Having potentiality means that something or someone is about to go through a change, and that that change is for the better. It’s something that’s to come and most likely revolutionize whatever existed before it. Potential, however, is a clouded concept; it can manifest in an incredibly positive manner just as much as it can turn out to become a colossal failure. Such is the balance that Street Fighter V rests atop of.
Street Fighter V follows the extremely successful and long living Street Fighter IV, which spanned across multiple versions and revisions, and reigned supreme as one of the best fighting game for almost ten years. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, Street Fighter V doesn’t feel nearly as finished or complete as its predecessor did in its initial release. That’s due to Capcom’s decision to release the game as soon as it possibly could, before all of its features were ready to go, in order to satisfy the part of the public that plays fighting games competitively, one that probably won’t miss some of the features not present in the state the game is currently out on.
Due to that, Street Fighter V is extremely barren features-wise out of the box. Single player content is limited to “story” segments that last for about three to five minutes a piece, putting each of the sixteen characters against brain dead CPU controlled characters, with interstitial cutscenes featuring voice acting and art of highly questionable quality. Aside from that quick distraction, a survival mode serves as a temporary replacement for a conspicuously absent arcade mode. It does exactly what the name implies: a series of sequential fights on a single life bar, with four difficulty tiers to pick from. Admittedly, there’s an interesting wrinkle to this mode – in between fights, you’re able to buy a variety of “cheats”, like more life or an extra tick to your special move meter, at the expense of your leaderboard points. But like “story” mode, it won’t keep your interest for too long, unless you’re really into unlocking a lot of titles.
If you don’t have a friend next to you to play against locally and don’t fancy playing online, you’ll be out of luck. That’s the extent of what Street Fighter V has to offer for you for now, as it stands. There’s promise for monthly “free” downloadable content that’s supposed to add many of the game’s missing features, like trials — one of Street Fighter IV‘s secretly best modes — seeing its release sometime next month. The actual story mode (sans quotation marks) will see a release a long while later, in June. New characters are also promised to come out every month, for purchase with actual money or via the in-game currency, the aptly named fight money, which you get a little bit of playing online or a limited, set amount by playing through the entirety of the single player content. That currency will also be used to buy extra character costumes in the shop, which is unavailable as of this review, with a slated release set for March.
To make matters worse, the online in Street Fighter V isn’t even that great to begin with. As with the single player content, it feels pretty barren and incomplete. Following a series of beta launches that slowly introduced its cast and served as testing for the game’s online features, it was expected that Street Fighter V would come out of the gate a working like a charm and featuring a lot of options for online fights. It doesn’t, on both accounts. As soon as you start Street Fighter V for the very first time, you’re asked to create a login which is supposed to track a variety of stats across the game’s online features. Sadly, that also ties your progress to Capcom’s online servers and their stability still isn’t up to spec, nearing two weeks since the game’s been officially out on shelves. That wouldn’t be as big of an issue if progress in any of the modes, single or multiplayer, wasn’t completely wiped every time the game’s disconnected for whatever reason. That includes ranked match results being lost to the ether, possibly negating your effort at a server’s hiccup and groan.
Aside from the traditional casual and ranked modes, you’re given the option to open an online lobby, which is hilariously limited to only two players, basically negating its purpose — hosting a group of people and having revolving private matches. That’s also a feature that will be expanded upon at a later date. Still, if you’re looking to practice up with a friend over the web, it’s your best bet. And speaking of practicing up, the place you’ll be spending the most time doing so is at the Capcom Fighters Network (CFN), the in-game channel that hosts replays of matches from fighters on the leaderboard, allowing you to add favorites and browse their fights at any time. This is by far the best feature in the game, especially if you use it in tandem with the training suite in order to put what you watch (and hopefully learn) into practice.
It bears mentioning that during your time logged into the game, you’re able to get into casual and ranked fights automatically via the game’s fight request feature. That’s not necessarily anything new to the franchise, but its implementation is made a little differently, by way of how you set it up. Aside from having the option to search for both fight types, you’re required to pick a favorite character and stage as well, before actually being added to the online queue. From one end of the spectrum, that makes sense for players that just want to pick a character to be their “main” — the dude or gal they stick with most of the time and know more of — basically doing away with select screens altogether. But outside of that reality, having to switch back every time you might want to give another fighter a shot negates any of the commodity this baffling feature apparently aims to offer.
All that negativity is even more of a bummer considering how well Street Fighter V plays. It’s quite possibly one of the best playing fighting games in its initial release. Old favorites like Ryu and Ken got reinvented and play a little differently than what you might expect, and others like Dhalsim, Bison and Street Fighter Alpha‘s “Charlie” Nash feel so fresh that they’re practically new characters in a familiar skin. The actual new additions are also incredibly varied and fun to play as, like Necalli, who takes a queue from Dragon Ball Z’s transformations, hair coloring included and lightning speed, and Laura, a mix of Blanka’s electrically powered moves and MMA grappling. No two characters play exactly alike, either, which is serves as a counterbalance to the fact that this is a relatively small cast of characters in comparison to other fighting games.
Gameplay wise, things are a little different this time around. The V meter at the bottom corner of the screen works much like the Ultra counter from Street Fighter IV. It fills up as you take hits and use special moves during the fight, and it’s spent on special moves called V-Triggers and V-Reversals. V-Triggers can be special attacks like the old ultras, but the unique caveat to Street Fighter V is that these triggers are supposed be tools meant to offset their specific disadvantages and might not be an extremely powerful offense move, like in slower moving Zangief’s case, in which he turns into a human cyclone that draws in an opponent closer and gives a crucial opening. V-Reversals on the other hand are a lot like Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat‘s combo breakers, and serves as a counterattack when blocking. At first glance, these concepts are surely to fly completely over anyone’s head if they’re not really that experienced with fighting games, but they work extremely well once you actually start playing. The fighting logic is as simple to grasp as it has ever been. The amount of depth, though admittedly daunting, is ridiculously rewarding to dig through.
If Street Fighter V didn’t feature such a strong fighting engine from the outset, it could already be considered a failure contents-wise. That’s exactly what’s holding it together for the time being. While it’s not likely to stay that way for too long, considering how quickly game lifespans tend to diminish if not supported, it has plenty of potential to eventually become a fantastic feature-rich fighting game, that’s surely worthy of being part of anyone’s library. But Capcom’s approach to its release sets the dangerous precedent, basically putting out an unfinished product at full price with the expectation that it’ll sell well only for the promise of later content that should’ve been in the game from the get go, all for the apparent benefit of an extremely limited portion of its audience. There’s no denying that Street Fighter V‘s release has been a huge mess. As it stands as a game currently, it’s a tough product to recommend wholeheartedly, especially at full price.