If you were holding out on picking up Street Fighter V due to its initial incomplete nature, I have good news for you: It's almost a finished game! In February, Capcom's newest one-on-one fighting game arrived on PC with many flaws that detracted from the stellar gameplay, including awful server instability, no true single-player mode, and a surprisingly limited multiplayer Battle Lounge. Fortunately, most of those issued have been addressed with software updates, including the April 2016 patch that also added bug fixes, a penalty for rage quitters, and a new playable character, Guile, the classic brawler who debuted in Street Fighter II. These fixes, combined with new and classic characters, fresh and returning fight systems, and cross-platform play with PlayStation 4 owners, make Street Fighter V a game to pick up even for gamers who don't have Evo dreams. It has become an excellent game, but it's still a work in progress, with more updates to come.
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Fighting in the Streets
On the surface, Street Fighter V's core gameplay doesn't look very different from Ultra Street Fighter IV's combat, but those who invest time learning the new system are rewarded with interesting gameplay mechanics that give a nod to Street Fighter's past while still pushing the action forward.
The most important thing you should know about Street Fighter V is that it's faster and more forgiving than Ultra Street Fighter IV. For example, when you experience a "throw tech" (when both fighters attempt to throw at the same time and are forced apart) you end up closer together afterward, which lets you immediately jab your opponent, so that you can quickly continue the fight. Similarly, recoveries, which happen when you press two punches or kicks at the same time after your character is knocked for a loop, are near-instant.
On top of that, Street Fighter V has a more lenient window for pulling off combos and specials, so you don't need super-precise timing to pull off Dragon Punches and Sonic Booms. This is huge, because it means you no longer need to "plink," or press two buttons that aren't mapped to a special or a throw, so the game picks the higher priority button and puts you a frame ahead of the input for the move or combo you want. The most hardcore of the hardcore Street Fighter players may decry the change as one that caters to a more casual audience, but filthy casuals still need to be aware of moves, countermoves, and about a dozen other combat elements. In other words, Street Fighter V isn't as simplified as the now-defunct Rising Thunder, and a scrub won't become Daigo overnight. We consider it a welcome change, as input mastery is one of the most challenging hurdles for newcomers to overcome.
A New V-ision
Accompanying the updated fight flow is a new three-part V-System, which consists of V-Skills, V-Triggers, and V-Reversals. Street Fighter IV's Focus Attacks are nowhere to be found in Street Fighter V.
V-Skills, activated by simultaneously pressing Medium Punch and Medium Kick, are character-specific special techniques that require no meter to perform. For example, Ryu's V-Skill is an extremely useful Street Fighter III-like parry, called Mind's Eye, that absorbs melee and projectile attacks and fills his multi-section V-Gauge (the red meter at the bottom of the screen that governs when you can activate a V-Trigger special attack). Ryu's parry window is wider than its Street Fighter III incarnation, which makes the counter friendlier to players who don't want to spend weeks in the digital dojo mastering the move.
V-Triggers, activated by simultaneously pressing the Hard Punch and Hard Kick buttons, give characters enhanced abilities. For example, Ryu's V-Trigger causes him to crackle with energy and do extra damage with fists, feet, or fireballs. Unlike V-Skills, V-Triggers are fueled by the V-Gauge. Depending on the character, some V-Triggers drain the V-Gauge over time, while others immediately deplete it. As a result, it's extremely important to know when to pop a V-Trigger to unleash big hurt. If you've played Killer Instinct, you'll feel right at home here, as V-Triggers are Street Fighter V's version of Instinct Mode.
V-Reversals, Street Fighter V's version of the Street Fighter Alpha series' Alpha Counters, require one V-Gauge stock and let you counter a move from a blocking position by pressing all three punches or kicks. Unlike Alpha Counters, however, V-Reversals don't result in a universal counter. Instead, depending on the character that you select, V-Reversals cause you to knock down, push back, or switch sides with opponents. For example, R. Mika busts out a Stone Cold Stunner when you press forward and all three kick buttons when in block stun. Because V-Reversals are character-specific, you'll want to spend time learning how to best apply them in battle. You'll need them, especially against Karin and other rush-down characters who continually apply heavy pressure.
Street Fighter III's EX Gauge, a meter that fills as you beat on rivals, returns in Street Fighter V. The EX Gauge is used to either power up special moves or perform Critical Arts super combos. One of the best examples of the EX Gauge in action is when it's applied to Ryu's Hadoken. The fireball gains additional speed, damage, and stun potential.
The Street Fighter III comparisons keep piling up, because visible stun meters return to the series for the first time since Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. This is a bit of a shame—stuns should be a surprise. Plus, it's one more meter to watch. They'll surely benefit some players, but it would've been nicer to have one fewer thing to clutter the screen.
Street Fighter V's fighting feels good—really good. As explained earlier, the action moves at a brisker pace than Ultra Street Fighter IV, and melee attacks land with chunky, satisfying impacts accompanied by just-as-satisfying, bone-crunching sound effects. The animations really sell the moves; getting clobbered with a Roundhouse jerks your character back in quite a pleasing fashion.
People with keen eyes and strategic minds will notice that the animations also serve as hit-confirms. For example, Ryu's crouching Roundhouse animates differently when blocked versus when it successfully makes contact. Quickly identifying the hit animation lets you know that it's safe to proceed with another attack without risking punishment. This is essential for high-level play.
Street Fighter V miraculously supports PlayStation 4 and PC cross-platform play, so you can battle other gamers on either platform. Capcom uses its own proprietary netcode, Kagemusha, to enable "the most lag-free experience in Street Fighter history." That statement wasn't true when Street Fighter V first launched, the game was plagued by dropped connections, but the netcode and servers are now remarkably stable. We now quickly find matches and enjoy a nearly lag-free experience.
You can square off against other online players in Ranked Matches or Casual Matches. There's also a score-keeping Battle Lounge in which you can search for, and create, rooms. Street Fighter V's March 2016 update expanded the Battle Lounge's capacity from two players to eight players, and added Spectator Mode, so you can watch others scrap. It's a much-needed addition that instantly injects a shot of new life into the game, as you can have round-robin matches with several buddies. The fleshed-out Battle Lounge is also a great place to watch others fight and pick up gameplay tips.
The March 2016 update also added Challenge Mode, a feature designed to help you become a better Street Fighter V player. It contains useful Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced tutorials that teach you about counter hits, dashing, invincibility frames, and more. There are even character-specific tutorials, which is a nice touch. When you finish those, Trials will put what you learn to the test with combo training. You earn Fight Money from completing Trials. You can learn about Fight Money in a bit.
Before the March 2016 update, you couldn't initiate a run-back with online combatants. Now, if you're feeling particularly salty after a loss, you can up the stakes to a best 2-out-of-3 match. Your opponent must accept the rematch option for it to begin.
Rage quitting, the bane of Street Fighter V's online multiplayer experience, has finally been addressed with an in-game solution. Before the April 2016 update, you needed to send Capcom a screenshot showcasing the name of the user who decided to disconnect from the server before he or she recorded a loss if you wanted to register a complaint. Now, Capcom can detect rage quitters. The publisher stated that "system will continue to be refined over time and more enhancements will be implemented in the future," which is a vague statement, but it's already a big step forward. I really hope that the penalty system resembles Killer Instinct's excellent Jail Mode.
Half-Assed Single-Player Modes
Our biggest Street Fighter V disappointment is the lack of a traditional single-player game. In past Street Fighter games, you'd typically fight through a string of enemies in best-of-three matches, while occasionally partaking in bonus rounds in which you'd destroy cars or barrels. Street Fighter V lacks this. Its incredibly weak Story Mode places you in a handful of one-round matches that are interspersed with artwork that resembles glorified storyboard sketches. This is a huge ball drop, especially after Mortal Kombat X set the new standard for fighting game storytelling.
A second player can't even hit the Start button on his or her controller to challenge you to a brawl when you're in Story Mode; you have to quit Story Mode, return to the home screen, and select Versus Mode to battle your buddy. Lame. In fact, earning Fight Money, Street Fighter V's in-game currency, and unlocking alternate costumes that you can later purchase from the in-game store are Story Mode's twin benefits.
Capcom plans to release a free cinematic Story Expansion in June (a tale that bridges the narrative gap between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV) to give players a real single-player experience. Still, it's unfortunate that so many high-profile games are relying on post-release downloads to transform their games into complete packages.
If Story Mode disappoints, you may want to try the single-player Survival Mode, which runs you through a gauntlet of enemies. Health and EX meter carry over between matches, and you can purchase Battle Supplements—such as Full Health, Attack Power Up 2, and Defense Up 2—with the points you accumulate as you play. If you beat Survival Mode's four difficulty levels, you'll be rewarded with new character colors and in-game titles. Survival Mode's a decent diversion, but it doesn't make up for the lack of a true, fleshed-out single-player mode.
Eye of the Tiger
Street Fighter V's visuals are more of an evolution than a revolutionary change. Don't expect the radical aesthetic overhaul that we saw as the series moved from Street Fighter II to Street Fighter III, and then from Street Fighter III to Street Fighter IV. The resolution ranges from 640 by 480 to 1080p, and you can tweak resolution scaling, anti-aliasing, shadows, post-processing, textures, and effects.
Street Fighter V is powered by Unreal Engine 4, which means highly detailed character models that look good in motion, but kind of awkward in some areas when scrutinized. For example, Ryu sports a dirty, frayed gi that ripples as he moves, and the lighting and shadow effects give the character—and game—a more realistic appearance than that of Ultra Street Fighter IV, despite similar stylized graphics. On the flipside, Ken suffers from a lack of refinement; his hair looks like Play-Doh and his Under Armor-like outfit appears as if it were painted on rather than resembling actual clothing with threads and stitching.
Old Faces, New Faces
Capcom has tweaked the returning characters to make them feel fresh. This is most apparent in the move away from charge-based attacks. For instance, Nash is basically a whole new character. His specials are now circle-based instead of charge-based, making the soldier more of a rush-down character. His Bullet Clear V-Skill lets him reach out and grab projectiles, effectively making it a parry. His Sonic Move V-Trigger causes him to teleport behind an opponent for surprise attacks. If Nash was your main character back in the Street Fighter Alpha 3 days, you'll need to rethink your strategies.
However, Nash's good friend Guile remains a charge character. Guile has his familiar Street Fighter II normal attacks and special moves, such as Sonic Boom and Somersault Kick. Even better, Guile has a cool crouch-walk state, Faultless Move, that lets you maintain a charge while moving forward. This is a game-changing addition for the character, as it opens the door for more offensive play.
Chun-Li also received some tinkering, most noticeably with her Lightning Kick, which sends a flurry of footwork your opponent's way. Before, it was activated by merely button-mashing any kick button. In Street Fighter V, you need to execute a quarter-circle-forward move first, just as with Ryu's or Ken's fireball. This is a great change, as it lets you string the Lightning Kicks together with combos in a far easier fashion.
Ken has become more distinct from his sparring pal Ryu. Sure, he still has fireballs and Dragon Punches, but his Hurricane Kick has been given plenty more air to toy with. Additionally, Ken's V-Skill is a distance-closing dash, which basically makes Ken the most mobile he's ever been.
R. Mika, whose only previous appearance was in Street Fighter Alpha 3, is incredibly fun to play. Originally a simple fan-service character, Mika is now a completely retooled and viable fighter. Her trademark flying-butt-to-the-head gives her great mobility and her attacks hit hard. Her V-Trigger is an assist character, and you can choose where on the screen she appears. Her V-Skill is amazing; she basically cuts a WWE-style promo with a microphone. Talk longer and you become stronger, and the action refills your V-Trigger. The move also gives R. Mika armor, and you can cancel it and throw the mic at your opponent. R. Mika also has plenty of command grabs, too, making her one of the fastest and most fun grapplers in the series.
Karin, who was also in Alpha 3 (and Capcom Fighting Jam), returns as a far more effective mix-up master. Her V-Skill lets her absorb projectiles like Charlie, which is nice, but she really shines when her V-Trigger activates. Her speed ratchets up, so it becomes much easier to link and mix up her combos. You can go high or low into a counter or an overhead very well when she's in her V-Trigger state. Karin also has a fantastic overhead move that perfectly portrays her snooty rich girl attitude.
Zangief, the scar-covered Russian grappler, returns with several high-impact wrestling moves that have good range, and a useful armor-based V-Skill that lets him absorb attacks. The other returning classic Street Fighter characters include Birdie, Cammy, Dhalsim, and Vega.
Laura is a new grappler, but one with a moveset that's somewhat similar to Abel's from Ultra Street Fighter IV. She has a few useful moves such as a wide, but quick, overhead kick that is absolutely killer on crouching blockers, and a close-range fireball that causes a good amount of hurt when combined with a combo. Her standing heavy kick is also fairly effective, but she's really all about the grabs. Hopefully, she's got more going on than the grapple moves, which are her bread-and-butter at the moment.
Necalli, another all-new character, is one of the few characters with a charge-based moveset. Expect a lot of explosive moves out of defensive stances. However, he does have an anti-air uppercut that uses a Shoryuken-style input. Necalli's all about playing keep-away with his strange ground stomps that cause geysers of debris to pop out of the ground at distances that depend on the button you press. These stomps block projectiles—yet another anti-projectile character in a game full of them—and cause plenty of pressure. He's also got a command grab and a strength-enhancing V-Trigger that lasts the entire round. That, combined with his feral appearance (and predilection to "devour-our-our" people), makes Necalli one scary beast.
Rashid, yet another brand new fighter, resembles Aladdin with a Dragon Ball scouter—which is awesome. He can roll under and out of the way of fireballs, throw tornado projectiles at varying distances, execute a dive kick, and easily close distances with a Psycho Crusher-like kick move. Rashid's an excellent fighter—perhaps too excellent—with lots of circle-based moves that are easy to pull off, making him perfect for beginners.
F.A.N.G. is a lanky, oddball character who is new to Street Fighter V, and one that feels the most out of place. He's a bizarre keep-away character who drops poison onto the battlefield. F.A.N.G. plays so unlike the other combatants that people who wish to main him may need to spend significant time in Trials.
Street Fighter V includes a relatively skimpy 16 base characters, but Capcom plans to continue adding extra fighters over time. You can purchase fighters, alternate costumes, and stages using in-game Fight Money or Zenny, a currency that you buy using real-world money. Unfortunately, Zenny isn't currently available, and Capcom hasn't issued a date for when you'll be able to use it. Until then, you'll just have to grind matches to earn free Fight Money to pick up stages and costumes. On the upside, the two available DLC characters, Alex and the new Guile, will be free to use until the Zenny option becomes available.
Capcom states that Fight Money lets dedicated players unlock everything without spending a dime—just like the good old days. A $29.99 Season Pass is also available for people who want to nab everything without putting in the work.
In an interesting move, Capcom states that Street Fighter V will be the lone version of the game—no Super, Turbo, or Ultra updates that cause gamers to shell out extra money to get the latest version of the game. From us to Capcom: It's about damned time.
Arcade Stick Compatibility
Street Fighter V works with our Hori Real Arcade Pro V Kai for Xbox One and Qanba Q4 RAF Black, but the game refused to recognize our Hori Fighting Commander 4 game pad or Mad Catz Killer Instinct FightStick Tournament Edition 2. That's unfortunate, as we've used those fighting game accessories to play other titles on PC.
It's Gonna Be Great!
Street Fighter V is transforming into the game that many gamers hoped that it would be when it launched in February 2016. The action is hard-hitting, the online modes are now pretty damn good, and there has already been a new character added to the roster. Still, Street Fighter V isn't complete: the single-player Arcade mode arrives in June, and the Zenny currency is missing in action. If you're looking for fighters that are complete packages, we suggest checking out Killer Instinct, The King of Fighters XIII, Ultra Street Fighter IV, and other excellent PC fighting games. We'll update this review as the new features become available.