Why you must run PC Street Fighter 5 at 60fps
Capcom puts the quality of the gameplay experience first.
Be prepared for a modicum of settings tweaking on the PC version of Street Fighter 5 - if you can't run this game at 60fps, gameplay quality is brutally compromised. We first noticed the issue running the title on the Digital Foundry budget PC at 1080p with all settings maxed. As expected, Nvidia's entry-level enthusiast card can't sustain the workload asked of it, but rather than drop frames and maintain gameplay speed, the whole simulation slows down. In this case, the game literally runs at half-speed, effectively making it unplayable. It seems that in order to maintain the purity of the experience, Capcom demands that you run this title at a locked 60fps - the engine processes every single frame of gameplay regardless and simply expects that your hardware can keep up.
The game also uses a double-buffer v-sync set-up, so if your kit consistently can't keep up, the frame-rate drops from 60fps to 30fps and the speed of the title literally halves. As a consequence, this means that the game's timing is completely thrown off, meaning that performing anything other than basic moves is very difficult and intricate combos are mostly impossible to pull off. The usual way games deal with frame-rate drops is to maintain the speed of the simulation but to drop frames instead - Street Fighter 5's slowdown more reminiscent of 2D titles from the 16-bit console era, almost all of which ran at 60fps and processed the game logic assuming that was always the case. In the case of the SNES in particular, its weak CPU made slowdown a relatively frequent phenomenon - especially in titles released early in the console's life-cycle.
In Street Fighter 5's case, there is a lone exception to this rule - as you can see in our hardware test video below. Playing online, the game absolutely must remain in sync with the other player - slowdown simply isn't an option - so if your PC hardware can't cope, frames are skipped in the conventional manner in order to maintain parity in the experience. However, playing this actually highlights that Capcom may well have made the right call here in practically demanding that you run the title at 60fps: skipping frames makes in-game timing almost as difficult to pull off as playing in slow motion.
So with all this in mind, the question is how scalable Street Fighter 5 is across different configurations, and what hardware do you need to get the job done?
Well, Street Fighter 5's graphics options are remarkably straightforward - there are low, medium, high and max selectables available for anti-aliasing, post-processing, shadows, textures and effects. By our reckoning, the PlayStation 4 version of the game - which is a very handsome title by and large, sits approximately at the medium end of the spectrum (we'll go into this in more depth in the upcoming Face-Off). However, it should be noted that there's a massive, yawning chasm of quality between the presentation offered by the low and medium settings. There's a sense that for the bottom end settings, Capcom stripped out the vast majority of the game's visual finery simply to provide a base level option for those running entry-level gaming hardware.
On top of that is a resolution scaler, similar to that found in the Frostbite 3 games from EA. Based on an initial look, this is one of the most impressive examples of the technology we've seen - if not the best, as you can see in our settings comparison video below. On the DICE engine, running at 66 and 83 per cent respectively gives you 720p and 900p. We've still got to confirm that this is the case for SF5's Unreal Engine 4, but regardless, the end product at those two levels is deeply impressive.
Overall, it is possible to get pretty good results on budget hardware - but running SF5 at 1080p60 on PS4-level settings on the GTX 750 Ti proves to be a case of 'almost, nearly, but not quite'. There are still frame-rate drops, requiring either adjustments to the resolution scaler or to post-processing and shadows. However, moving up to Nvidia's next most powerful piece of kit - the GTX 950 - we can breeze past the medium quality preset and move select settings up to high.
Capcom itself recommends a meatier GTX 960 for Street Fighter 5. We find that this - along with its AMD equivalent, the R9 380 - can provide a mostly locked 1080p60 with everything ramped up to the max. However, intros, outros and KOs can see some slow-down and there are occasional hitches in-game. It is worth pointing out that the difference between high and max settings is fairly minimal though, so pulling back the presets in favour of more solid frame-rates during gameplay is recommended.
Moving up to the more powerful GTX 970 and R9 390 gives us the maxed gameplay experience, but once again there are very occasional hitches and minimal bouts of slow-motion action during the much more graphically intensive intros, outros and KOs. It doesn't represent a massive impact to the experience but it takes off a little bit of the sheen. In truth, you should be able to get a great experience with these cards to the point where 60fps maxed should be attainable at 1440p too - something we've also achieved with a last-gen Nvidia GTX 780.
But we do have to sound one note of caution here. Adjusting settings from the main menu and jumping direct into gameplay has been observed to cause a performance hit, something you can see in motion in the quality settings comparison video directly above. Playing the game and skipping back to the main menu for more tweaks can see an even bigger performance hit once you return to the action. We were running with version 1.01 and hope to see Capcom address this in an upcoming patch.
Overall, Capcom's demand to play Street Fighter 5 at a locked 60fps may cause some concern from users, especially those used to ramping up all settings to max and jumping straight into gameplay. Perhaps some kind of option to choose between fixed frame and frame-skipping gameplay may have been preferable. However, we believe that this has been done with the best of intentions - essentially, the game's creators want you to experience the gameplay at its best and that requires running with the frame-rate on which the core mechanics of the title are based.
So does PlayStation 4 manage to achieve the required frame-rate lock? We've put some time into the game and aside from minor, mostly unnoticeable drops, we've been unable to replicate some reported issues, despite playing through every stage. We're continuing tests now in an online versus environment and will report back as soon as we can.