Street Fighter 5 Review

It's a new chapter for the revolutionary fighting game franchise. Want a piece of the action? Great, because a piece is all you're getting.

Release Date: February 16, 2016Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PCDevelopers: Capcom & DimpsPublisher: CapcomGenre: Fighting

When I was a kid, one game I was super psyched for was WWF Super WrestleMania for SNES. Back then, the only gaming magazine worth reading was Nintendo Power, which was mostly Nintendo game propaganda, and the constant previews and features made the game look amazing. The graphics were good for the time, it had a strong roster, and the ability to have Survivor Series matches. I bought into it and got the game upon release.

All that hype blinded me to the skeletal product I’d eventually have my hands on. Every wrestler literally played the same in terms of moves and stats. There were no special moves. There was no title or one-player mode. It was more like a demo for the Genesis version of the game or the sequels (Royal Rumble and Raw). It was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had as a gamer.

Which brings me to the big release of Street Fighter V.

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In the lead-up to its release, Capcom made a big deal out of its intentions to build up the game’s longevity. Rather than re-release the game every couple of years with extra bells and whistles, which they’ve been doing regularly since the days of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, they’re going to have regular DLC releases. A new character will come out every month or so. New modes will trickle in. You won’t have to buy a new game to keep being competitive.

Best of all, the DLC won’t cost anything unless you want it to. You can get enough Fight Money in-game for that kind of thing or you could just use regular money if you feel inclined. It sounds like a brilliant model for the game and its future. Then there’s stuff like the cinematic Story Mode (which will be about two hours long, according to producer Yoshinori Ono, though it isn’t said whether that’s the cutscenes themselves or with the gameplay included), which will be a free download coming in four months.

Here’s the thing, though. Despite the various upgrades, Street Fighter IV felt like a real game. A full game. With something like Street Fighter X Tekken or Mortal Kombat X, you could buy the DLC packs, but even if you didn’t, you could still see the package as a full game. The DLC packs added to the game, but they weren’t necessary.

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Street Fighter V is…I don’t even know if “bare bones” best describes it. It’s like that scene in the RoboCop reboot where Alex Murphy asks to see what’s left of him and it’s just his head, lungs, and a single hand. The bones that you’d expect to be there are missing and it’s just headscratching.

But we do have the head and lungs. That counts for something.

This isn’t an easy game for me to review because at its core, the game has a pretty solid engine. It’s mostly the same kind of Street Fighter fare we know and love, with Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attacks thrown away and replaced with the V-Gauge. It’s an extra gauge that allows special counters, character-specific buffs, and the temporary ability to use certain attacks. In other words, you can grant Chun-Li the ability to get extra hits in during combos or you can have Bison go ham on teleports.

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It’s a fine idea, though it doesn’t exactly carry the series into the realm of exciting newness that makes you want to forget about what came before it. In fact, it’s the first true Street Fighter sequel that doesn’t feel like a big change. Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III, and most certainly Street Fighter IV looked and felt like different games. That was part of the charm. They would update and upgrade the games a bunch, but they wouldn’t make a brand new chapter until it felt like it was something special and unique. They had to be sure.

Street Fighter V doesn’t really come off as this huge jump forward after Ultra Street Fighter IV, neither in gameplay nor in its visual identity. It’s just different enough, but there’s nothing in there that’s blowing me away.

But it’s Street Fighter. It’s fun, and when you’re playing with a friend or someone online (if the servers are working), then you probably will enjoy it. Even with only sixteen characters and a handful of stages, you’ll have fun playing those Versus matches. That’s incredibly important, but therein lies the problem: That’s ALL you will enjoy.

Competitive gamers will claim that that’s really all you need, but seeing that in action is rather disconcerting. This is an incomplete package. Does it make me a bad Street Fighter fan for being annoyed that that’s all we got at launch? From a certain point of view, I guess. Still my review.

Now, if you do play offline, what are the options? As it is right now, there are four things you can do.

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First, you can use training mode. Par for the course and handy when you’re playing online.

Second, you can play Versus mode with a friend…and only with a friend. Want to try a match against the computer? Have Ken fight Bison at the hardest setting? Hell, maybe you want to have the AI control both Zangief and Rainbow Mika and watch them go? Too bad. There is no CPU in Versus. Oh, you could do that in the older games—even in the first iteration of Street Fighter IV—but that’s off-limits here.

Next up is Survival. That’s something, at least. Based on different difficulty options, you go through a fixed amount of opponents in single-round battles. After each win, you can use the points you won to buy certain buffs, increased health, or gamble it. Like you can cut your health in half, but it’ll triple your points in the next round. Unless you want to pony up the real-world money, this is the way you unlock alternate costume colors.

Then there’s Story Mode. Good gravy, man. This is the most eye-crossingly stupid thing I’ve seen in a video game in a long, long time. The design of this seriously boggles my mind.

At least nine out of ten fighting games will have “Arcade Mode.” The thing where you choose a character, play through maybe eight-to-twelve opponents, have a boss fight, get an ending cinematic specific to who you’re playing as, and maybe there will be a handful of cutscenes and pre-fight dialogues sprinkled throughout. It’s the most basic of one-player modes and is a strong time-waster. It gives you an excuse to play every character and your victories are rewarded with some kind of amusing epilogue.

No, it doesn’t really help you play against human opponents, but who cares? It’s a fun staple of fighting games that’s been there since the very beginning. It’s the go-to for anyone who wants to play by themselves.

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Story Mode in Street Fighter V seems promising at first glance. You see the sixteen characters with percentages next to them to show how much progress you’ve made on each of their stories. You select one of them and you have some static screens of comic book-like art and voiceovers. This goes on for several minutes. Then, finally, you start fighting. The thing you bought the game for. It’s a single round against an opponent so easy that you could beat them with your eyes closed and still have most of your health. In case you’re wondering, no, there’s no option to increase the difficulty.

After that twenty seconds of gameplay, you’re given another several minutes of cutscene dialogue and get to your next match. Then another cutscene and…done. That’s it. Story Mode is complete. I’m not kidding. Everyone has two-to-four fights in this mode, and it’s over. You can blaze through it for everyone in less than an hour, even without skipping the scenes. What is this? What enjoyment is anyone supposed to get out of this outside of the image of Zangief backdropping a bear? Yeah, I like storylines in my fighting games. You know what else I like? Playing a fighting game! Window dressings don’t amount to squat if you don’t have any windows to begin with.

Even then, the storylines are as paper-thin as you can get. Mainly because everyone’s just killing time until June’s cinematic Story Mode DLC kicks in. I honestly don’t know why they couldn’t just make this into an Arcade Mode. Not every match needs to have a cutscene to give it context. Just give me eight matches of increasing difficulty (with the OPTION to make it harder or easier) against different opponents with some story-based fights and a boss battle. Capcom has the ingredients right there for a delicious casserole, and instead give it to us in a garbage bag.

Oh, and get this: If you aren’t connected to the server for one reason or another, then you can’t obtain Fight Money for your achievements. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

Down the line, Street Fighter V might be a fantastic title. Add some more characters, add some more modes, and give us a reason to stick around, and maybe I’ll even revisit this review down the line. As it is right now, this is a $60 release that amounts to a big “IOU” note. That’s absolutely unacceptable.

You want the game? My advice is to wait a year. It’ll be cheaper, and by then, it might actually resemble a completed product. As it is right now, Street Fighter V is just another WrestleMania moment.

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Gavin Jasper saw Cammy’s alternate outfit and is starting to wonder if she somehow doesn’t actually know what pants even are. Follow Gavin on Twitter!

Rating:

1.5 out of 5