With Street Fighter 6, Capcom is finally ahead of the competition

Image for With Street Fighter 6, Capcom is finally ahead of the competition
(Image credit: Capcom)

I have played Street Fighter 6, and it is good.

It might even be incredible. Despite playing Street Fighter casually since the '90s, I don't have nearly the expertise required to offer insight on hitboxes or character balance or the other minutia that the fighting game community will scrutinize to pass judgment on this new iteration. Maybe Ryu's footsie game is actually wildly OP and will be an embarrassing scandal for Capcom at launch. From what I've seen so far, though, this feels like the culmination of a vision Capcom has had for Street Fighter for more than a decade now. It finally pulled it off.

I spent about 45 minutes trying out the four characters available in Capcom's preview at Summer Game Fest—veterans Ryu and Chun Li and newcomers Luke and Jamie—and had a blast with each, despite only kind of knowing what I was doing. 

I played with the classic 6-button control setup for light/medium/heavy punches and kicks on an arcade stick, though Street Fighter 6 is also introducing a new "modern" control option that maps multiple inputs onto the same controller face buttons. It's not the first Capcom fighter to offer a simplified control scheme to make inputs easier for new players, and I think it's a nice feature. Capcom really wants to make this game approachable to people who've always found Street Fighter intimidating, but since it inherently takes away some of the control granularity, it's not going to get in the way of competitive play.

This is still very much a complex fighting game for fighting game players, maybe even moreso than Street Fighter 5. A detailed comparison is better left to the pros, but while playing Street Fighter 6 I was struck by just how much is going on with the new Drive meter.

It's hard to overstate how expressive it looks this time around.

Drive's most basic uses are classic Street Fighter: You spend meter to trigger special moves and charged up attacks. The Drive meter starts full—a welcome change that really ups the intensity of fights compared to having to build up from zero—and you can also spend some to shrug off a kick to the face while getting in your own hit. In most Street Fighter games, if you run out of meter you just need to build it back up, but if you overzealously empty out your Drive meter it's much more punitive. You have to wait for every single notch on the bar to refill before you can use it again, and you're left in a weakened state. Street Fighter 6 demands responsible driving. 

Several of the Drive uses feel like direct descendants of the Focus attacks in Street Fighter 4, creating gorgeous splashes of colorful ink (or paint?) around your character as they strike. It triggers the same "ooh, pretty lights" reaction I had as a kid when I'd land an Ultra in Street Fighter Alpha and the entire background would explode into an anime kaleidoscope. I don't know if Capcom has been limited by its engines up to this point, or simply iterated on this visual language across Street Fighter 4, 5, and 6, but it's hard to overstate how expressive it looks this time around.

With this game, Capcom clearly understands how much style matters. Sure, fighting game players will love an ugly game if the mechanics feel just right, but the fighting game community thrives on hype. They practically invented hype. The most legendary fighting game moment of all time doesn't end with a boring, well-executed punch: It ends with a flurry of superhuman parries and the screen exploding in flashes of orange light. Everyone in the room loses their goddamn mind.

Capcom can't manufacture those moments, but I think it is building Street Fighter 6 to look as exciting in motion as it can. The speed, the animation, the flashy ink Drive attacks—so many pieces of Street Fighter 6 are effectively giant arrows and neon lights for a pop off.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Street Fighter 5 could still be exciting to watch in action, but I'd largely attribute that to the incredible players who throw down at events like EVO. Capcom spent years trying to recover from a botched game-as-a-service launch. At first it pleased no one: Some players raged over the missing arcade mode, others lambasted the pitifully simplistic "story" mode. And Street Fighter 5's contemporaries made it look so vanilla: Mortal Kombat had it lavish story mode, Guilty Gear had its remarkable 3D anime models. Street Fighter 5 was still Street Fighter, but that was pretty much all it had going for it.

Imagine the crowd at EVO wildly cheering as Ryu pulls a cocky derp face.

Seemingly Humbled from the years spent clawing Street Fighter 5 into better shape, Capcom has made a game that's meaningfully different from every other fighter out there. It has a whole open world story thing that I didn't get to play, but I almost don't care how good it is—it looks weird, probably goofy, but that's cool, it's something different. It's adding personality to the literal streets you're fighting on. So are the new character intros, where the fighters saunter out to promo music like they're in the WWF. While a match is loading you can flick the joystick to make your fighter contort their face into a variety of expressions.

It's so silly, and maybe the second best idea any fighting game has had in a decade. Street Fighter should be silly! Hype doesn't have to be serious: Imagine the crowd at EVO, match point in the grand finals, wildly cheering as Ryu pulls a cocky derp face. It's a whole new era for mind games.

The number one best idea any fighting game has had in a decade, I think, is Street Fighter 6 baking in commentators that mimic the play-by-play of exciting tournaments. Maybe this is actually a terrible idea that everyone finds annoying, but at first blush I love that this feature simultaneously:

  • Reinforces the street fight aesthetic
  • Mimics the real-world energy of tournament commentary, creating yet another vector for hype
  • Introduces players to fighting game vernacular, both silly expressions and useful terminology they can learn to get better

In the menu I found toggles for both a play-by-play commentator and a color commentator, so I'm already hoping for longtime duo Seth Killian and James Chen to narrate my Street Fighter matches down the road. 

It's inevitable that some of the new stuff Capcom is trying in this game doesn't quite work out. But that's because it's trying so much, and that's an incredibly refreshing change. For the first time in a long time, Capcom and Street Fighter are poised to be the hottest shit on the block.

Street Fighter 6 will release sometime in 2023, and the PC version will be available on Steam.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).