It's a grey, muggy night in Scotland's capital Edinburgh, and although it looks like the heavens are about to unleash a torrent of rain any minute, the spirits of gamers across the marvellous city are high. For this particular night marks the first leg of Capcom's Street Fighter V Tour, in which the UK's elite fighting game communities get their first cracks at the developer's latest. Excitement is through the roof among local fight enthusiasts – and rightly so.
You may not know it, but Scotland boasts a healthy, vibrant and dedicated army of ridiculously good fighting game players. From coast to coast, there are regional communities that meet every week to play the likes of Mortal Kombat X, Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, indie games like Lethal League and Nidhogg, and of course, the many iterations of Street Fighter.
Every week they meet to hone their skills, understand the minutiae of every wake-up, frame and counter-pick, while enjoying the company of players who are just as fascinated with the genre as they are. Each year these communities do battle at the Scottish national fighting game tourney Hypespotting to wage war for some seriously impressive cash pots, and the glorious mantle of champion. You really have to be there to saviour the raw passion in the air during this annual smackdown.
But on this night, it's all about one community. Rushdown Edinburgh, or RDE as it's shortened in member gamertags, is a group of like-minded people that rose from the ashes of a long-gone gaming cafe to become a vibrant name in the UK scene. I've been a member for about three years now, and I've seen it outgrow small venues, only to move and eventually pack larger bars and pubs to capacity before seeking a home elsewhere. Make no mistake, if Street Fighter V is being made for anyone, it's people like the RDE massive.
I enter the venue, a tucked-away nightclub called the Mash House that usually hosts diverse music nights, only to be met with that unmistakable sound of heavy attacks connecting with faces, Hadoukens billowing across stages, and the sustained chatter of gamers discussing Street Fighter V's new changes, reworked flow and stunning PS4 visuals. Some of you may think from trailers that there hasn't been much of an evolution since the fourth game, released back in 2008, but you only have to play it to understand that's not the case.
Rather than patronise series veterans in this piece by giving them a journalistic view on the game, I corner members of Rushdown after they come away from each fight to ask them, the seasoned players, their thoughts on Capcom's revamped offering.
Perhaps the greatest consensus of the night is that while the game looks slow in videos, there is a more aggressive flow to battles that rewards aggression, rather than methodical dancing back and forth while looking for an attack window. Secondly, one-time boss man M. Bison feels like a new character thanks to his reduced walking speed, diluted air moves and new fireball attack. Change is good.
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Ryu fan TheJW tells me: "The inputs feel much easier. Basic links seem simpler to pull off and there seems to be fewer single-frame links, meaning your window for combo-ing and firing off inputs is a lot more generous. In Street Fighter IV I felt your inputs had to be strictly-timed, but here it felt to me like there was more leniency when hitting inputs and links, which could make it easier for newcomers to learn the basics, while still feeling satisfying."
"The game also feels faster to get in on your opponent – more immediate – but more accessible too," he continues. "Also, V-Skills and Triggers add a new layer of complexity that I can see being the new crux of the game. You also have more time to think about what you're doing, not how you're doing it."
This is definitely the case when playing as returning character Nash, who shares many traits with series mainstay Guile, although you need to rewire your knowledge if you're going to get the best out of this him.
"I played as Nash but found him hard as I expected him to play like Guile," a player called James explains. "His flash kick definitely doesn't work the same, as it doesn't feel like an anti-air move, which I suspect is because the hit box is tiny, and he has a move that activates in the air and must be blocked high, which is interesting.
"When you get swept you can now stand back up instantly, so there's less time for you or the opponent to compose themselves or set up moves. It's going to take everyone time to figure out the V-Skills and V-Reversals, but yeah, Nash is exciting as he can teleport around his opponent, mix them up, and deal big damage in relatively unorthodox ways"
The V-Skills and Triggers – the former a newly introduced defence mechanic, the latter potentially tide-turning special moves activated after powering up a bar – have many players scratching their heads at the start of the evening, but as time goes on I was seeing some really impressive displays from RDE members. Player Dapper Penguin explained, "Ryu felt different. I mean, he still had his overhead attack, collarbone breaker, but his close heavy kick no longer hits twice.
"I felt he was faster and his new V-Trigger is cool. It gives him what I'm calling 'Thunder Fists', which causes his punches to deal more damage and gives him a charged fireball that can't be blocked. He also has a parry again, mapped to medium punch and medium kick, but it's not as strong as in (1999's) 3rd Strike."
V-Triggers and associated additions aside, Street Fighter V characters still have super combos that are wonderfully animated, thanks to an abundance of physics-based elements on each character. Watching Birdie trundle across the stage as his mohawk flops around and his jeans start to sag is a real treat, and the animation looks eye-wateringly fluid in 1080p.
Rushdown's VS The Janitor tells me about another huge change I don't notice amid all the crazy action – characters don't just take chip damage when blocking specials, but from regular attacks this time, which is the complete opposite of previous Street Fighter titles.
"You can still deal chip damage, but you can't KO off it," he explains. "Chip damage from normal hits recovers over time, so if you're defensive you can increase your health again with time – it's a big change. The new Critical Arts are the only attack that can chip into a K.O."
There are other differences at play. Chun-Li's lightning kicks no longer come out by simply mashing kick buttons – you have to quarter-circle into them now. There are also changes to Ryu's crouching heavy sweep range, meaning the old "jumping heavy kick into low heavy kick" staple often fails, leaving you open to be punished. Some RDE members also feel that it's harder to score cross hits with Ryu's air Tatsumaki – another small, but fundamental difference.
Player SefSins says: "The fundamentals are a lot better than they were in Street Fighter IV, and it definitely feels more 'footsie' based. By that I mean, you have to find your grounding before attacking – being patient and waiting for your opponent to come into your attack range before committing to moves.
"I also like that Capcom have changed the jab-jab-jab combo style, which means you can't just do small punches then launch into special attacks. You have to actually use certain moves that link and commit more instead of mashing light kicks or punches in the hope they hit. I'd say medium attacks are best for footsie confirms. It really does look stunning, though."
It's evident that Street Fighter V is lowering the bar of entry for newcomers, while challenging seasoned players to up their game in order to remain in that upper tier of skill. There was no way Capcom could release a simple rehash – not that they would, of course – but it seems that years of feedback from communities like Rushdown and fans across the world have been listened to by producer Yoshinori Ono and his crew.
As the last sets are coming to a close and gamers wander off to enjoy a pint and discuss the technicalities of what they've just experienced, I corner RDE founder Craig Fairweather to ask him how it felt to be first on Capcom's list of tour stops, and what this meant in terms of the fighting scene's growth in Scotland.
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"I believe communities like Rushdown Edinburgh provide the most authentic experiences and environment for the players," he tells me. "I'm proud to host Capcom tonight, and I'm encouraged by the support – people travelled over the border to be here, and not just because Street Fighter V is here, but because they want to represent the community and show Capcom how involved they want to be in shaping a huge gaming landmark with Street Fighter V.
"Being the first stop on the UK tour justifies the hard work myself and the team put into supporting the fighting game community, reaching out to new players and hosting events on a weekly basis. Tonight is a huge pay off for those efforts and a real privilege for me, personally. It's also been a fantastic opportunity to prove how capable Scotland is when hosting events on this scale. We're just a few weeks away from our own major annual event, Armagedinburgh, and I couldn't be more excited for it. Again, I'd like to thank Capcom UK's Matthew Edwards and Neil Gorton for their work and this opportunity. And to all the community members – from the people that I've worked with for years, right up to the new faces that appeared tonight – thanks, you."
Make no mistake: Street Fighter V is for the hardcore players. But Capcom is also taking great steps to ensure that newcomers can, without intimidation, enter the fight this time around. It's already looking like a slick and balanced open invitational that everyone, regardless of skill, can enjoy. The real king of fighters is ready to begin its latest campaign against any and all challengers.
Street Fighter V is released for PlayStation 4 and PC in March 2016.
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