Which is where Street Fighter V’s problems start to become apparent. Capcom has said an awful lot about its ambitions for the game, about its aspirations for it as an e-sport, about its accessibility. And, yes, it’s designed a game that is mechanically simpler than its predecessor. But that’s all relative, and while anyone who sunk a thousand hours into the Street Fighter IV series can identify, understand the reasoning for, and appreciate the changes Capcom has made, the new audience the company so craves need a little more help than that. And Capcom gives them nothing.
The tutorial is an insult—to the player, the game, its genre and the word ‘insult’. Apparently all you need to know about is how to jump, perform the three strengths of attack, throw and block. Oh and here’s how to do Ryu’s V-Skill and V-Trigger. OK, bye! Fighting games have long struggled with tutorials, and Capcom has laboured more than most. But there are certainly enough good examples of how to effectively teach the player about fighting games—Arc System Works’ Blazblue and Guilty Gear Xrd, and LabZero’s brilliant Skullgirls tutorial in particular—that it’s unfathomable that a game with such big massmarket ambition could have launched with such a pathetic introduction. These games need a gentle on-ramp; instead, Capcom push you off a cliff.
Still, it’s a graceful introduction to the singleplayer component as a whole, in a way, because there’s not very much of that here either. There is no classic arcade mode; indeed, there is no way to have a traditional best-of-three-rounds match against a CPU opponent. A cinematic story mode will arrive as a free update in June; in the meantime all you get is a series of ‘character prologues’ of two to four single-round fights per character against AI that just sits there and gets hit, interspersed with fully (and badly) voiced comic-book panels. Then there’s Survival mode, another succession of single-round fights against CPU foes that put up virtually no resistance until the final few rounds when the AI suddenly switches into Kill Everything mode. In between fights you can spend some of your acculumated score on health, damage or defence buffs, a nice idea scuppered by a random number generator that has an infuriating habit of offering you the lowest amount of health restoration when you’re down to a sliver and two rounds from the end.
There’s a standard versus mode (with no vs CPU option, weirdly) and what is in fairness a feature-rich training mode, but for the single player that’s the lot. Series veterans couldn’t care less about that sort of stuff, of course: give them a training room, local versus and a busy online community and they’re set for the next couple of years. But those lured in by Capcom’s promise of this being a fun, accessible game are left in the dark by a game that simply doesn’t do anywhere near enough to explain either itself or the principles of its genre.
You can tell straight away when you’re playing one of them, these poor saps who’ve mucked about in singleplayer mode and acquired what they don’t understand are bad, repetitive habits, their unsafe jump-ins, their hopeful Shoryukens. Obviously they need to be taught a lesson, but it’s one that should have already been taught by the game itself, rather than coming at the chastening hands of a more knowledgeable opponent. That’s not how you grow a community.
Nor is launching with some fairly ruinous server issues. Street Fighter V is essentially always online (if you’re online to start with, anyway) since a lost connection to the server will boot you out of your current game mode (even local versus). Things have improved since a miserable launch day, but there are still matchmaking issues and when the connection’s bad it is really, really bad, Capcom’s new rollback netcode causing players to teleport all over the shop.
Street Fighter V is two very different games. To the battle-hardened it is simply brilliant, stripping away much of the nonsense and complexity of its predecessor, with a cast of characters that each feel unique thanks to the V-systems. To the single player it is as convoluted and baffling as ever, and miserably light on content. There’s nothing wrong here that isn’t fixable, but Capcom need to act quickly before this ambitious, often brilliant game is forgotten by the beginner players Capcom say they want to bring on board.