Street Fight 6 sees the series hit its apex, particularly in IRL tournaments. Veteran fighter Alan Wen has spent hours putting it through its paces for this in-depth preview.
Since its announcement last summer, Street Fighter 6 has been high on my list of most anticipated games, and it’s only been confirmed each time I’ve had a chance to get hands-on with. Simply put, Street Fighter 6 is the greatest fighting game in the world at its apex.
Don’t get me wrong – despite its divisiveness, I really like Street Fighter 5 as well, but it was unfortunately hampered at launch with various issues, from its lack of content to dreadful netcode. But almost a year ago, from the moment I first got to play SF6 at a special Summer Game Fest event in LA to most recently at WASD in London, even based on an old build with just eight of the final game’s 18 characters, it has felt confidently solid and polished in all the ways that most live multiplayer games usually aren’t.
On the surface, SF6 is the evolution of the series fans have been asking for. It’s a beautiful blend of hyper-realistic visuals, courtesy of the incredible RE Engine, splashed with an eye-catching graffiti flourish. Characters don’t just look fantastic, there’s also real progression in the series timeline, so favourites like Chun Li and Ken are older and wiser (even if the latter looks like he’s fallen on hard times), with some new movesets up their sleeves, while a new generation of fighters also take the stage, such as African American graffiti ninja Kimberley or drunken breakdancer Jamie.
Mechanically, SF6 is about taking the best of the series – the EX specials, SF3’s parries, SF4’s focuses – and combining it all into one digestible Drive system. In short, it’s like a stamina gauge made up of six bars and these account for your resources for either pulling off more powerful special moves, countering, or parrying, the latter which is possible to pull off just by holding down the requisite buttons rather than frame-perfect accuracy, though a perfect parry is still possible, accentuated by a pause of the action just to let that moment sink in before the follow-up punish counter.
Lastly, the drive gauge also makes you invulnerable to chip damage when blocking for the first time. It might seem confusing at first as there’s still the old super bars at the bottom corner, but this is now something you just keep an eye on when you’re trying to execute a Super or Critical Art rather than worrying about wasting resources on other moves.
But just like stamina, depleting the drive gauge also puts your fighter into burnout, where the gauge will have to take time to recover. In that time, you won’t be able to use any of its associated mechanics, but you will be vulnerable to chip damage while blocking. A more careful fighter, then, might be wise about not being over-reliant on moves such as the Drive Impact, which absorbs any attack with a powerful counter, but an aggressive player won’t care about burning out and not having access to a few skills if it means they can get a good life lead early on.
Of course, the mechanic that will matter most to newcomers is the option for ‘modern’ controls – that is, a more simplified control scheme where, Super Smash Bros-style, it’s possible to pull off special moves with the tap of a button or sometimes while also holding the stick in a certain direction. It finally allows players pull off some cool moves – even if they haven’t the foggiest idea what a quarter circle or dragon punch input is.
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This all sounds great on paper, and based on last year’s closed beta, SF6 is going to be an outstanding online experience thanks to its robust netcode and a Battle Arena hub. The latter is not only expressive in the way you can design your own custom avatars but also in emulating a virtual arcade experience.
Street Fighter isn’t just an online esports game, however – it’s a fighting game. No, it’s THE fighting game (yeah, yeah, you can keep your Tekken and Mortal Kombat), and members of the fighting game community will understand that nothing beats playing it IRL with someone side by side. And what a game to gift to the fighting game community after COVID had put the scene on its knees. It’s why it’s been so exciting to play SF6 at the many gaming events it’s toured over the past year.
For several hours during WASD, I was able to take my main Chun Li and properly test the mechanics against all willing and able players, whether it’s someone who hasn’t touched a fighting game since SF2 or someone who’s evidently had a lot of practice with the cracked version of the SF6 beta, whether they’re using a stick, a pad, classic or modern controls. Even in the sweaty atmosphere of a show floor, or rather perhaps because of the location, it’s also the best antidote to gamer rage. Partly because seeing your opponent in the flesh and of social cues, you’re going to restrain yourself, but there’s also a crackling energy that you just don’t get online even with the best netcode in the world.
I’m not going to pull my punches on a noob, not just because there’s an alarming unpredictability when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing that’s amplified by modern controls, but I can certainly give them some pointers like how to use Drive Impact. That mechanic has been criticised by some players for being overpowered, though with practice it’s quite easily countered with a grab. Similarly, going multiple rounds against an seemingly unstoppable Kimberley, I was also working out my opponent’s tricks, trying to get a read on what they’re about to do next, and even if I don’t win, there’s still a little victory in learning and improving, as we spar, compliment and encourage each other’s escapes and counters, or just humbly put down the controller as a sign of GGWP when the Critical Art connects.
Even with my crushing defeats, including a mini tournament that saw me effectively being on the receiving end of an ‘Evo Moment 37 moment’, every match of SF6 had been an utter joy to play. It’s so rare for a game to feel this perfect in the hands from the first moment you get to play.
Even if Capcom were to rush SF6 out now as it did with its predecessor, and there was nothing more than its starting roster and the core Fighting Ground mode, you’d still have easily one of the best games of 2023.
Street Fighter 6 releases on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, PC on 2 June.