Maybe it was cosmic retribution for seeing "Legend of Chun-Li" in theaters, or maybe I'm just lucky. But while the majority of Street Fighter V beta participants were busy just trying to log into the massively overburdened server this past weekend, I managed to get about two hours play time with the upcoming title in Capcom's flagship series.
Graphics: I had hoped that the graphics would be superior to the screenshots and videos I had seen up to this point. They weren't. While a definite step up from the nearly decade-old visuals of SFV's popular predecessor - details like wrinkles in Ryu's gee and the shading on Bison's coat are abundant and appreciated - there's not much to get excited about here. The backgrounds look pretty good, but admittedly, I didn't have much time to admire them if I wanted to win my matches.
Sound: Generic synthpop with some wub-wubs thrown in for good measure. Like Alpha 3, the music gets the job done, but gone are the familiar character themes that we fell in love with in the '90s. I wasn't expecting a sonic masterpiece and I didn't get one, but a few bars of the back alley stage have been stuck in my head since Saturday night. That says something I guess.
Control: It's only slightly different from SFIV - enough to throw off my timing for the first three or four minutes. Honestly, not as smooth as SFIV.
While some players complained that SFIV was too simple for their liking after the complex battle system of Third Strike, the SFIV series eventually sported all sorts of mechanics that pro players could tinker with and use to make gameplay more cerebral: focus attacks, FADC, three Ultra Combo variations, red focus, delayed wake-up, etc.
In comparison, SFV is much more bare bones.
In SFV, the Super Bar works nearly the same as other games, but SFV adds V-Trigger, V-Reversal, and V-Skill. While V-Skill is a "free" move that varies per character and can be used at will, V-Trigger (which powers up your character's specials and sometimes normals) and V-Reversal (essentially Alpha Counter) require bars of V-meter to execute.
And that's really it. Absent is a comeback mechanic like Ultra Combos. It could be argued that V-Trigger is this game's comeback mechanic, but V-Trigger requires skill from the player to utilize correctly, not just a double fireball motion and a prayer.
I think I see what Capcom was doing here: remove the difficult-to-master aspects of SFIV, like focus canceling and Ultras, to simplify the controls. But force matches to boil down more to a player's overall skill. In other words, you'll be dropping far fewer combos, but you also can't count on a lucky Ultra to put you back in the game.
Also, hits have a lot of weight behind them and do a lot of damage, seemingly more than SFIV. Matches are over much more quickly, in the vein of SFII. The game feels a lot more offense-oriented than SFIV.
The the beta featured six returning Street Fighters from previous titles (and in Charlie's case, from the grave). I was able to use each character in training mode, but only three characters in matches with other players.
Ryu: Reminiscent of his Third Strike incarnation thanks to his V-skill parry move, Ryu still relies of the same core techniques you've been using since SFII. Denjin hadoken makes a return when Ryu is in V-Trigger mode, but it doesn't seem to have the stun factor it did in Third Strike. V-Trigger specials do A LOT of damage, and should you manage to land crouching HP -> shoryuken -> shinku hadoken, you'll steal more than half you're opponent's lifebar.
Chun-Li: Lighting kick is now quarter circle forward plus kick instead of the traditional mashing on a kick button, which allows for more accurate twitch combos. EX Lighting Kick might even be more useful than her super (called "Critical Arts" in this game). Also, her jab fireball covers nearly the entire screen now, and its activated with a charge motion, ala SSFII. I used to main Chun-Li in SFII and was disappointed in her under-powered SFIV iteration, but this is quite the return to form. Of the matches I played online, I had the easiest time wining with Chun-Li and went 5-0.
Cammy: Some of her normals are different and her jumping attack animations have been altered - for the worse. Cammy's Critical Art is tough to land, but V-Trigger powers her specials up to do crazy damage. Her V-Skill is her spin-knuckle which can hop behind enemies if done in close, but I don't think it can snuff fireballs like in SSFII. Cammy is still easy to play, but I have a feeling her glory days of SFIV greatness are long gone.
Quick details on the rest of the cast
Birdie seems really strong and is pretty agile for a 500 pound man. He plays a little different from his Alpha series debut, but in a good way.
Charlie has been heavily altered from his Alpha appearances and (if I remember correctly) is no longer a charge character. Lots of potential, but I think his Frankenstein look is just a wee bit over the top.
M. Bison loses his psycho crusher as a special move, just like in the Alpha series, relying now on scissor kick pressure. I spent the least time with the dictator, but I feel that the loss of his excellent heavy kick from SFIV will hurt him in the long run. However, he regains his projectile from the Alpha series, which will up his zoning game.
I'm not super impressed with SFV as it stands, but the game's got a looooong way to go before it's released. Overall it was fun when I could play it, and I appreciate the direction Capcom wanted to take the series. Whether that will work out in the end, I don't know.
What I DO know is that I really want to get my hands on some more SFV, so Capcom must be doing something right.