When it comes to direct appeals for Digital Foundry to take a look at performance, it doesn't really get any more direct than this - a NeoGAF post lamenting frame-rate issues on the PS4 version of Street Fighter 5, and an invitation for us to run the offending performance drops through our tools to see if Capcom really has dropped the ball on this crucial release. Bearing in mind the numerous beta tests the firm has conducted over the last few months, the idea that performance wouldn't hit the target on launch would be disappointing at best, and credibility-straining at worst.
Certainly, our initial response to this report was rather sceptical. Subscribers to our YouTube channel will have already seen the in-game graphics comparison we've posted based on replays grabbed from the Capcom Fighting Network. The brilliant cross-platform nature of CFN allows us to use the same replays to synchronise gameplay between PlayStation 4 and PC, allowing us to run dynamic gameplay footage side-by-side. There is a slight de-sync between each version, but we're literally talking about a small handful of frames here per round - nothing that should bother anyone. Where were these noticeable drops in performance?
Our next thought was that just playing back replays - although a great work-out for the renderer - may not fully simulate the process of actually playing the game, so we went a little more hands-on. Training mode provides a great stress test here: V-Triggers and Critical Arts are constantly replenished during battle, and bumping up the CPU AI difficulty allows for some intense pyrotechnic displays not possible in regular fights. However, despite the increased level of effects work on display, frame-rates remain mostly stable, with just a few mild frame drops occurring from time to time. Controls are solid and the general standard of gameplay feels sublime.
At this point, we feel that Street Fighter 5's offline experience is well up to standard - the only stone left unturned concerned online play and we did find some issues here - right now the experience isn't as solid as the single-player modes. Some matches sustain the required locked 60fps during gameplay, while in others frames are dropped when there is little going on to tax the rendering engine. Activating V-Triggers and performing extended combos tends to bring up small, mostly unnoticeable dips in single-player, but even basic moves and fairly sedate battles can result in more noticeable drops in performance when playing online. Indeed, which matches are affected by impacted performance is seemingly random at this time. After spending a few hours online, it's clear that network play overall isn't as stable as we would like to see from a fighting game - and there's an undeniable impact in performance, with ramifications on the quality of the gameplay experience.
As the drops in performance are mostly fairly small in the majority of matches, most fans should still find the online experience more than playable (assuming you can put up with the long matchmaking times that desperately need addressing) but core fans may not be presented with the rock solid experience they expect from a title so focused on competitive play. In fact, online has a distinct lack of consistency right now - which may well be down to launch shakedown issues. But regardless, the idea that we're seeing these issues at all is disappointing bearing in mind the amount of beta testing Capcom has carried out over the last few months. And we can confirm that netcode is almost certainly the issue here - comparing the CFN replay with actual gameplay sees no issues on the former, and dropped frames on the latter. Based on some quick PC tests, it seems that the computer version holds up better during online play - in two sample matches, in-game performance matched the replay.The lost art of video game manuals The greatest loss of the digital age.
But it's the overall performance of Capcom's servers that is most concerning right now. Over the course of a morning's testing we observed issues that included stuttering, freezing and a temporary speed-up of the action when online stability is heavily compromised. But we only encountered one unplayable match during the few hours spent online with the game. Could it be that the extra load at launch is causing the issues - and if so, why mostly on PlayStation 4? And by extension, could it be the case that those initial reports posted yesterday came at a moment when CFN was really struggling? The service has been very spotty pre-launch, with stats and CFN logins routinely reset and deleted as Capcom pulls levers and twiddles knobs behind the scenes.
With only a day's play under our belts here, it's too early to pass judgement on Street Fighter 5's overall performance profile, but with so much of the barebones launch offering heavily reliant on consistent online access, we would have hoped that this element of the game would have been absolutely rock-solid. Right now, it clearly needs work - something worth bearing in mind if you're considering a purchase.