Friday, 11 November 2016

Street Fighter V - A Game In Progress [Part 2]

Throwing Punches

When looking at the core fighting mechanics of Street Fighter V, especially now it’s been out a while, it’s even more clear what Capcom were aiming for. The game is everything that Street Fighter IV was not. Or rather, it explicitly wants to avoid everything that game did and move in a completely different direction.

I’ve already mentioned it, but the overall “aggressiveness” for lack of a better word, of Street Fighter V is noticeable after only a handful of games. Characters are rewarded for pushing buttons and damage output is huge. This is especially noticeable for Ryu, who still forms the baselines by which all the other characters are compared. Ken, Birdie, Laura, Necalli, along with a good portion of the rest of the cast, have very high damage output, and even those that are on the lower side are certainly no slouches.

What this does is make for games that feel much faster and dynamic than they previously did. One missed attack or punish can result in a swift crush counter followed by a bucket load of damage off of one combo. Even blocking is chipping away at your character’s health, encouraging a more responsive, proactive playstyle from both players.

This is a swift 180 from many of the design decisions implemented in Street Fighter IV. The fourth game in the series was notable for a much slower pace and defensive play. Even as a casual player, it was impossible not to notice just how much the game rewarded you for smart, cautious play, even as an offensive character. Focus attacks allowed characters to absorb fireballs and fish for hits from opponents that were sticking out too many buttons at the wrong distances.

By contrast,  Street Fighter V has players pressing buttons and bashing it out. Hits are satisfying, crush counters have that delicious smash sound and animation, and a large portion of the cast have access to a command grab of some kind to further dissuade excessive blocking. More importantly, almost every character is designed to get in and do damage, regardless of what they might typically have done in other games.

It’s here where issues have come about. Having Street Fighter V be more aggressive in itself is not a problem, and allows the game to generate a different kind of pace than other instalments in the series. You could argue that Street Fighter IV’s more patient style was in response to the offensive-focus of Street Fighter 3; each game reflects on the one that came before it. The issue here is that it causes many of the characters to be dramatically altered in order to fit the new system.

Dhalsim is the big example, with a playstyle that’s dramatically different from his earlier incarnations. The Indian yoga master is now rewarded a lot more for getting in and harassing the opponent from closer ranges, rather than patiently spitting out fireballs from a distance and hitting the opponent mid-jump, and then getting the heck out of there with his teleport when his adversary gets closer. Hell, even Guile, a character notorious for being a defensive wall of projectiles and anti-airs, has been twisted into something of a combo-oriented character with the potential to pressure his opponent in the corner.

Characters changing to better fit the game is no bad thing. However, in some cases Street Fighter V goes so far as to almost butcher the point of a particular character. Juri, one of the best character designs to come out of Street Fighter IV, was known for having a particularly potent fireball game, with her ability to store fireballs rather than simply fire them off immediately. Her incarnation in the sequel sees this aspect of her character all but removed in favour of a more aggressive “rushdown” approach. Sure, the character can still stock a number of projectiles, but her overall gameplan has been flipped, to reward players for going in more often. Noticing a pattern?

I should stress my issue is not that the game is more aggressive, or even that it rewards this style of player over more defensive options. Rather, my issue is when the game has to bend over backwards to have a character in the game, only to have almost destroyed that character’s identity.

These are the major examples, but other characters have suffered from Capcom’s approach. Zangief, who, again, played a cautious predatory style in Street Fighter IV, struggles in Street Fighter V because his moveset and gameplan are fighting with a game that doesn’t quite know how to handle that kind of character. He’s incredibly fun to play don’t get me wrong; landing an SPD is still as satisfying as ever, and his V-skill is a ton of fun, but there’s clearly an imbalance to how some of the characters fit into the game, and it makes me concerned as to whether Capcom can keep the characters diverse enough as the roster continues to expand.

What Works

Whilst this has generally been a criticism of what I think isn’t working in Street Fighter V, I should stress that it’s not all bad news. Like I said, the character designs are on point in this instalment, whether it be returning characters who’ve received a visual overhaul (Ken and Balrog look great) or newcomers (Necalli and Rashid are fantastic designs).

More importantly, like I mentioned in my review in February, the characters personality and designs lend themselves to their playstyle. A quick look at Rashid and you know you’re playing a character with fast attacks and incredible mobility. Likewise, Birdie’s beer gut and huge frame communicate that he’s a slow, ranged fighter even before you get down to playing as him.

These might sound like they’re minor things to praise but character design is arguably one of the most important aspects for a fighting game, and it’s one of the areas that Street Fighter V is way ahead of its predecessor. Street Fighter IV had a lot of generic characters with similar stances and movesets, with an over-abundance of the archetypal “shoto” character. This game however, does away with a lot of that repetition, and is a hell of a lot better for it.

Capcom have also made improvements to the state of the game at launch. Online matches are relatively lag-free, and the option to play a rematch thankfully got added quickly post-launch; one best-of-three fight was simply not enough when you consider the wait between matches. Quests to earn fight money are now a thing, and, whilst the payouts at the moment suggest it’ll take an age to unlock new characters, provided this is tweaked, it’s at least better alternative to the constant re-releases of the same game that afflicted previous Street Fighter titles.

The core gameplay of Street Fighter V is still incredibly addictive to play, with one or two multiplayer matches quickly spiralling into the “just one more” level of moreishness. Yet, it’s still a game that seems as if its serving too many masters. It’s trying to appeal to newcomers, draw back veterans and do so with an eye for the growing competitive E-Sport market. The risk is that, rather than draw in a bigger crowd than ever before, it risks alienating all of its potential players, both young and old.


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