Oct 29, 2007
After all that “only PS3 can do Virtua Fighter 5” talk, we’re proud to say the 360 version is graphically superior - by some margin, in fact. Truthfully, the 360 sheen is so apparent in a direct HDMI cable switch comparison, it’s like looking at Soul Calibur 2 on Xbox compared to PS2. VF5’s here, online, and all is right with the world.
We wish our review could end there. But, sadly, that’s not the end of the story. You see, while it’s as hardcore as they come, supremely balanced and a fighting enthusiast’s wet dream, it plain refuses to pander to the average gamer. Whereas Virtua Fighter 2 found universal acceptance because of its gorgeous texture-mapped, 60fps graphics in 1995, this latest incarnation just isn’t flashy enough to win on graphics alone. And what’s left to ogle may well turn off more gamers than it turns on.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s still gorgeous - some of the cloth textures are so vibrant you’d swear they’ve just arrived from the tailor. But its 32-bit roots are starting to show through the next-gen gloss. The gameplay may have been refined for 12 years now, but it’s barely changed. It proves how revolutionary Virtua Fighter 2 really was for its time, but there’s something wrong when you can achieve decent success here using only those moves you learned over a decade ago.
But of course, you’d be missing out if you did. The controls are still the deceptively simple block/punch/kick (no evade, again shunning Virtua Fighter 3’s weakest addition), but the increased depth and variety of attacks is bewildering. One character alone will take you weeks to learn and months to master. Every move is triggered depending on a complex combination of foot position, d-pad direction and timing, length of depression, whether you’re rising, landing or have just just landed, and even extends to augmenting the move you just exited from. You can counter and parry and even feint to throw your opponent. Remarkably, it’s still highly intuitive - but that’s because it’s logical.
The 360 pad’s pressure-sensitive buttons are not best-suited to the precise instructions VF5 demands. While it’ll be fine for most, an arcade stick will be necessary for really serious Virtua Fighter gamers. As a neat touch, you can reassign individual buttons from the pause menu and then continue your brutality in relative comfort.
Being an enhanced version, we do get some bonus features, the biggest being the addition of full online play. It may not be as blindingly accurate as the offline mode, but let’s face it - how many gamers outside Japan really have the reflexes to notice when their ping time slows by three nanoseconds? For most of us, the occasional lag in online play won’t break our battle plan. We’re just happy to pull off Jeffry’s backbreaker. Deliberately.
The offline game’s simulated arcade trawl is now ultimately redundant thanks to the availability of human foes online. But it’s solid, rigorous practice for your next real opponent and unlocking the costume accessories is fiendishly addictive. The AI has been improved too and you’ll be surprised at how tactical a match can be.
However, the worst addition is that of commentary. Fortunately... no, vitally, it’s set to “off” by default. That’s because it is the most horrifying, brutal desecration of a gaming masterpiece we’ve ever witnessed. Two awful commentators have been dubbed flat on top of this serene work of Japanese art. It’s like someone has decided Kung Fu is basically the same as WWE and concluded the kids will get interested if it’s presented similarly. And you know what? It sits like a wet turd on a wedding cake.
Sadly, though, that commentary is there at all is just another sign that the series has reached a crossroads. VF has become so hardcore, it’s impossible to market to anyone new. This is the culmination of over a decade of evolution, and likely what Yu Suzuki had in his head when he dreamed up the 1993 original. But while fans will adore it, treasure it and possibly dedicate love poems to it, it’s quite possibly going to leave a lot of gamers pretty bored.
Us? We hold it in the highest esteem. It’s everything we loved and still love about VF. But we can’t give it a universal recommendation because it’s definitely not for everyone. In fact, it’s not even for most.