Friday, 26 February 2016

Street Fighter V - Review

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: PS4 (version played), PC

Reviewing Street Fighter V is surprisingly difficult because there's two major factors that pull my opinion of the game in completely different directions. As an actual game, in terms of the mechanics and the fighting, it's a terrific addition to the series, and I'm still looking forward to see how it develops in the future. On a technical level however, Street Fighter V is a hot mess right now, rushed out the door with too few features and barely a semblance of a complete game.

First though, let's go back to the gameplay. Perhaps the most striking thing about Street Fighter V is how it attempts to cater to beginners. This is a game that desperately wants to expand its fan base, and, presumably, wants to do so in a way that doesn't alienate the hardcore competitive crowd.

Understanding the game's basic mechanics is significantly easier than Street Fighter 4 ever was. Combos and commands are notably easier to perform, and there's much more fluidity and “oomph” to the combat now. It feels more like two people fighting rather than a collection of meticulous hitboxes and hurtboxes colliding with each other.

Street Fighter 4 was a terrific game but it was one that required intimate knowledge of fighting games to truly grasp; you had to educate yourself on the basics of the genre before you could even learn the basics of the very game you were playing. This always seemed counter-intuitive when the title was heralded as the best place for beginners to get started with fighting games.

Gone are focus-attacks and the incredibly difficult to pull off focus-attack dash cancels (FADCs), whereby a character could extend particular combos by pressing several inputs before cancelling a focus-attack with a dash so that subsequent inputs would continue the combo.

In their place is the V-Trigger system which is far less abstract and easier to grasp. Hitting both medium punch and medium kicks will have your character pull of their V-Skill which varies from character to character. Ryu, for instance, has a defensive parry, whilst M.Bison is able to absorb projectiles and even fire them back at his opponent.

What's so ingenious about the V-System is that it sums up each characters role in fights much better. When you see that Rashid's V-Skill is a special roll you know instantly that this character is built around mobility. It's a much smarter way of subtly indicating a character's strengths and strategy directly through the game and helps to diversify the cast much better.

Likewise, the V-Trigger is a special state that a character can enter, and each one has similarly unique properties. Ryu's projectiles get much stronger when he enters his V-Trigger state, whilst Birdie gains armour on several of his special moves in addition to higher damage output. As a game mechanic it helps ensure matches have a strong sense of pacing. Neither player is going to be able to enter V-Trigger at the start, but like Street Fighter 4's ultras, they're a threat the longer a fight goes on and add another strategic layer to each match.

Command inputs have also undergone something of change this time around. There's been much talk about the removal of many charge motions from the game prior to release. However, the scaremongering that this was Street Fighter V dumbing down are largely just that, scaremongering. There's still several characters who use charge inputs and two; M.Bison and newcomer F.A.N.G, who use them exclusively.

What's perhaps the more noticeable change this time round is how much projectiles have been weakened. This is a much more close-ranged, aggressive game than Street Fighter 4 ever was. Almost half the cast comes with their own command grab, from Necalli's lunging grab to Laura's jujitsu grapples, there seems to be an attempt to shy away from the more sedate, “Hadoken, Hadoken, Shoryuken” rhythm of the previous game.

Every character seems to have some way to punish players who attempt to sit back and throw things. Birdie has a chain attack that goes straight through projectiles and slams the opponent into the ground, whilst M.Bison and Nash can happily absorb most of what you throw at them thanks to their V-Skills. “Zoning” still exists in Street Fighter V but Capcom seem keen to set a much different pace to fights this time around and you can see it in pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

Just as the gameplay has undergone several subtle and not so subtle changes to its predecessor, so too has the cast. Several returning members arrive pretty much unchanged, Ryu remains as stoic (and bland) as ever, and Chun-Li and Vega have also undergone very little redesign visually. The more interesting changes are to the likes of Ken who finally looks less like a Ryu palette swap, sporting a new look and even his overall animations convey the sort of cocksure karate kid foil to Ryu that the series has always attempted to portray him as.

It's Dhalsim however, that seems to show off the new hardware better than any character. His “Stretch Armstrong” limbs are played up more than ever now, with even his loading screen seeming to stress how elastic the guy is. The redesign is a welcome addition too, with a long beard and turban finally giving the character something new, visually, after years of looking the same.

For all the good that Capcom do with Street Fighter V's mechanics and designs it's the release itself, on  a technical level, that is the most baffling. This is an incomplete game, with only the bare bones of single player modes. Most bizarre is the complete lack of a basic arcade mode, which you'd think would be present given the series' history in arcades. Story mode meanwhile, basically boils down to a handful of fights per character, strung together with some basic dialogue and bare bones story. Once all that's completed, players who don't/can't venture online are left with the paltry survival mode to sate their appetite.

Street Fighter V's rushed release begins to undermine itself. It bends over backwards to draw in new players with its design changes but hardly contains a tutorial to speak of. Basic concepts such as anti-airs and how to perform special moves are brushed over and not explained. Other fighting games, most notably Killer Instinct, go to great lengths to explain their systems and how they work on a basic level so beginners can digest them. Street Fighter V seems to want to be accessible to new players on the one hand but not go any lengths to actually help them learn.

Even the online multiplayer, the core of Street Fighter V's longevity, was buggy upon release. And after a week  the matchmaking will still occasionally fail to connect the results of a ranked match to the server, meaning the victor doesn't get their league points for winning. This can essentially render the rewards for entering a ranked match meaningless, and mean that future fights pit you against someone far above or below your skill level.

Lag, fortunately, is kept to a minimum, although there always seemed to be one match every hour or so that'd have both of us flying and clipping around the screen, rendering the entire fight unplayable. There's nothing more frustrating than having to wait ages for a fight to begin only to have the entire thing falling apart on-screen as you play.

It's insulting that Capcom would release the game in its current state, when simply delaying for another month or so would most likely have ironed out many of these issues. It really begins to stick in the craw when their main goal seems to be touting the (already announced) suite of DLC content that can be paid for with in-game money. Free-to-play mechanics in a game that you already paid to play...seems legit.

Sarcasm aside, we'll have to see how Capcom's release strategy works once it's rolled out. As frustrating as the heaps of DLC content are, the fact that you can, in theory at least, get everything for free, simply by playing, will likely make it superior to Mortal Kombat X's horrid smorgasbord of nickel-and-diming tactics.

Street Fighter V is a great fighting game hamstrung by its publisher's attempt to eke out as much money as possible, be it from future content, or the rushed release so that the game can be built up as an eSport title. It's perhaps safe to say that the game will be a success regardless of what happens, simply due to its loyal fan base and competitive reputation.

Still, it's bad enough when poor games get ruined for the sake of some extra money in their publisher's coffers. When a good game like this gets messed up however, that's when it really hurts...


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