Street Fighter V is a tricky game to review. It’s the series’ first proper foray into the area of “games as a service” - that is, games that are continually developed and expanded upon after launch. More importantly, it’s a game squarely focused on multiplayer, a component that isn’t easy to assess until the game’s out in the wild. I’ve had the game since last Wednesday, and in that time, I’ve been able to play a total of maybe eight matches online, against three or four different opponents. The pool of New Zealanders with pre-release copies of the game isn’t exactly overflowing.
And so, while a review is incoming, I want to at least wait until I’ve had a chance to put Street Fighter V through its paces in a live environment. In the meantime, here are my first impressions of the game, based on a small sample of network play and a much bigger plate of singleplayer.
Street Fighter V is a welcome, refreshing game, especially after Street Fighter IV. As much praise as IV deserves for almost single-handedly resurrecting what had become a pretty niche genre, I’ve always found it dull. It reminded me of Street Fighter II, which I’m sure is intentional and a big contributor to its success, but I’ve always been far more interested in the likes of Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III, and Guilty Gear; faster, more tactically varied games, with far more interesting characters and systems.
This game feels like the second coming of Street Fighter Alpha. Not just because the launch-day roster includes Karin Kanzuki, Rainbow Mika, and Charlie Nash, Birdie; not just because Alpha Counters make their return as V-Reversals; and not just because Ryu, Ken, and Charlie have their Street Fighter Alpha costumes as alternates this time around. No, Street Fighter V reminds of Alpha because it’s fast, more reliant on footsies and mindgames than complicated, technical setups and combos, and is just more fun, overall.
This all begins with a really great roster. Whatever metric you look at - old characters versus new, different playstyles, character designs - Street Fighter V has more variety and balance in its 16 fighters than most other games have in twice that. Street Fighter IV has over 40 characters at this stage, of whom exactly one interests me; in Street Fighter V, choosing a main is difficult because of how many options there are, rather than how few. Laura, Karin, Rainbow Mika, Rashid, and Nash all fascinate me, and forthcoming DLC will add even more viable options in Alex, Urien, Ibuki, and Juri.
Aside from Necalli, who is enough of a boring, grimdark antihero to make Akuma look like a Powerpuff Girl, the new characters are all really interesting, in terms of both playstyle and character design. Laura is vaguely reminiscent of Makoto, with good mobility and mixup pressure; Rashid is a capable rushdown fighter whose princely quips are always entertaining; and in keeping with his outlandish design, F.A.N.G has lots of quirky traps and mindgames that can be a real pain in the ass to fight against.
Even among the returning characters, there’s good degree of variance in how much they’ve each changed. Ryu is basically the same Ryu he’s always been, but Ken is wildly different and far more aggressive, even compared to his Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV counterparts. He seems almost like he’s been reworked to be as appealing as possible to “Flowchart Kens” - more rushdown, more pressing of buttons, more dragon punches.
Singleplayer content is pretty barebones at this stage. There’s the Character Story mode, which serves as a brief introduction to each fighter in the form of two or three fights connected by illustrated, visual novel-style cutscenes. With no Arcade Mode to speak of, Survival is your go-to for versus AI gameplay; you’ll fight anywhere from 10 to 100 (!) fights in a row, depending on difficulty, with the option to spend your score on various modifiers between rounds.
It’s fine, as far as survival modes go - not bad, but nothing special - though I find the fact that colours are unlocked through this mode very frustrating. Each run through can be a slog, especially on higher difficulties where there more fights, and the fact that you get nothing to show for it unless you make it all the way to the end can really take the steam out of any desire to keep trying.
That’s all there is for now, but more modes are in the pipeline. Challenges, including combo trials and more advanced, character-specific tutorials are coming next month, and Cinematic Story Mode is due out in June.
If you’re here on day one, chances are you’re interested in multiplayer, which is pretty standard fare: offline versus, online ranked, online casual, and online lobbies. As I said, my experience online so far has been limited, but from the few matches I have played, the netcode seems to generally be pretty good. I had the occasionally laggy match, but for the most part, games with five-bar connections (other Kiwis and east coast Australians, basically) were flawless.
Ultimately, time will be the judge on how Street Fighter V fares. But given what I’ve seen so far, the long-term support Capcom have planned (especially for the competitive circuit), and the use of a living model, I think Street Fighter V is going to do very, very well.