-Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Steam
I want to tell you that Capcom has delivered yet again. I want to tell you that Street Fighter V is a worthy successor to Street Fighter IV in nearly every respect. I want to tell you that you should go out and buy this game as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I cannot.
While it is true that this game does look better than Street Fighter IV, that's really not saying a whole heck of a lot. Street Fighter IV was never going to win any beauty pageants. Frankly, the decision to ever go with three-dimensional computer models over the beautiful hand-drawn animation the series had previously been known for was an ugly mistake. It really would have been great to see Capcom rectify this with Street Fighter V. What we ended up with was basically just a touched up version of IV. Sure, the lighting is a little better, details are a little sharper, and the movement is a little more fluid, but for the most part, everything looks largely the same.
Owing to the fact that V essentially uses the same character models that IV had, it suffers from a lot of the same issues. Sure, it occasionally looks decent in certain zoomed-out screenshots, but whenever the characters start moving around, or you get a good closeup of them, that's when the ugliness rears its head. Look closely and all the visual imperfections, questionable design decisions, and even some instances of pretty bad clipping become hard to miss. They can keep touching it up as much as they want, but at the end of the day, 3-D just can't compete with 2-D.
It's certainly understandable that cost might be a consideration, as hand-drawn animation requires a lot more time and effort to get right. However, keep in mind that fellow fighting game developer Arc System Works was able to switch to three-dimensional models that were made to look like 2-D drawings for their most recent Guilty Gear title. This had the benefit of saving money while still allowing them to produce a superior visual style. Now, if a smaller studio like Arc System Works can pull that off, there should be no reason why Capcom, with all of their resources, experience, and not to mention, much more popular fighting franchise couldn't do it as well.
As if a return to ugly models wasn't enough, Capcom added insult to injury by giving us even uglier character designs. For starters, they somehow made Ken look like a lady. Second, they brought Charlie back from the dead (and the Street Fighter Alpha series), but they kind of ruined his appearance by make him look like some sort of ridiculous Frankenstein monster.
Worst of all, they took the fantastic tough and threatening design of Birdie (also from Alpha) and turned him into an absurd-looking pot-bellied oaf. He now bears an unfortunately striking resemblance to Street Fighter IV's most hideously designed character, Rufus. While it might make sense to mix up the roster with one or two less serious characters, but if they were going to go that route, why not use a character that's already less serious to begin with? It would almost have been better if they just brought Rufus back, instead of needlessly ruining one of the most badass characters in the series.
The new characters don't really look a whole heck of a lot better. Laura and Necalli are okay (nothing special though). Rashid looks like they just decided to put a backpack and a Dragon Ball Z scouter on a typical Middle Eastern stereotype. And F.A.N.G.'s name is almost as ridiculous as his appearance. On the list of worst Street Fighter character designs, he'd probably rank right behind Rufus and the new Birdie. While new faces are certainly a necessity for any new series installment, it's just a little bit disappointing that these were the best designs that Capcom could come up with. Just about all of the new characters that were introduced over the life of Street Fighter IV were more creative and interesting (again, with the definite exception of Rufus).
Luckily, the new fighters do bring some interesting new moves and strategies to the table. All of the returning fighters have modified movesets as well (though some have changed more than others). The general fighting system has also been altered a bit. The Super and Ultra Combo gauges from Street Fighter IV have been replaced with one simple EX gauge. And in place of Focus Attacks, there are brand new V techniques which consist of counter moves and unique character abilities that can be utilized either to fill, or by depleting an associated V-Gauge.
The gameplay is really the one area where Street Fighter V shines. It is truly a Street Fighter game in that respect. Capcom has demonstrated once again that they are the undisputed masters of creating fighting games that are both compellingly deep and addictively accessible. For the PlayStation 4 version, they also included the much appreciated option of using legacy PS3 fight stick controllers. On the other hand, there just isn't a satisfying amount of variety to be found in the game. It is pretty conspicuously light on content. Even more so when you compare it to the somewhat recently released Ultra Street Fighter IV. Yes, that game may have been adding content over four subsequent editions, but even if you only compare it with the original launch version of Street Fighter IV, V still comes up pathetically short.
Both games give you 16 characters to start with, but IV had a total of 9 additional characters you could unlock by playing through the arcade mode a few times. Not only does V not have one single measly extra character to unlock, they didn't even bother to include an arcade mode! Complete and utter madness, considering that Street Fighter was born in the arcades! If you're looking for single-player options, there's really not much that this game has to offer. You only get the choice between a somewhat grindy survival mode and an incredibly disappointing story mode. And by disappointing, we're talking three to four annoyingly easy single-round matches with no options what-so-ever to adjust the difficulty or number of rounds.
One of the biggest disappointments of all is that some characters in the game have cool alternate costumes in the story mode (including Ken and Charlie's much better traditional looks), but there currently isn't any way to unlock them for use in other modes. Capcom is apparently going to make them available in the near future, but for a price. Yes, you read that right. As if paying $60 for an underwhelming and insultingly content-lacking game isn't bad enough, they are also going to ask you to pay to unlock content that already exists in the game. I guess Capcom didn't learn anything from their Street Fighter X Tekken debacle a few years back. I should note that there is an in-game currency you can use to "buy" future content, but you don't really earn very much of it when you play the game. It's obvious that many people are going to have to shell out actual money to obtain all the extra content they want and that's more than a little disheartening.
As far as the rest of the modes go, Capcom did include a functional two-player versus mode, as well as online multiplayer. Both are good for hours of solid, usually steady matches. The online options are a little sparse however. Capcom also implemented cross-platform funtionality for the game. This means that when players head online they can play against PlayStation 4 or PC opponents, regardless of whatever platform they are playing on. This seems to be a bit of a blessing and a curse. Having such a feature be possible means being required to log in to Capcom's own servers to be able to get online. While the servers have so far been up and running most of the time, they haven't already been without their share of problems. And when the servers are down, there's not much else to fall back on. At least if Capcom had bothered to include a wealth of single-player content, it wouldn't be that big an issue when it happens. As it stands currently though, this game really leaves a lot to be desired.
The saddest part of all is just how evident all of that missing content is. In the main menu screen of the game, there is a non-functional "shop" icon on display, as well as a "challenges" mode icon. Both icons only produce a message that says "available in March". Unfortunately, that is but one of the many signs that this game was put out early in an unsatisfactory state. Again, this being the case, it's baffling that they would still go ahead and put a full $60 price tag on the game. When you pay to go the movie theater, they don't stop the film half-way through and tell you to come back in "March" to see the rest of it (and then try to charge you again to get back in). The games industry seems to be the only place where we've begun to see this sort of behavior and it absolutely needs to end.
Ultimately, there's simply no way to look at Street Fighter V and not see that Capcom is asking $60 for an unfinished and incomplete game. Despite the solid gameplay and newly refined fighting system, the clear lack of unavailable and/or totally absent content, modes, and unlockables is utterly inexcusable. The game represents such an incredibly poor value that Capcom ought to be ashamed for putting it out. If this were intended to be a true early release game that they could put out and charge for additional content later on, $15-$25 would have been a much more appropriate price point. The way it stands now, you're better off sticking with Ultra Street Fighter IV. You'll have a lot more fun and for a lot less money.
Graphics, Audio, & Story
Slightly improved over Street Fighter IV but flaws abound. A hand-drawn 2-D look would still be vastly superior. The sound and music is fitting and familiar enough but you won't find any great intro song like Street Fighter IV had. Some storyline is present but the poorly executed story mode is detrimental to the experience.
Mechanics & Playability
The core gameplay is as solid and addictive as ever. New fighting mechanics are interesting and well-balanced. Missing and incomplete game modes and occasionally unreliable servers severely limits the amount of fun to be had.
Options & Extras
On the plus side, they threw in PS3 legacy fight stick support. On the minus side, no difficulty settings, lack of characters, basic modes that are non-functional or absent altogether, and an absolutely disgraceful lack of content.