Capcom's legendary fighting game franchise is back and looking better than ever in Street Fighter V. For the first time, PlayStation 4 players and those playing on PC can battle together in cross-platform play, as Capcom has doubled down on the competitive aspect of the series with robust new online features.
Unfortunately, though the game looks great and plays even better, a severe lack of content holds Street Fighter V back, at least at launch, from achieving the greatness of its predecessors.
If you've played Street Fighter before, you know the basics. Six attack buttons divided into light, medium and heavy attacks. There are super attacks (renamed "Critical Arts" in Street Fighter V), an EX meter for performing juiced-up versions of special attacks, grabs, fireballs, etc. All of the staples of the franchise are here.
That, however, doesn't mean Capcom isn't mixing up the formula a bit. New in Street Fighter V is the V-Gauge, a meter that fills up as you take hits from your opponent. Once full, players can use a V-Trigger to unleash a special ability for each of the game's 16 characters. Each character's V-Trigger is different. For some, it may be a special attack. For others, it will power up their special moves for a limited amount of time. Players can also use the V-Gauge to perform a V-Reversal, a powerful counter-attack perfect for getting out of a sticky situation.
It might not sound like much, but it adds a whole other layer to the game's 1v1 matches. Better yet, using a V-Trigger doesn't take a complicated series of button inputs to perform. Players simply press heavy punch and heavy kick at the same time to activate it. Anybody can do it, and this allows for beginners to even the playing field a bit when going up against more experienced veterans.
Street Fighter V's combat ranks among the best of the series. Characters feel more distinct than ever before, and the flow of the battles themselves are fast-paced and filled with excitement thanks to the easy to use V-Triggers.
The game truly is a joy to play, which is why it's so disappointing that there isn't more to do. As far as fighting games go, Street Fighter V is about as bare bones as it gets. Out of the box, players can play "story mode" (we'll get to that in a minute), survival mode, training mode, versus mode or online versus mode.
Story mode is a bit of a joke. Players select their character and then go through a series of single-round fights, with still image cutscenes playing in between battles. It's nothing to get excited about, especially since the AI in Story mode barely puts up a fight. Even more baffling is how quickly each of these can be completed. It only takes between two to three hours to complete the stories for all of game's 16 characters combined, with some characters (like Dhalsim, for instance) only getting one fight before it's all over.
Capcom, of course, likely has a reason for this. Its post-launch DLC plans revolve around players earning "Fight Money" from completing character stories and playing matches — money that will then used to purchase DLC characters coming out in the months ahead. Playing through all of the character stories earns you 100,000 Fight Money, enough to buy a new character as soon as it is released. Perhaps that is why it's such a breeze to complete, as Capcom wants players to earn and then spend their money on DLC and feel like they are getting a fair shake.
It would feel like a great deal, the ability to purchase DLC characters using in-game cash earned from playing, if Street Fighter V wasn't so lacking in, well, everything. As mentioned previously, the game is shipping with 16 characters, three less than Street Fighter IV did in 2009. While new additions like Rashid and Necalli feel right at home among the game's roster, the fact that six DLC characters are coming out before the end of the year doesn't really make the low number of playable fighters any better, especially considering how players will have to grind their way to enough Fight Money to be able to afford any DLC characters after the first.
It's not just the character department that is a little lacking. The game's online store, where Capcom will sell DLC characters as well as costumes for characters, isn't coming until March, giving players nothing to do with their money in the meantime. If players want to further customize their fighters, they have to unlock additional color schemes by completing survival mode. It's not that survival is bad; actually, quite the contrary. It's a fun distraction for 30 minutes or so, as players can purchase modifiers using the score earned from fights to keep climbing the ladder. However, doing so again and again for each character, just to unlock new colors, quickly becomes a grind.
Once you've done the character stories and played survival a few times, you've seen all the content Street Fighter V has to offer (for the time being). Sorely missing is the challenge mode, which teaches players basic combos for characters. That's coming in March as a free update alongside the game's store. Also missing is an honest-to-goodness story mode. That will also be coming for free in an update, but it will be June before players are able to enjoy it.
Single-player options have never been Street Fighter's strong suit, and for some, it won't matter. Battling online or with friends is the real meat of the Street Fighter experience, and there, Street Fighter V does deliver. A new league system has players fighting to climb their way up the ranks, and players can even follow their rivals and watch their replays to improve their game. In a change from previous entries, players select their fighter long before ever entering an online match, removing some of the counter-pick situations that, oftentimes, led to frustrations in previous games. All the elements are there for a great service that Capcom hopes will keep players playing for years to come, but there's one tiny problem so far: the servers barely work.
This, of course, is subject to change, but from my time spent with the game, I was kicked off the game's online service numerous times and could hardly find an online opponent to battle against. Yes, online games have problems. This is nothing new, but it's a much bigger issue when there is almost no single-player content of which to speak. Playing offline also makes it so players can't earn Fight Money for their accomplishments, making the entire point of story mode and survival mode moot. When the game is pushing so hard for online multiplayer to be the major selling point, and then it doesn't even work, that's a major problem.
Street Fighter V, in many ways, has the potential to be the best entry in the franchise yet. The game's visuals are silky smooth, and it plays even smoother. However, with so few features and an online service that, so far, hasn't proven to be up to the task, even hardcore fans of the series may want to wait before handing over their hard-earned cash for what, in many ways, feels like an unfinished product.
This review is based on a PS4 copy of the game provided by Capcom.