Friday, 4 November 2016

Street Fighter V - A Game In Progress [Part 1]

With the final part of Street Fighter V’s “first season” of DLC, I thought now was as good a time as any to take stock and see where the game is at.

I’ve been playing quite a lot of the game since its release. Well, as much as time allows me between work, obligations and other games that I want to spend time on. I stressed in my review back in February that I felt that the game was good, with the caveat that it had been spoiled by a hasty release, and a desperate attempt to build the game up in anticipation for competitive events.

It's very much a game still in progress, so I figured it was worth checking back in with.


There’s no better place to start than the characters. I have to admit, my favourite thing about any fighting game is the characters themselves, almost to the point that it becomes frustrating to decide who to play. I love games with a diverse cast, one that offers a mix of different strategies and tactics. What’s arguably more important however, is a fighting game with good visual character design.

On that latter point, I’d say Street Fighter V is holding up pretty damn well. The new characters, (that’s Necalli, Laura, Rashid and F.A.N.G.) are all interesting from a visual standpoint. Likewise, I feel that Street Fighter V has done a good job updating older characters for the new game. I said it in my original review, but it’s finally nice to see a Ken that looks like more than a blonde Ryu with a red karate gi. He finally looks like a foil to Ryu’s stoic world warrior for once, rather than just a palette swap.

This brings me on to the game’s DLC characters. Balrog and Juri in particular got a substantial visual redesign from Street Fighter IV. The verdict? Balrog looks fantastic and Juri looks decent, but I always thought her Street Fighter IV design was easily one of the best original designs out of that game, so I was sad to see it go.

Moving on to the gameplay, how has the suite of DLC characters altered Street Fighter V’s landscape? Well, I’d say Capcom were smart in who they chose to deploy as DLC characters. Not necessarily in the “they’re popular characters,  so it’s good they included them” sense, but in the way it expands the game.

There was a big song and dance prior to the game’s release about the reduction in charge characters. That is, characters that use special moves by holding one direction “charging” and than releasing their attack by pressing the opposite direction along with a button. Charge characters have been a staple of Street Fighter going back to the original Street Fighter 2, and the apparent phasing out of this input method was a potential concern for some veteran players.

What Capcom did though was a smart decision. I’d argue that charge characters aren’t as intuitive as typical “motion” characters, so Capcom stuffed the more awkward inputs into the DLC. This way, the opening roster of 16 looks more inviting to newcomers who are still perhaps struggling with the games controls, whilst the DLC guarantees that longer-term players will get their fix of more complex characters further down the round.

This strategy would seem to be the case here. Four of the six DLC characters have charge inputs. Guile and Balrog are exclusively charge-based characters, whilst Urien and Alex also have a number of charge inputs in their respective move lists.

This idea of more difficult characters being hidden away as add-ons expands to all of the new cast members. Juri and Ibuki, the two characters to use more traditional motion-based inputs, also have unique resources to deal with. Ibuki has limited number of kunai that must be restocked in order to continue using them, whilst Juri has a fireball that must be “stored” in order to use it.

Overall, I’d say that way that Capcom phased in its DLC was handled about as well as we could have expected. The characters are technically “free” to access (provided you’re playing regularly in order to accrue fight money) and the overall strategy of bringing in potentially more difficult characters for those that are sticking around and play longer, was a wise decision. It’s similar to how Killer Instinct phased in more unusual fighters season by season. Season one characters all had fairly clear roles, whilst those in later releases were harder to pin down and opened up more unusual strategies and playstyles.

Learning Street Fighter

Whilst talking about difficulty I’d still argue that Street Fighter V has utterly failed at providing a decent tutorial for newcomers. This is a game that seems to bend over backwards to cater to newer players, with simpler execution requirements and lower barrier to entry, yet it still doesn’t provide anything in the way of a half decent tutorial mode.

Fighting games are easily the most complex and potentially alienating genre of games out there. Coming at them from the point of view of a new player is daunting. The physical execution, strategy and overall way you play is very different to any other game. Being good at random third-person shooters will leave you with some cross-over skills if you start playing Halo or Call of Duty. Hell, even real-time strategy games, whilst potentially complex, are at the very least intuitive, in the sense that you build resources, to buy troops, to crush the opposition. There’s a clear order of what you’re supposed to do and how to get there.

By contrast fighting games are weird. They have their own vast array of terminology, and even that varies from game to game; Street Fighter is very different to Guilty Gear which is very different to Tekken, and so on. It’s like jumping in at the deep end, and the tendency for a lot of new players is to just wallow there and drown. Street Fighter V is being released in an age where a good portion of its potential audience probably weren’t even born when Street Fighter 2 was popular.

So, what’s most baffling about Street Fighter V is in the six months or so in the release, it’s still done very little to help new players get acclimatised. This is despite everything else seemingly being geared to doing just that. The easier inputs, simpler mechanics (or rather, more obvious mechanics in terms of every character having a gimmick with their V-skill), and a move away from a more projectile heavy “zoning” game, to one that’s much more offensive; you’re encouraged to press buttons and feeling good about doing so.

If there’s one thing that the game desperately, desperately needs it’s a proper tutorial. Killer Instinct showed how to do an effective tutorial, and I’d argue that that game is a much more daunting prospect for beginners to handle in terms of its mechanical complexity. If a fighting game that’s more complicated can provide an easy to understand tutorial mode for newcomers to get to grips with, there’s very little excuse for Street Fighter V still not having one.

Arcade/Story Mode

Speaking of things the game doesn’t have, there’s still a lot missing. In fact, there’s still a general lack of single player content throughout Street Fighter V.  We did finally get a hold of the game’s story mode; a fun, if rather forgettable scrap through a handful of fights broken up into chapters. It had the goofy, Saturday morning cartoon vibe that makes Mortal Kombat’s story mode fun to play, but there could still be more for solo players.

The lack of an arcade mode is still odd. Street Fighter V doesn’t have the arcade culture that previous instalments have had, but as a fighting game, it’s still bizarre that this mode hasn’t been added. Crafting single player content for games that are ostensibly about the multiplayer is admittedly rather difficult, but the general bare bones nature of Street Fighter V’s experience (outside of its online play) is still disappointing, and betrays the fact that the game as a whole was rushed towards release.

Continued in Part 2


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