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December 2022

Street Fighter 6

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: June 2, 2023


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PS5/PS4/XSX/PC Preview - 'Street Fighter 6' Battle Hub

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 13, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

With more ways than ever to play, Street Fighter 6 represents the next evolution of the Street Fighter series.

Lucky fans across the globe got a chance to go hands-on with an early version of Street Fighter 6 over the weekend as part of a limited closed beta test. Although the selection of fighters and stages was limited, what Capcom had on display was already polished enough to wow. Perhaps even more important than showing off the core fighting engine, though, was the central event arena, or Battle Hub as it is called in-game. Serving as Street Fighter 6's social hub, the Battle Hub is the game's secret weapon.

Fighting games have always had a competitive aspect, but the social aspect is something that has largely remained offline. Sure, you could create online lobbies for your friends or matchmake against random players, but re-creating the arcade experience has generally been out of reach. The Battle Hub attempts to do just that. It's a small, but surprisingly robust metaverse experience that feels more polished than many of the big budget tech demos published by Facebook and others.

Before entering the Battle Hub, you must create a custom avatar. For the beta, this was a one-and-done selection, but for the full game, you should be able to edit your avatar after creation or have multiple avatars. The avatar creator was surprisingly robust, with options and adjustments for just about any element you can imagine. Because time with the beta was limited, I started with a preset avatar and made some small tweaks, but those who spent more time with it went nuts. I saw all sorts of avatars throughout the weekend. Most were relatively human standard proportions; others looked a wee bit alien. Creativity and expression were celebrated.

The variety in avatars was appreciated when I stepped into the Battle Hub for the first time. Even though everyone starts out wearing the same default outfit, it was clearly filled with different people. Some were playing. Some were milling around. Others were goofing off. It felt oddly natural as an event space, with a tournament registration stand on one side and a virtual merch stand on the other. About the only thing missing was a snack bar. Then again, it's not like my avatar needed to eat.

Actually playing a game of Street Fighter 6 meant walking up to a virtual arcade cabinet and sitting down. I had to choose my preferred character and control setup before starting, but that was it. I spent a few rounds practicing against the AI in the training mode before someone else joined me and we went head-to-head. That's right; starting a two-player game is as simple as walking up to a cabinet with one player and joining in. It evoked the personal connection of playing at an arcade versus clicking on a "multiplayer" button and waiting for matchmaking to connect you to a random player online. Don't get me wrong; the button is still there (for both ranked and casual matches) if you just want to connect and don't want to explore the Battle Hub, but doing so misses some of the magic.

In addition to standard Street Fighter 6, there were two other sections in the arcade. One had a rotating selection of classic games available, while the other had an "extreme" section for playing modified versions of Street Fighter 6.

The classic arcade area only featured one game at a time during the beta (all the machines had Super Street Fighter II Turbo during my time in the beta), so I'm guessing that they will rotate out on a weekly or monthly basis once Street Fighter 6 launches next year. I had the option to just play or compete in a ranking challenge (best score on a single credit).

It might sound silly to be talking about playing an older Street Fighter game while testing Street Fighter 6, but in the context of the Battle Hub, it all felt completely natural. Before starting Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the game displayed a short description and some screenshots. Unlike other retro game collections, this doesn't give you access to the arcade DIP settings or other configuration options (remember, you are playing in a virtual arcade), but the emulation was otherwise solid. If I had to guess, it looked like Super Street Fighter II Turbo was using the same emulator as it did in Capcom Arcade Stadium, with the default scanline filter enabled. It makes sense, as Capcom Arcade Stadium used RE Engine for its front end.

The extreme section tweaked the standard Street Fighter 6 gameplay, so it required players to reach certain goals or avoid obstacles to win a match. For example, instead of eliminating your opponent's life bar, you might have to land a certain number of special moves or throw your opponent a certain number of times. There might be a bull that charges through the stage (don't get hit).

Playing some of the extreme matches was again reminiscent of the classic arcade experience, as it wasn't uncommon for "local rules" to come into play by agreement. Back in the day, it wasn't unusual to have a match with "no throws" or "regular attacks only" to change things up. It'll be interesting to see if Capcom allows players to set their own custom rule sets, or if extreme matches will be limited to whatever Capcom comes up with. I'd love to see some customization options here, as players can be incredibly creative.

Throughout the Battle Hub, Capcom emphasized creativity, expression, and inclusivity, and it also came across in the general tone. While playing, I never saw harassment in the chat or the Battle Hub. The Battle Hub host, Eternity, is non-binary/gender fluid, which establishes from the start that all are welcome here. While there are likely to be a few bad apples once the retail launch comes around, here's hoping that Capcom's moderators work to preserve the friendly atmosphere of the beta.

When you don't feel like fighting or shopping, you can spectate other players. To keep populations manageable, there are multiple Battle Hub lobbies, but within a specific Battle Hub, all you have to do is walk up to a machine (including the classic games) and choose the spectate option to watch the current players as they battle it out. I wouldn't be surprised if "local" communities start to form on specific servers, with better-known players gathering crowds when they challenge each other. There is also a large spectator screen away from the games that shows global updates on win streaks. An information kiosk allows you to select from available broadcasts, view the day's MVP, and see who is on a winning streak.

Although it's still a bit too early to know exactly how Capcom will be using the spectate features, I can easily see a future where fans won't be sitting on Twitch or YouTube streaming a competition. Instead, they'll be inside the Battle Hub, watching a match play out in real time on their screen in full fidelity. Spectator mode within the Battle Hub allows for a great deal of information, including full inputs and frame data to be displayed. Casual fans may not be interested in that level of detail, but for dedicated players, having that all on hand while watching a tournament like EVO could be the way to go.

Speaking of casual players, that's another area where Capcom made a strong effort toward inclusivity. I'm far from the best Street Fighter player, but I was able to hold my own in both Battle Hub and casual matchups. Playing in training while waiting for someone else to join was a good way to slide back into the game and reactivate some muscle memory. For those completely new to the franchise, Street Fighter 6 gives you the option of a "modern" control scheme, which reduces the number of attack buttons and makes it easier to execute special moves. It appears to be a good way for new fans to learn the basics and get into the game before they worry about higher-level play. At the same time, it's not quite as simplified as the control scheme used on the GameCube version of Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO, which most players would consider unbalanced.

The only real downside to the Battle Hub — and something that I hope changes before release — is the fact that you can't choose your fighter after sitting down to play with someone. Having a preset player choice is fine for dedicated players, but sometimes you want to mix it up. Alternatively, you might want to choose based on who your opponent is to take advantage of weaknesses or play to your strengths. That's an element of the physical arcade that isn't replicated here. The same complaint holds after a match is finished. Choosing to rematch reloads with the same characters and stage. Offering up the option to select a different player and/or stage after choosing to continue playing would be a plus.

Looking back, it's funny really. When I first saw the images of the Battle Hub in Street Fighter 6 trailers, I wasn't impressed. After playing the beta, the Battle Hub is now my most anticipated part of the game. We already know that Capcom knows how to create a polished fighting engine; building a solid community from day one is the challenge. With the Battle Hub, Capcom is well on the way to defining what the online future of fighting games is going to look like. The game is going to draw people in. The Battle Hub social features are going to keep them coming back.

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