Over this past weekend I had a chance to participate in the most recent closed beta test for Street Fighter 6, giving a solid look at most of what players can expect when entering into the Battle Hub lobbies and looking to fight against others online. First, of course, I was prompted to create an avatar that would be used to roam around the hub and the amount of customization options for characters is quite extensive. Players can create all different manner of characters ranging from standard looking humans to freakish abominations, the latter of which happened to populate most lobbies with their character models bulging and shrinking to the maximum. Initially players are only able to wear the most basic of outfits for their fighter but by completing daily and overall challenges various fighter tickets could be used to purchase extra pieces of clothing and cosmetic pieces.
There were a number of ways that I could choose to participate in fights against other players online. The simplest method was simply go to one of the many arcade machines scattered throughout the hub and either choose to sit down on my own and wait for others, giving myself a desperate need to practice a bit against an AI dummy and try and learn how various moves worked in this latest release in the meantime, or sit down where someone else is already waiting and fighting against them. For those who want to take on ranked matches or simply queue up for player matches, this is done through a menu system that will then search for matches while players walk around the hub, though interacting with anything will cancel the matchmaking.
In interesting fashion, the matchmaking screen also serves as the menu where you can select the fighter you wish to use in every match as well as customize their “Here Comes a New Challenger ” intro screen. In fact, there is even a fun little option to make faces at your opponent using your chosen character while the matches load up, which is incredibly fast on the Series X. This works fairly well as it allows for matches to start quickly without worrying about players needing to swap characters but I can see it possibly changing in the full release as more characters are added and the possibility for hard counters being a more viable option.
Speaking of viable, Street Fighter 6 has offered a number of options that make the game a bit more approachable to newcomers and this comes with the inclusion of a new control scheme. Modern controls are automatically selected for every fighter and offer a large number of more convenient options for less dextrous or skilled players to still try and pull of flashy moves. This is thanks to Modern controls simplifying things a bit allowing for an easier time to hold your own against tougher opponents while also giving players some small access to auto combos at the expense of the Drive Gauge. That being said, while Modern Controls do make things easier they are also a double-edged sword as it does limit what some fighters are capable of unleashing on their opponents. During my time with the closed beta I found that a Modern Control Ken handled fairly similarly to his Classic counterpart but Juri, while incredibly flashy with Modern controls, lacked a number of moves if she was not being utilized as a Classic fighter. This can lead to certain combo strings being impossible to pull off, though most of these combos can only be pulled off by the most skilled players outside of training mode anyways, or at least in my case.
Another element added into Street Fighter 6 that can serve as both a newcomer boon as well as a punishment is the Drive System. This Drive Gauge starts at full and refills over the course of a match and can be used to enhance certain attacks to either deal extra damage or extend their combo, enter a parry state, or most importantly execute a Drive Impact. Drive Impacts were probably the most controversial feature during my time online as I saw numerous fighters complain about it in the hub chat room however in practice it serves as a solid opportunity to often swing a fight around or punish someone spamming moves. Drive Impacts are armored moves that can take at least two hits before being broken and when it strikes the opponent they will be briefly stunned allowing for a follow-up attack. This Drive Impact works wonders for trying to escape a corner combo or worked into a finishing blow as stringing a Drive Impact into a powerful Ultimate finish move can lead to a wonderful looking finish. That being said, a third strike will break through a Drive Impact and the move cannot be performed as a combo breaker like other fighting games so it is not an automatic escape from punishment. It is also worth noting that should a fighter burn their entire Drive gauge it will leave them stunned as well and needing to refill their entire meter before it can be used again, allowing it to serve as only a minor crutch and a solid way to bring some extra spice to fights.
Of course even with all these changes that may make the game approachable to a more casual audience, it is far from an easy ride. Through a little over a hundred matches fought online ranging from sitting at an arcade or queued for matches saw me winning only around a third of these fights even when mixing in Modern controls and the Drive system to escape punishment. In many ways though these options made the game feel fun even in defeat and if this system can remain in place with some tweaks it will be great for newcomers or simply those who would try out other modes outside of the online fights.
Alongside standard fights the battle hub also offered matches in a special corner that were “Extreme” fights that would throw in some unique condition or obstacle that would randomly appear in a battle. These little oddball items are fun and can spice things up when fighting others in no consequence matches. On the other side of the battle hub from these cabinets were the classic games that appeared to be rotating between Final Fight and Super Street Fighter II Turbo.
As far as connections went, Street Fighter 6 feels like one of the smoothest betas that I have participated in. Nearly every match offered a stable connection without any major issues or disconnections from the hub. The few occasions that I did suffer from a bit of slowdown only happened at the start of a match and between rounds taking a bit longer to load than usual. This includes crossplay against players against other platforms including standard play against others on Xbox. It is nice to note that, while I didn’t need to use this feature, holding the start button will give the option to take a “no decision” in a fight, meaning that if players ever end up in a super laggy match somehow, they can bow out without being punished.
Although this closed beta was limited to only the online Battle Hub mode it has set a great example of what Street Fighter 6 has to offer and only barely wet my whistle for what more there is to come once the game arrives with various gameplay refinements that will likely tighten up the fighting mechanics even more, full roster, and slew of modes in 2023 for the Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.