Before we got our hands on Street Fighter V we were troubled. Nothing that had been revealed or shown in advance had really resonated with us. Every new Street Fighter in the regular series and Alpha has been a milestone. The first entry has rarely been perfect, but Capcom always listened, fine tuned and added more over time, and after a number of sequels we'd be left with an undeniable masterpiece.
Street Fighter II was such a pivotal game within the modern fighting genre. In Alpha we got real combos and the ability to block in the air. In Street Fighter III came counterattacks that changed everything, and Street Fighter IV was the game that finally found a working 3D formula and brought the series into the 21st century. Street Fighter V looks like a slightly neater version of Street Fighter IV, but the revolutionary gameplay features that have characterised each new entry in the series are nowhere to be found.
First impressions were not very promising. After an introduction to the game system, we ventured into the single-player. Each character has a little mini-story that takes barely five minutes to play through, and it's filled with highly questionable voice acting and other such nonsense. It's practically over before you even start, and only those who really care about who knows who in the Street Fighter universe will draw any entertainment from this.
Single-player is normally something to scoff at in the context of fighting games, but since the Mortal Kombat reboot, NetherRealm has shown us how it can entertain. For many, however, it still plays a small role, but if you're one of those planning on playing this by yourself, it's hard to recommend this. It should be mentioned that Capcom has indicated that it will get more and better single-player content later this year. However, this isn't something we can take into account since we don't know what it will be, if it'll be released when promised, and even if it'll be any good.
Fighting games should be played against other people, but when we selected the Versus mode we discovered a new peculiarity: we couldn't choose to play against the computer (other than in the Practice mode, but to access that you need to mess around in the menus, it's not streamlined or efficient in the slightest). In itself this is not a disaster, but it is a decision that prevents us from easily relaxing, practicing against our friends' favourite characters on the highest difficulty setting to get an idea about how to best defeat them and learn all the tricks. Instead of simply jumping into some solo fighting, you've got to navigate a bunch of needless menus.
In fact, the menus continue to be something of a setback for Street Fighter V, and they need to be reworked. When you want to configure the buttons on the controller, it turns out that you can't press the square button if there's already one on the list, because it will then be removed. In itself it's a tiny thing, but we saw several fellow fighters react in the same way and they removed attacks from specific buttons instead of adding them.
Street Fighter V is full niggling things like that. When you happen to click on the key binding menu by mistake, you can't back out but have to select 'exit' in the menu, and when a fight is over only Player 1 can choose if it should be a rematch or whether there'll be a chance to select new characters. That has led to countless unplanned return battles where someone exclaims that they wanted to change fighter.
It almost feels like a free-to-play title because of how sparse it is and from all the ill-conceived menus. Moreover, graphically it's very primitive and at a technical level where the year-old Mortal Kombat X runs circles around Street Fighter V and still has significantly shorter loading times. To top it all off, the backgrounds are still filled with badly animated characters that could well could belong in Street Fighter IV, which really wasn't that technically impressive either.
Phew! We just needed to get all that out of the system; so far Street Fighter V has been playing hard to get and at times it feels like it's actively trying to discourage our enjoyment of it. But everything that we've mentioned so far is of course ultimately just a novelty. When everything is said and done, it's about Versus, and nothing else. We often don't even consider online matchmaking, since we don't want to experience lag in any form. These are the microscopic details and the insane timing that determines the outcome of a fight, and nothing else.
And once it comes down to the fighting, Street Fighter V opens up. It is admittedly somewhat sparse with only sixteen characters, but more are confirmed as coming as DLC. Street Fighter II has been strong for nearly 25 years and it only had twelve characters. In addition, Capcom had the good sense to thoroughly shake up the ensemble. This means that it's not possible to be lazy and choose Blanka or Guile, and there's been a lot of changes to the lineup. Not even a revered character like Ken has remained untouched; he's changed to increase the contrast between him and Ryu.
The Focus attack from Street Fighter IV has been thrown out in favour of something Capcom calls a V-meter (Variable System). What it does is individual for each new fighter, but the idea is that it should be easy to activate so even amateurs will be able to utilise this. EX-meter remains and works pretty much like it did in the last game, that is, you can use it to strengthen attacks or trigger insane Critical Arts combos reminiscent of Xray-moves in Mortal Kombat X. Less bloody course, but they're of decent length, automatic combos that are simple to execute and filmed from best angle to make the player feel cool. They're a lot more fun to use than the Focus system and even after just five games the V-meter feels natural.
Nash, a favourite from the Alpha series, has changed dramatically. His classic charge attack is now replaced with the usual quarter- and half-circles, which is a shame. Sure it makes everything more homogeneous, but charged attacks could well have featured, and to streamline this way is confusing.
Vega has also changed to distance him from the classic charge concept, and only M. Bison from the old bunch acts as he always did. We've no problem with the fighters changing, but they could have been different and still have had charge attacks - the same way Ken has been dramatically changed but still executes his attacks the same way. After about a hundred matches, it was clear that it's Necalli that'll be the favourite for many.
Appearance-wise and in terms of pace and energy, we reckon he's a replacement for Blanka. Playing Necalli, one can fairly easily force opponents into the corner and there attack freely with his aggressive attacks. If an opponent starts blocking too much, counter rapidly with the devastating Mask of Tlalli (a hard throw with a brutal animation). Complete with an EX gauge and you also get the opportunity to follow up with a combo thanks to a wall bounce. A very satisfying fighter which can also be made even better with a full V-meter. A Super Saiyan-like premise, he can turn into a much scarier version of himself, making him unbearably fast and powerful for the opponent.
Since Street Fighter V is new, major imbalances in the game are not yet a problem. From experience we know that characters like Necalli are rarely a problem for better players, but we do think this is a n00b killer since he is so aggressive and fairly easy to play. If you want to win against rusty friends - choose this beast.
The other new additions also feel good. Brazilian Laura practices Matsuda Jiu-Jitsu and is very entertaining to play with, and we think she has the potential to become a fan favourite. Her technique revolves around grappling, so it takes some acclimatisation if you meet a ranged opponent. Rashid is also lightning fast and entertaining, and reminds a little bit of Guy in terms of pace and movement. We'd also like to mention the newcomer Fang, just because he's so incredibly macabre. A strong defensive figure who has been criticised for feeling more like a SNK character (or alternatively Darkstalkers) than any Street Fighter resident. Be that as it may, but he sounds odd, behaves and looks even stranger, and has probably the most curious and remarkable arsenal in the whole series. For those who've not met him before, it's absolutely impossible to know what's coming, and he will poison his opponents, rapidly draining them of life. This forces them to act aggressively and push for the win before the poison kills them.
Street Fighter V has been renovated from the ground up and it has been changed, tweaked and fixed everywhere. People who used to lead with hard attacks will find it a little tougher to do that because they seem to have a slower start. In this way, we're encouraged as players to actually mix it up with faster, medium, and slow attacks.
To try to sum up Street Fighter V means a mixed bag of emotions. It feels a little unfinished and we would have liked to get a few more characters, a descent single-player mode, and better crafted menus. It really isn't the massive leap that we had hoped for, and it certainly should have been nicer. However, it's still borderline impossible to put down the controller and once again it will lead to late nights fighting with friends.
Noone can take away from the fact that Capcom has created a very solid foundation, but it almost feels like they have just released something to build upon in the future, rather than releasing a perfect game at the start. In the autumn, when the roster and single-player has been extended properly, patches have arrived and the community is really alive - there is real potential this could be something really special. But as it is right now, it doesn't feel like an instant classic, a trick that Street Fighter IV and its predecessors all managed to pull off.