Street Fighter 5's in-game ads went live this week - and they make a mockery of the series' famous character design.
I was, like most people, initially unconvinced. Horrified, even. The announcement video, which Capcom unleashed during the Evo fighting tournament, revealed a character as hideous as he was gargantuan. He looked so big, so outrageously proportioned, one wondered whether he could even jump. Could other characters jump over him? Could he be thrown? And then the mind wandered... how ridiculous would Cammy's air throw look performed on this monstrosity? How about R. Mika's double butt slam to the face super? In short, Abigail looked dumb as hell. Have you lost your mind, Capcom? What is this abomination? What is Abigail?
Deputy Editor's note: A year ago I reported on Hypespotting 5, one of the UK's biggest fighting game tournaments, after it suffered a raft of technical issues and disappointed some fans. After we ran the article I was contacted by a number of people embedded within the UK fighting game community who defended the scene and called for a deeper look. I thought now, with Hypespotting 6 taking place, it was a great time to do just that and investigate the state of the UK fighting game community.
My coach sounds delighted. "That's it! Nice one!" he cheers. I just beat him at Street Fighter 5 by throwing out my critical art on wakeup - something he suggested just five minutes ago. It would be a surprise attack, he said. Most people don't expect it, even really good players. I think he's proud I knocked him out.
2016 was a strange year for video games. Recent memory is dominated by a handful of high quality blockbusters that failed to excite people. But let's not forget earlier this year, when a handful of superb blockbusters definitely did excite people. And I'm not just talking about Street Fighter, either (don't @ me).
In researching 2016, I was surprised to find it jam-packed with video game stuff. Lots of things happened. Lots of people left developers. Lots of people joined developers. Some developers closed down. Some developers sprang into life. Lots and lots and lots of video games came out, mostly on Valve's ever-bulging Steam. Most were crap. Some were good. But in the pursuit of some kind of meaning, some kind of trend, I was left frustrated. Video games continue to be very good, even though 2016, at its close, feels a little less groundbreaking than I'd liked it to have been.
January, typically a quiet month for video games, saw a number of high-profile developers move on. Marc Laidlaw, lead writer of the Half-Life series, retired from Valve. The move was seen as further evidence, not that it's needed at this point, that Half-Life 3 is just not happening. Then we learnt Leslie Benzies, long-time leader of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North, had left the company after a 16-month sabbatical. He later sued Take-Two for $150m in a move that's already aired a basket full of dirty laundry. Will the parties settle? I kind of hope not.
Ryuichi 'Woshige' Shigeno had been waiting for more than a decade to fight Ken-ichi 'Ogawazato' Ogawa on a tournament stage when he heard that he'd drawn, as he puts it today, the "match of his dreams." When he was 13-years-old, Shigeno played in his first Japanese national video game competition. Since then, he'd risen to become one of the world's top-ranked players of Guilty Gear, Arc System Works' hyperactive, heavy metal-spruced fighting game series. This was to be, nevertheless, a challenging match-up. Ogawa, a part-time chef from Tokyo, is the world number one. As each player sat down to fight for a spot in the finals at EVO 2015, the largest fighting game tournament in the world, held that year at a Paris-themed hotel, complete with miniature Eiffel Tower, in glittering Las Vegas, more than a hundred thousand people logged on to watch the fight.
We've produced hundreds of platform comparisons over the last nine years, but few that concentrate exclusively on the differences between one franchise entry and its shinier, more modern successor. With the arrival of Street Fighter 5, we thought we'd have a little fun - we decided to use our dual-system control set-up (a system we first used here) to play versus mode Street Fighter 4 and its sequel simultaneously. In effect, it would be an actual live Face-Off - the edited highlights of which you can watch in the video below.
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.
While the basics of Street Fighter 5 are the very same that have underpinned the fighting game series since the groundbreaking Street Fighter 2, Capcom has tweaked its mechanics in some subtle, but important, ways. And while there are a raft of excellent resources online, Street Fighter 5 itself does an awful job of explaining what's new. The less said about the frankly terrible tutorial that's currently in the game, the better.
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.
Street Fighter is back, though with the numerous iterations of Street Fighter 4 it doesn't feel like it's been away for long. This time, though, looks different - Street Fighter V, a PC and PlayStation 4 exclusive, is the foundation for the next generation of the series, and promises to be part of a new model that moves away from the regular expansions. After a successful beta run - and, let's not forget, a less successful one - it's all shaping up rather well.
Street Fighter 5's big global beta is going live tonight and - if all goes well, unlike last time out - it'll be playable throughout the bank holiday weekend. Two of team Eurogamer got on the regional beta test last week, and met up earlier this week to talk through what they played. So, without further ado and thanks to a slick copy and paste from our chat logs, here's Street Fighter pro Wesley Yin-Poole and Street Fighter idiot Martin Robinson to guide you through their thoughts.
Street Fighter 5, the next game in Capcom's brilliant fighting game series, is more evolution than revolution, but when it comes down to mechanics, important changes have been made.