Back in October, CAPCOM gave a select few the first taste of the Street Fighter 6 experience with a closed beta test that let them try out the Battle Hub mode, a new lobby system that attempts to deliver new levels of interaction, compared to the systems seen in previous entries in the series, aiming to bring back the feel of a true arcade experience.
This month, the Japanese publisher delivered an early Christmas gift to fans of their legendary fighting game series, hosting a second closed beta test that features the same content as the first one and some minor balance and system tweaks. As such, players haven't been able to try out some of the newly revealed characters like Dee Jay, Manon, Marisa, and JP or returning World Warriors like E. Honda, Blanka, and Dhalsim, as the selection was limited to Ryu, Ken, Luke, Jamie, Kimberly, Guile, Chun-Li, and Juri.
Even with the limited content, there was a lot of fun to be had in the second beta. Having spent more time with this test than I could with the first, my opinion of the game has further improved, and I now feel Street Fighter 6 has an excellent chance of becoming the best entry in the series since Third Strike.
As the balance changes were minor, the second Street Fighter 6 closed beta played pretty much like the first. Unlike Street Fighter V, the next entry in the series will not be geared towards offense, lacking the almost endless pressure strings, multiple normals and specials with plus frames on block, and artificial comebacks, or robberies, as SFV players call them, with V-Trigger. Most characters' normals are negative on block, and the only way to make them plus on block is by canceling them into a Rush maneuver by spending a new resource called Drive.
This resource isn't used just for performing Drive Rush, which can also be used to close the distance with the opponent, but also for Drive Impacts, a defensive armored move that can absorb two hits and leave the opponent defenseless if it connects, Drive Parry, a frame 1 parry that can be extended by holding the buttons, and Drive Reversal, a reversal that can be unleashed while in blockstun. This new resource is also used to perform Overdrive special moves, the EX special moves seen in previous entries in the series.
There is a downside. If Drive is depleted, characters will enter a Burnout state, making them susceptible to Stun if Drive Impacted in the corner, and chip kills. The opponent's frame advantage on block will also be much higher, making the Burnout state dangerous even if in the middle of the screen and with high health.
Spending more time with Street Fighter 6 made me realize how genius the Drive mechanics are. Managing meter in a Street Fighter game is nothing new, but it has never been as important as with this upcoming entry. At the start of a round, both fighters start with a full bar. Still, it doesn't take long for it to get reduced, as all maneuvers using Drive are extremely strong. Most players will use them often to create openings, catch the opponents unaware or punish bad habits, such as stringing together attacks that are not real blockstrings.
This creates a tense and exciting neutral game. Overly aggressive players who use a lot of Drive to overwhelm the opponent are likely to end up in Burnout state, while those who are way too defensive will end up losing a ton of Drive, as it gets depleted by blocking, and risk Burnout themselves. There isn't a proper way to manage Drive, as players need to adapt to the situation and the opponent. With Drive Impact capable of punishing many moves and all normals being easy to whiff punish as well, it is clear that the days of mindlessly pressing buttons are gone.
Getting burned out, however, is not the end of the world, as it actually leads to what may be Street Fighter 6's best moments. During the around 400 matches played during the second closed beta, I have seen players handling the situation in very different ways. While many were backing off, waiting for the meter to get restored manually, others went unexpectedly on the offense, hoping to strike a combo ending with a Level 3 Super or Critical Art to speed up meter restoration.
Many others, once cornered, were ready for Drive Impacts that could lead to stun, creating some very tense situations where one mistake could be the end of the round for either player. These "staredown" situations were one of the highlights of my second closed beta experience. It remains to be seen whether these situations end up slowing the pace of matches, but for now, I have greatly appreciated these slower yet intense moments.
One more thing that spending more time with Street Fighter 6 made me realize is how all characters play great. In the first beta, I only spent time with Ryu, but in the second closed beta I started out with Ken and then moved on to Luke and tried out Guile and Jamie a little bit. After some Training Mode time to get comfortable with their normals and learn some basic combos, I jumped into some real matches, and I felt that those I only tried out could somewhat work for me with more training. In Street Fighter V, it took me a long time to settle on a character I felt comfortable with, and I never truly felt like learning other characters until late Season 3. Street Fighter 6, on the other hand, makes me want to learn all characters even before release, another testament to the amazing work CAPCOM is doing in character combat design.
With more players getting access to the second closed beta, I expected the online experience to be far less smooth than in the first, but that, thankfully, wasn't exactly the case, as the netcode handled most matches rather well, even when I was matched with players far from my location. Having had a limited time with the first beta, I wasn't particularly bothered by the automatic changes in input delay that kick in if ping increases past 100ms, but this time around, I definitely was. Unlike the first beta, where input delay changed during the match, in the second, it changed only between rounds, which did little to alleviate the issue as it was still annoying and required a little bit of adjustment mid-match, a big no-no in a competitive game. The whole point of rollback-based netcode is not to have changes in input delay during a game, so I hope CAPCOM will change things before the game releases later next year.
I honestly didn't think it was possible, but the latest Street Fighter 6 closed beta, even with its limited content, got me even more excited for the game. The downside is that it also made waiting even more difficult. June 2nd, when the game releases on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S, is still far away, but now I am almost certain that Street Fighter 6 will be a game to remember.