Note: Due to there being limited opportunities to test the multiplayer component of Street Fighter V, our review does not currently include a score. A score will be added once multiplayer has been assessed and the two currently unavailable main menu items - Challenges and Shop - have been reviewed.
Capcom's latest entry in its venerable fighting game franchise, available this time only on PlayStation 4 and PC, adds more than platform exclusivity to its list of features. Justifying the whole-number jump from IV to V are significant changes to the meta fighting mechanics, a new story mode, four brand new characters, and a revamped user interface.
The game's story is set approximately around Street Fighter III on the series' timeline (Street Fighter IV, confusingly, was set before it). It's a simple affair, constructed in a way similar to that of Persona 4 Arena. Each of the sixteen playable characters has their own short 3-5 fight story arc that crosses over with at least one other character. The narrative is revealed through simple still images with text overlays - quite similar, in fact, to the little "story" elements that would play on finishing the arcade versions of Street Fighter II and III.
Story mode is...not very good. Even more nonsensical than you'd expect from a localised game, it feels rushed together in order to satisfy a back-of-box checklist. Still, you can tackle these arcs in any order, and the fact they're separated by character means you have time to explore everyone's fighting style. Not that much time, though, as story mode lasts about two hours from beginning to end.
The other major single player mode is "Survival," which adds some neat twists to the familiar "fight as far as you can" mode popular in fighting games of late. As is typical for this mode, your health doesn't automatically refill between AI bouts. Instead, you can spend some of your score buying health supplements - or to refill one of your power gauges, or improve your defence, or whatever. You can only choose one supplement per round, and leaderboards are based on total score - making decisions meaningful and fun to explore. It's a clever mode and definitely worth poking around if you're not online, or uninterested in duking it out with others.
Training is of the simplistic "beat up the stationary enemy" variety, rather than Mortal Kombat's more engaging "execute this crazy combo to progress" approach, but it's useful for trying out new characters or move sets without the pressure of competition. AI training bots don't fight back, the pushovers.
As for the fighting itself, anyone who's played any Street Fighter since II will find it familiar on the surface, but the more advanced mechanics have had a significant overhaul. Gone are Street Fighter IV's focus attacks, replaced by a triple-headed "V-Gauge" system, as well as the EX gauge from Street Fighter III.
V-Gauge is a special power bar that fills as the player dishes out or receives damage. While the "V-Skill" character abilities (Dhalsim can float, Ken has a quick step, Bison reflects projectiles) don't consume V-Gauge, "V-Triggers" use the entire bar at once to perform a separate ability unique to each character. Rounding out the V-Gauge system, V-Reversals are similar to Street Fighter Alpha's "Alpha Counters", allowing players to use up one segment of the V-Gauge bar to effectively reverse an attack while blocking. While there's obviously some learning in it, V-Gauge is much easier to understand and utilise than Street Fighter IV's focus moves. Accordingly, it's far more likely to be used by all levels of player - not just those at the competitive end of online leaderboards.
Street Fighter V's character roster is well rounded, with a strong selection of favorites as well as the requisite all-new pugilists. It's a shame Guile didn't make the cut, but he - along with Balrog and four others - is already planned for the first wave of DLC later in the year.
Of the new characters, warrior-god Necalli is the most striking - both in appearance and gameplay. He aligns nicely with the moves and abilities you'd expect from a Street Fighter character, but his style - a combination of strength and scratch - is uniquely his. He also looks great, with his massive, funkily-animated head of hair (or tentacles? Seaweed?) making him mesmerizing to watch - all the more so when powered up by his V-Trigger move.
Otherwise, visually speaking Street Fighter V is pretty disappointing. Street Fighter IV pushed the boat out and took some risks with its sumi-e look, but Street Fighter V feels like more of the same. Similarly, characters often just don't look quite right, feeling awkward during in-game cinematics. Backdrops, too, sport few details and little excitement. The New Zealand stage, for example, while fun to find, proved to be a disappointing mish-mash of scenery, withj odd-looking sheep and distorted takahe. That said, it all moves along at a solid framerate, which is more important for fighting games.
If anyone had any doubt about Capcom's ability to deliver a frame-perfect fighting engine, they can rest assured their fears are without merit. Sure, there will likely be balancing changes once the masses pick apart the V-Gauge and EX bars, but absolutely nothing at all about the feel of the game seemed "off" to this seasoned Street Fighter veteran. The DualShock 4 D-pad isn't particularly good at converting intent to action, but fortunately the support for previous models of fighting game stick meant I could bust out Old Faithful and mete out visceral justice to all and sundry.
As stated in the opening paragraph, however, the lack of competitors online and unavailability of both the shop and "challenges" mode means it's still too early to assign a number to my thoughts. I'll be online and looking for a fight from the moment the game hits the shelves, however, so look out for my final thoughts on the title, along with the all-important digit(s), as soon as possible.