger burns the entire V-Meter to launch a special attack and is activated by tapping hard punch and hard kick simultaneously. Each character’s “V-” moves are completely unique and will require you to use them all to get an idea of what they do since the game makes no effort to explain itself. It becomes a massive undertaking just to figure out what every character’s “V-” moves do and an even bigger pain to remember all three for each of the sixteen characters. Once you start to focus on a few characters, the V-System becomes (more or less) second nature, but until then, without a proper tutorial it’s just as muddled as the Focus system was.
Characters are always the make-or-break factor for any fighting game. After all, if you just aren’t connecting with at least one character, you’re probably not going to stick with that game for too long. The diversity of characters in Street Fighter has always been the series’ biggest strength, and Street Fighter V is no different. Every character demands something completely different from you; even series mainstays Ryu and Ken, who started as differently colored versions of the same basic template, have diverged even further in Street Fighter V. Ryu feels more vicious than he has before, with more versatility in his moveset, though he still represents the easiest starting point for new players to jump in and learn the basics. Ken, on the other hand, has gotten positively ferocious. He’s faster than before and harder-hitting. His moves are wilder, flashier and more likely to force his opponent to blink and make a mistake. His V-Skill in particular is really interesting: he sprints forward, and if the button combo is held down, he’ll end with a kick. It’s surprisingly intimidating the first time a Ken player starts charging at you from the other end of the stage, and it’s great to watch the different applications of this move, like tossing an opponent up in the air, sprinting to the other side and continuing the combo. Every character in Street Fighter V feels fresh and challenging, and it’s a joy to see yourself gravitating toward one or another. Though in past games I always went with either Ken or Dudley (who sadly didn’t make the cut), here I found myself having the most fun with one of the new characters, Rashid, who’s best described as “Prince of Persia wearing Google Glass.” His aggressive, high-flying acrobatics and relentless ground game really appeal to me, and the more I play as him and the better I get, the more exciting Street Fighter V becomes.
Since the game doesn’t have a great tutorial at launch, the best recommendation I can give is to experiment with each character in training mode for a little while. Pull up that character’s move list and do each move at least ten times before moving on to the next. It’ll familiarize you with each character’s abilities and reinforce your muscle memory to make it easy to pull off each move when you need it. Once you’re comfortable, set your training dummy to “AI” mode with a difficulty of about 4 — just enough to offer a bit of resistance, but easy enough that you can try out all the moves and figure out what your bread and butter combos will be. Once you’re comfortable, notch the difficulty up to 5, then 6. If you like the character, keep practicing; if not, there’s fifteen more for you to choose from. Then, when you’re ready, hop online and see how you fare against real people. The online arena, which lets PlayStation 4 and PC players square off against each other, is where you’re going to learn the most. You’ll see what works against people and keep developing those strategies, and experienced players will punish your bad habits over and over until you fix them. It is immensely satisfying to see your skills and style improve against real players as you start racking up wins.
Street Fighter V‘s online mode started about as rough as it gets: it completely broke on launch day. But to its credit, Capcom has stabilized its servers quickly and now it’s easy to get into either a ranked or casual match. The entire matchmaking process cleverly happens in the background, allowing you to play story mode, mess with menus or warm up in training mode while the game finds you an opponent. One of the most significant changes with Street Fighter V is that Capcom developed entirely new netcode to power the online play. It works like the ever-popular GGPO netcode, essentially nullifying lag by sending yours and your opponent’s inputs to a server between the two of you, syncing them up and rolling back the fight if it finds a sync error due to a slow connection. In practice, what that means is this: online matches feel as good as offline matches. Street Fighter IV‘s online play, like most fighting games, was crippled by input lag that made it impossible to execute your combos with the same responsiveness as offline play, and I could never get into it as a result. Street Fighter V, on the other hand, is a joy to play online — when it works properly. Occasionally you’ll get placed into a visibly incomprehensible match riddled with lag. It’s extremely frustrating to have a win streak ruined by one laggy match, but by and large, the online play is a particular strength of the game.
It’s such a shame that Street Fighter V launched in the state it did; it’s impossible to wholeheartedly recommend to everyone as a result. If you’re on the fence or a newcomer, you’re better off waiting for another update or two for the game to get fully fleshed out. But even right now, beyond all its rough edges and missing modes, Street Fighter V is a tremendous fighting game at the top of its class.