REVIEW-Street Fighter V: Still in Alpha (Series)

Developer: Capcom, Dimps
Publisher: Capcom
Formats: PlayStation 4 (REVIEWED), Windows PC, Linux
Released: February 16th, 2016 (North America and Europe), February 18th, 2016 (Japan)
Copy purchased via PlayStation Network. 

GAME CONTAINS MICROTRANSACTIONS

The Street Fighter series was born in arcades and from there, it birthed the one-on-one fighting game genre as well as the competitive fighting game community. While the first Street Fighter is blasé by todays standards, it did introduce special moves and set the series trademark six attack buttons. Street Fighter II introduced groundbreaking concepts like linking moves together to form combos and throws to keep the pressure on opponents. Street Fighter II was immensely successful and popular in arcades but every update Capcom released came in the form of a new arcade cabinet with a new subtile. All of the Champion, Turbo, Hyper, and Super updates kept building on the solid gameplay foundation with new characters, concepts like Super moves, and even secrets.

The Alpha series spinoffs and Crossover (SNK, Marvel, etc.) games did a great job of experimenting with the Street Fighter formula but nothing could compare with the bold choices made in Street Fighter III: New Generation. The game’s focus on new characters (with the exception of Ryu and Ken) and parrying opponents made the 2-D fighting game series feel fresh in an era where arcades were populated with 3-D fighters. While the Second Impact update introduced EX moves, throw escapes, and taunts, Third Strike was the best installment for adding Red Parrys, bringing back fan favorite characters Chun Li and Akuma, and for creating the greatest moment in competitive gaming. But by this point, fighting games in general became too technical which alienated casual players from ever picking them. 

As the popularity of arcades wained in the early 2000’s, the Street Fighter series went without a new entry in the series from 2000 to 2008. But the fighting game community only grew larger thanks to the internet sites like shoryuken.com and events like the Evolution Tournament. Released in Japanese arcades back in 2008 and on home consoles in 2009, Street Fighter IV brought the series back to form with 3-D characters fighting on the traditional 2-D plane. The gameplay resembled Street Fighter II with its slower pace than 3rd Strike but the addition of the Focus Attack mechanic and Ultra Combos did plenty to spice up the core gameplay.

Although Street Fighter IV brought fighting games back into the spotlight and introduced them to a new generation of gamers, the subsequent paid updates fractured the community. Like I said eariler, Street Fighter was born in the arcades and updates were separate cabinets with players only having to spend just a couple of quarters to fight. Having players pay $60 for Street Fighter IV only to stop supporting it and having them buy Super Street Fighter IV for $40 in order to get the less broken, up to date version of the game was a miserly move on Capcom’s part. These paid updates (Super, Arcade Edition, & Ultra) featuring new characters alongside the ludicrous amounts of paid alternate costumes created a community of haves and have nots. This segregation of content proves even more tumultuous for players with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 coming out less than a year since the original $60 game and the locked on disc character DLC fiasco that became synonymous with Street Fighter X Tekken.

With Street Fighter V, the series has been designed from the ground up to not only appeal to players of all skill levels, but to unite the community via cross play on all platforms and free updates. Using a new engine, a new fighting system, and a commitment to becoming an online service, is Street Fighter V the fighting game for this online generation or has the series suffered a technical knock out?

“GOT DAT RESET!”

In order to play Street Fighter V, it’s highly recommended you play with a “fightstick”. Sure, you could play with the Dualshock 4 controller but I feel that the control stick is just too finicky to handle the precision required for pulling off movements common to fighting games like the dragon punch motion (right, down, down right). Another option is the Mad Ctaz fight pad which features a more d-pad. For those with a PS3 USB fightstick, you’ll be happy to know that Street Fighter V has legacy controller support thanks to Lab Zero’s legacy controller driver. Just don’t expect to use these in major fighting game tournaments as you’ll need a Dualshock 4 controller to sync your PS3 legacy fightstick.

While the game fundamentals don’t stray too far from the series trademark gameplay, all of the combo properties, mechanics, and characters in Street Fighter V have changed giving all players an even playing field. The flip side to this blank slate approach is that there’s a significant lack of single player modes at launch. There’s no arcade mode, no trials mode, and no option to fight CPU opponents one on one in an even environment. The story mode for all available fighters is disappointingly brief with only 2-4 easy fights for each character. These stories are told through art panels drawn by renowned Capcom artist Bengus but each is totally inconsistent in quality. It’s like Bengus was rushed to create these storyboard panels and it shows in extreme cases where characters look totally unrecognizable. The only benefit to playing Story Mode is that you unlock costumes to purchase with Fight Money (more on that later). Survival mode is here but other than unlocking different character color options, there’s not much incentive to keep playing it. Training mode is the best in the series with the ability to train online with your friends. You can even record and replay moves for the A.I. to perform so you can practice set ups. While it doesn’t display frame data, this training mode feels robust which is more than I can say for the other single player offerings.

Powered by Unreal Engine 4, everything in Street Fighter V is rendered well in 1080p and runs at a steady 60FPS. While Street Fighter IV had an ink brush visual motif, Street Fighter V features a water brush motif that flourishes each match with beauty. The soundtrack is much improved is superb with each theme composed in a huge range of styles such as rock, electro, orchestral, and jazz. The remixed, reimagined and brand new character tracks are the clear stand outs as each fit their respective characters to a tee. The voice acting in both English and Japanese fits well with the series balance of serious and silly characters.

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Did I mention how outlandish the character designs are in this game?

FRESH FACES, FRESHER BRUISES


Street Fighter V features sixteen playable characters right out of the gate. Twelve of them are returning characters while four characters make their official debut to the. Ryu, the series lead character, plays and looks identical to his appearances in other Street Fighter games. He still the default “shotokan” fighter and the most balanced fighter in the cast. Ken Masters has received a drastic overhaul in his character design and move set. No longer in the shadow of his best friend Ryu, Ken’s normal and special moves highlight his new found combo potential while his fireballs have increased recovery frames. Chun-Li’s signature speed, slow moving fireball, and her “lightning legs” haven’t changed much. But don’t let this fool you as any skilled player can make this elegant kung-fu master a force to be reckoned with. Cammy White is mostly unaltered in both her appearance and her move set. Her kicks and grabs make her a close ranged fighter and her Spiral Arrow attack can close the gap on her opponents. Dhalism, the Indian master of the Yoga Flame, looks more like a proper yogi with a turban and a white beard. His long reaching normals and teleportation moves still make him great at zoning opponents but his fireballs (including his critical art) now launch at an arc instead of a straight line. Zangief, the red cyclone of Russia, now features more scars on his massive muscles. He’s lost his “green arm” fireball wrecking attack but this grappler has some new moves to get the opponent closer for him to throw around.

Birdie from the original Street Fighter game is still (punk) rocking the outfit he had in the Alpha series but now he’s a 300 pound heavy weight. He’s still all about head butting and grappling enemy combatants but his new obsession with food gives Birdie a new lease on life. Karin from the Alpha series looks kind of like Lilli from the Tekken series (odd considering Karin came first). Her Rushdown style has been altered a bit with an overall stronger emphasis on air juggling. Rainbow Mika (R. Mika) is still the same spunky female wrestler from Street Fighter Alpha 3. With a new wrestling partner by her side and exaggerated wrestling moves like the Frankensteiner, Stunner, and Giant Swing, R. Mika is well armed and dangerous up close. Nash has underdone drastic changes since his days as Charlie in the Alpha series. He looks more like Frankenstein’s Monster and instead of his cool personality, Nash has a single minded goal of revenge against M. Bison (the dictator). Nash is no longer a copy of Guile as his moves like the Sonic Boom are all performed differently and he’s the only character that steal EX meter from opponents. Speaking of M. Bison (still talking about the dictator), he’s back and looks older than before. He’s still a charge based character but his new air juggles and off the ground attacks make him more aggressive than in previous Street Fighter installments. The last of the returning fighters is Vega (the claw) and he’s sporting a frilly white shirt to complement his mask and matador pants. His moves are much easier to perform as he’s no longer a charge character and Vega now has access to fight either clawed or barehanded; the latter of which has different attack properties and access to a command throw. But the most shocking change from previous appearances is that once Vega’s claw is knocked off by the opponent, it cannot be picked back up for the duration of the round.

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Necalli is an ancient warrior (kinda similar to Tekken’s Ogre) who’s easy to pick up and play. He’s a rushdown character who’s absolutely savage in his attacks and only gets more brutal as he builds his V-Gauge. Laura is a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu fighter with plenty of command grabs, electric attacks, and rekka chains. She’s the only grappler with a projectile but it moves slow as its only use to put pressure on the opponent as Laura moves in. Rashid is a Middle Eastern master of wind with loads of money, a knack for technology, and acrobatic flair. His wind attacks allow Rashid to effectively keep opponents at bay or get up close for big damage. F.A.N.G is the newest grand master of the Shadaloo organization. His poison attacks (a first for the series) and slippery charge based movements make him a tricky opponent for players to encounter. While not as massive as other fighting games, this initial roster of fighters is diverse and learning to play as each character feels exciting again. All of the characters feel viable for professional play but patches in the coming month could shake things up considerably.

V-TRIGGER WARNING

Street Fighter V continues the same of fighting gameplay of its predecessors. Two fighters go one on one using a variety of attacks and abilities to knock out their opponent. The EX Gauge from Street Fighter III and IV is back. As the player lands attacks, players can to either use one bar of EX energy to power up special moves or use the whole gauge to perform Critical Arts. Critical Arts are powerful and flashy super moves that are unique to each character. Also returning from Street Fighter III is the Stun Gauge which measures how much punishment a fighter can take before they get trapped in a dizzy state. The most interesting change in Street Fighter V is the elimination of long, hard to execute combos. Stripping down which normals and supers can be linked together makes playing Street Fighter V more of a psychological battle of figuring out what your opponent is going to do rather than a battle of attrition. So fights are no longer dictated by who can memorize a 30-hit combo but rather by whoever presses the right buttons at the right time and can capitalize on that.

The focus attack, Ultra Combo, Revenge Gauge and other lousy mechanics from Street Fighter IV are gone. In its place is the “Variable Battle System” or V-System which makes each bout interesting. Every character comes with a V-Skill (activated by pressing both Medium Attack buttons), a special attack with unique properties. For instance, Ryu’s V-Skill allows him to parry attacks similar to SFIII while F.A.N.G throws a poison projectile that doesn’t cause any hit stun. Doing these successfully or getting attacked fills up the V-Gauge which allows for new mechanics to be used. V-Reversals (activated by pressing both Heavy Attack buttons while moving away from your opponent) use one stock of the V-Gauge to unleash a counter attack similar to Alpha Counters in the Alpha series. Using the full V-Gauge unleashes V-Trigger (activated by pressing both Heavy Attack buttons), a boost that can change the attack properties or drastically alter the match for each character. Nash’s V-Trigger causes him to teleport instantly while Necali’s gives him an attack buff that lasts the entire round. V-Trigger is by no means a comeback mechanic as it takes a while to build up the V-Gauge and the amount of V-Gauge is different for each fighter. You can turn the tide of battle as V-Trigger is cancelable to extend your combos. Unlike the EX Bar, V-Gauge energy does not carry over to the next round so the best fighters need to decide if it’s wise to hold back. Overall, the V System makes Street Fighter V feel simple but in a way that doesn’t cheapen the experience of outthinking your opponent with your prowess.

“MY FIGHT MONEY!”

While single player suite is disappointing, the online component seems to be where Capcom spent there time and effort on nailing down pat. From the menu, you can select to jump straight into casual or ranked online matches. You can also turn on “Fight Request” which passively searches opponents while you play in any single player mode. The Battle Lounge is a small lobby system while you can invite or join friends in online bouts with customizable settings like altering time, rounds, and victory conditions. The Capcom Fighters Network (CFN) is a feature a lot of serious fighting game enthusiasts will enjoy. You can upload, search and catalog replays of all online matches (including your own) and look up fighter profiles from players around the world. 

Capcom’s plan for Street Fighter V is to build upon the initial game with micro-transactions and free updates rather than game changing expansion packs. A March 2016 update will add trials mode, eight person lobbies, and a Spectator mode. A June 2016 update will add a Cinematic Story mode taking place between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV. And in the coming months, six DLC characters consisting of Alex, Guile, Balrog (the boxer), Ibuki, Juri, and Urien will be available after launch. They are NOT locked in the current game and will be made available individually to earn or to buy whole sale as part of a $30 Season Pass.

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Street Fighter V utilizes two forms of currency: Fight Money which can be obtained by just playing modes and Zenny which is a premium currency bought with real money. While it is possible to unlock new characters and costumes using only Fight Money, there will be several costumes that can only be purchased with Zenny. Right now, earning Fight Money is a drag since winning online matches only gives you 50 of them at a time but Capcom has announced that daily challenges will be coming soon that will provide players opportunities to score fight money. The online store is not open until March which is probably for the best because playing online at launch is a mixed bag.

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As you can clearly see on this chart, Capcom loves money.

Capcom’s new rollback-based netcode system performs well in all of the matches I’ve played in. I’ve experienced minimal to zero lag in matches but there’s no proper matchmaking so I got bodied by pros more often than not. I’d be happy to say this is the best online experience I’ve had in a fighting game… that is if the servers actually functioned properly. At the time of writing this, there are several issues with logging into the game, uploading match results, and even joining an online battle. The worst part of these bad connections is that fight money can only be earned while playing online, even in single player. With consistent connection drops, not only could you lose that money but also your progress in a single player mode. I was twenty eight rounds into the Normal Survival mode course with Ken but once my connection to Capcom’s servers were severed, I lost all my progress and had to start over at round one. Capcom has promised fixes but you’re better off waiting until they’ve fulfilled those promises.




FOUGHT A STREET AND LOST. 



The sad irony of Capcom trying to make Street Fighter V feel less like an arcade game and more akin to an online service is that the game is missing an arcade mode; a series staple since 1991. For while the fighting feels great and easy for all kinds of players, those same players will be bored by the lack of substantial features at launch. The online servers hamper the fun and Capcom’s inability to provide immediate solutions makes recommending this game hard. I’m genuinely heartbroken by this game but if you’re willing to be persistent and patient, Street Fighter V is a good fighting game to play…and it’ll be even better when they finish making it.

 

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