Street Fighter 6 hands-on preview: The next fighting king?
It’s been a while – Street Fighter 5 came out all the way back in 2016, for all its re-releases and sustained competitive scene, so the community is unsurprisingly enthused about Street Fighter 6.
The game is still a ways off, releasing on 2 June 2023, but Capcom is playing a canny game in the run-up, with repeated closed betas to get people familiar with the series hands-on. We played in the most recent test, and came away thoroughly impressed.
A new scene
The closed beta we participated in was limited pretty strongly, which is no surprise – it allowed for online arcade matchups with a small selection of fighters, and that’s it.
Still, that’s the core of the game here, so it’s also a perfect approach, and we were able to get time behind the reins of classics like Ryu and Chun-Li as well as slightly newer options including Luke and Jamie.
The main mode in this case is called Battle Hub, and it’s a really cool way to lay out matchmaking in a fighting game, replicating some of the buzz of an actual arcade.
You control an avatar that you can heavily (ridiculously) customise to your own desires, running around an arcade full of cosmetic shops centred around an array of game cabinets.
Approach one with an empty seat opposite an opponent to kick off a match, sit at one on your own to invite challengers, or simply spectate an ongoing match by approaching.
It feels great (although menus are there for those who want to cut to the chase), and replicates that social feeling that can sometimes be lost away from LAN tournaments.
Down to brass tacks
Of course, the real meat of the game isn’t this neat framing device, it’s the fighting, and Street Fighter 6 feels like a careful but clever evolution of what went before it.
If you put hours into Street Fighter 5 it won’t feel substantially different on some levels, a feeling that’s underlined by the selection of existing characters we had access to.
There are some major changes, though, and the two biggest ones felt great to us. Firstly, the new Drive system – it adds a bar that you can use for power attacks at any time.
The game-changer is that rounds start with this bar full, so you can immediately kick off with high-risk damage options if you so choose. Doing so might well prove a mistake, but it makes for a bunch of tactical variety.
The increased aggression this encourages made for quick rounds in our experience, but that ties into the second innovation – a new control scheme.
Called “Modern” in the settings, it gives you the option of automatically launching special attacks with a single button instead of more complicated button presses.
This is amazing for learners and newcomers, making the most intimidating part of any fighting game way more trivial until you know enough to kick off the training wheels and take more control.
We’re frankly rubbish at the genre but were able to have way more fun as a result, albeit with a matchmaking pool that likely skews toward experienced players given the limited nature of the beta.
Of course, for those who don’t want it, there are classic control options, and when spectating you can also see a list of live inputs to give you a better sense of what people are actually doing – a visual aide that can be a little overwhelming at first.
It’s also worth saying that you’d expect some network instability during a beta, but we found connections to be rock-solid, and the netcode looks like it’s in a really impressive place with some six months to go before launch.
Iteration not evolution
The fighting feels as fluid and welcoming as it ever has, then, despite the same complexities and strategic options as ever, but Street Fighter 6 is also a generational leap technically, so how does it look?
Well, playing on PlayStation 5 the answer is: pretty great. The visual presentation here is really crisp and clear, readable even in chaotic situations.
That’s key for a fighting game, of course, but it doesn’t mean that environments or characters aren’t really detailed. The fighters look great and the stages we played on were also vibrant and interesting.
The Battle Hub is a poppy, funky place to chill out, with bright lights and an array of crazy avatars running around you, but it’s when the fights kick off that things get really good.
The paint-like effects that punctuate your power moves look excellent and are a clever levelling-up of the swishes that were so iconic back in Street Fighter 4.
We’ve only been exposed to old characters so can’t speak too much to new designs and voice work, but we’re feeling really enthused about how Street Fighter looks, both while you’re fighting and while you’re watching. There’s a fun and punky soundtrack, too, from what we’ve heard.