In the realm of fighting games, there is no bigger contender than Street Fighter. It's a bare knuckle behemoth, stripped down of all but most crucial of mechanics to deliver the tightest brawler around. Street Fighter V comes from an impressive lineage then, but can it live up to the gauntlet laid down by the mightily impressive SFIV back in 2009.
The first thing you'll notice when you boot up Street Fighter V is how great the graphics look on maximum. The character models are really crisp without losing any of the stylised aesthetic that is reminiscent of the older, sprite based character models found in Street Fighter II. The game is very similar stylistically to Street Fighter IV but the graphics look a lot more modern and the UI is a fresh update compared to the retro style of 4.
The animations are really smooth and the movement is so responsive. Whether you are bouncing all over the place as Vega or your floating around as Dhalsim, the transitions between movement and special moves look and feel really natural. This again goes back to how the game feels designed to welcome new players by not gating the more exciting moves behind difficult button combinations or stick movements. I hadn't even looked at Laura's move list when I first played as her and within seconds I had worked out how to create lightning and let's be honest – those are the moves we like to see.
A very simple and quick tutorial is all most gamers need, and the tutorial in SF5 is just that; very plainly and clearly going through each of the game's major mechanics. I had no idea what V Trigger or Critical Art were but I was able to use both of them in my very first match because the tutorial showed me how. Obviously there's still the huge amount of depth behind characters in terms of which moves are good to combo together and how each of their Critical Art moves work and what they actually do – watching a giant flame ball of death harmlessly float over and past your opponent is a really disheartening thing.
Street Fighter V a game that feels instantly accessible – you can just choose a character that you've never played before and within minutes you can pull off all sorts of crazy combos. The game runs incredibly smoothly as well as you can see from our graphics comparison video, in which the game very rarely dips below a constant 60 frames per second even on Ultra graphics.
In terms of its performance on PC and the quality of the port, Street Fighter V stands head and shoulders above most AAA titles released nowadays. It's becoming all too normal to have to wait well past launch for a PC port to be even remotely playable (I'm looking at you, Mortal Kombat X), and it was a very pleasant surprise to see how stable the performance was in SFV. The loading times were non-existent and the only lag spikes I experienced were at the very start of a round during character animations but as soon as actual gameplay started there was no lag which is ideal especially in a fighting game where every frame matters.
I've yet to meet or speak to anyone who plays a beat em up using the keyboard and mouse but it still seems a little odd that there's no immediate way to see what the keybindings correlate to on the controller and there's no mouse support within the menus. These are both small issues that won't really affect the majority of players but it still seems a strange omission.
Street Fighter has a storied history of releasing multiple different versions of each iteration in the series which can often end up costing a fan a huge amount of money if they want to play the latest builds on the current balancing. Street Fighter IV, for example, had four different versions which could end up costing the most diehard fans a lot of cash just to stay current. Capcom is doing away with this business model for its latest entry, claiming that there will be no alternative versions released in the future and that all DLC and balance patches will be available for the base game. New characters, when released, will be available for in-game currency and Capcom is introducing micro-transactions to allow people to spend real money to unlock characters.
It's an interesting move on Capcom's behalf. The Japanese publisher appears to be employing a very similar model to League of Legends, not only through the way new characters will be unlocked but even through the addition of a Ranked League mode, which is intended to pair up players of equal skill level in the online modes. It's an interesting move, one that could be met with a lot of controversy, but it's a model that has worked incredibly successfully for Riot Games and there have been discussions by players of the series that a grind curve is much more inviting than a paywall.
The ranked mode itself is a crucial addition for the playability of Street Fighter V, particularly at launch considering how bare bones the game is to begin with. Each story path is only three fights long which feels incredibly short compared with Street Fighter's competitors, but Capcom has already confirmed that it will be releasing new story content in March and that by June the full story mode will be available. Currently, upon reaching the epilogue and completion of a story path, the game displays 25%, which definitely allows for more content, but to not have it already at launch is not ideal.
March also sees the release of the Challenges mode and all these factors paint a picture of a game that's not quite finished. The core mechanics and performance are definitely there, so if you're looking to play online then the fighting game you want to buy is ready for you, but if you're hoping for an involving offline experience, you're going to be left wanting. It seems as though the full game, the one that really should be reviewed, won't be available until June, and that Capcom has rushed out the core game to make Street Fighter available for the big fighting tournaments.
Overall Street Fighter V is extremely playable, responsive and looks great and is a really strong entry in the Street Fighter franchise. The game that has been released today is the one designed for people who want to play online, for those of us who enjoy the stories and challenge modes, there's still some time to wait.