Virtua Fighter 5 [Xbox 360]

Virtua Fighter 5 (VF5) for the Xbox 360 is a very good game. Too easily dismissed as "˜just' another fighter, its deep gameplay and excellent online play make it an essential purchase for fighting game fans and worthy of serious consideration by everyone else.

Review by 1DGaf
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Staying faithful to the legacy of Virtua Fighter, the fifth version of the series offers a compelling blend of old and new. Predictably unforgiving for button-mashers, and endlessly rewarding for those willing to invest time, Virtua Fighter 5 is highlighted by the addition of online play, but is there more to explore in the aging franchise or has the fighting genre run out of ideas?

VF5's visuals make its arcade origins obvious with neon menus, bright eye-catching colors and blazing blue skies to catch the eye in a dark room, however the music, a collection of generic rock, techno and "˜Chinoiserie' isn't so alluring. Interestingly, for a game sporting the visual and aural antithesis of grimy realism and sombre motifs, its 17 fighters are comparatively normal, with a notable absence of fantasy characters or women with preposterous proportions. This hint of realism in an arcade fighter makes the character models, particularly the younger fighters, come off as bland, almost doll-like.

The game's animation is, however, consistently excellent. Throws and parries are particularly impressive and the fighters adopt stances recognizable from martial arts, and pop-culture kung fu flicks. Some characters are imbued with a kind of "˜bad guy insouciance' that's a treat to watch. Even the clothes are well animated, the sight of a Shaolin monk's saffron robes twisting and unfurling as he spins through the air being something to behold.

The fight environments are a standard affair -- modern looking arena, ancient ruins, Chinese bit and so on. However they're consistently attractive with atmosphere added using subtle lighting effects and touches such as cherry blossoms floating to the ground outside a Japanese temple and water droplets tracing your movements through the air in a rainy city at night.

While VF5's graphics are meant to attract, its control system seems designed to repel. Though you only need one joystick, in my case a Hori EX2 arcade-style stick, and three buttons (guard, punch and kick), moves can be daunting, demanding multiple button strikes and complicated joystick manipulation. Because of this, button mashing rarely works, so new players can be instantly put off.

Practicing against CPU opponents in the game's arcade and "˜quest' modes, the latter unlocking costumes and items for your character, is a virtual must for players not intimately comfortable with the control scheme. The game rewards players who focus on learning a particular fighter, and allows players to try out their options in the training area before settling. Realistically, VF5 requires four hours or more of "training" to understand the basics of any given character.

While the idea of having to train and practice is off-putting, something associated with work and contrary to the spirit of gaming, learning a character can be surprisingly fun. In a way it becomes a sort of self-created meta-game. A move is its own goal, its own indicator of progress; the first time you do one correctly, you'll feel you've achieved something, doubly so once you can do the move consistently.

Curiously, by being slightly inaccessible to new players, VF5 is actually more rewarding than many other games. Each match, whether against a person or the CPU, is an education. Every encounter will refine your timing and accuracy, constantly fine-tuning what you do. Until you become proficient with a fighter, the measure of your skill isn't your win/loss ratio but the consistency with which you fight.
When you are proficient, the way you think about the game changes. It's no longer about you, your brain and fingers getting married, hoping to have a lovely "˜combo', but about your opponent and spotting, creating and disrupting fighting patterns. If he likes to hit high, you duck and hit low. If he knows you'll attempt a throw, strike instead. As this happens you'll start to play more quickly, moving in and out of range, bouncing back and forth, judging distance and picking a time to attack.

As for VF5's highly promoted online play, it's about as bare-bones a system as it's possible to have. Where the single player offers multiple modes of play, the online aspect offers none of this. You just fight, either for fun or a persistent online rank.

Allowing for this paucity of options, the online play is very good, if not close to remarkable. In the wake of 200 matches against people from Western Europe and the United States, the vast majority of the matches felt lag free. Hardcore VF5 fans report that online play can throw off timing a little for "˜real-life' matches, but the ability to play reliably from London with someone in Ohio makes up for otherwise limited playtypes.

In short, Virtua Fighter 5 is a fantastic game. Just difficult enough to be tantalizing yet deep enough to be engrossing, you'd do yourself a disservice by ignoring it.

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- 1Dgaf

Comments

I don't know. I like my fighters, but the game's looks put me instantly off. The physics feel wrong and there's a plasticky look that's far worse than anything Dead Or Alive is guilty of. I still hope to get into it, but my enthusiasm is gone, based on the demo. I used to dig Virtua Fighter a lot, but I guess that's in the past.

Although the animation in the loading screen is great.

So... I was less impressed. It's not bad per say (I'm a long time VF fan) but a couple things really bothered to the point of grinding my teeth and walking away after a few days.

The basic game play is there and not bad at all but...

1. The bounding boxes are just wrong, blows and moves connect when they are way WAY out of distance. Kicks to the head are often very offensive in this regard. The VF series was historically pretty good about this, it's sad that they didn't carry pixel clipping forward better.
2. The constant loading and reloading is just plain annoying. Almost anything you do, or worse redo or continue from requires a big old neon screen load time.
3. Load times sucked.
4. more load time
5. load again
6. The environments where painfully static and pointless. Pretty, yes.

All and all I decided to pass and sent it back to game fly.. I might pick up some day but there are to many great game rolling out right now to blow $50 on vf5 instead of something else. Shame fighting game are usually my fav on consoles.

I've been a bit put off by the hardcoreosity of VF5. All the reviews go on about how it vomits in the pajamas of mashers, and how it's for the l33test of the l33t. After you mentioned it in the XBL message I downloaded the demo and gave it a go. I did quite enjoy it, and I beat all 4 opponents it'll give you with all 4 fighters you can choose without too much difficulty. But I know from previous experience that I've found the VF games impenetrable and I've always had more fun with the Tekken series. Yes, I'm a masher. I looked at the help screens in the demo and it just had a list of bloody chinese phrases with the button symbols next to it. I didn't have any problem with the graphics or the load times or anything like that. It seemed pretty enough for me, and only the bits where the fighters trash talk each other made me wince.

So my question would be: Are the training modes actually helpful for noobs like my good self? Will the game teach me how to play it properly? Or is the practical training mode just having your intestines handed to you by a succession of experts?

typo: >learning a particularly fighter

Nice review.

I think I'll wait for Soul Calibur 4.

The training modes are very useful. You can set the CPU to fight, stand still or react in certain, limited, ways.

Nice writeup! It's good that they spent some time on training modes at least. A complete novice can win a round or two in Soul Calibur, but when I wanted to improve my skills, Practice Mode didn't help me at all.

Nyles,

Thanks for the compliment but, as you know, the GWJ crew cast their eyes over the review and tweaked it; I can't take all the credit.

Griffon,

In a first draft I did I commented on the simplicity of the environments; they're like that to make the game fair. Whether you win or lose is based on your skill, not getting hit by a car (Dead or Alive 4), having an advantageous position (sloping roof in VF3) or just an awkwardly shaped ring (SOul Calibur).

If you're referring to the backgrounds not having any background animation, then I concur. However if I was more interested in the background than the game, then something would be wrong.

The loading times never bothered me; perhaps I was too busy thinking about how to play to notice the delay. I've not heard anyone else comment, but that's not to say you're alone.

In my first couple of games I noticed the collision detection, but I forgot about it soon afterwards.

I'll wait for SC. VF seem to be clunky to me and not responsive at all compared to the Soul Caliber series. The demo was pretty lacking It felt like I had played the game for years and hated it the whole time.

1Dgaf wrote:

Nyles,

Thanks for the compliment but, as you know, the GWJ crew cast their eyes over the review and tweaked it; I can't take all the credit.

Yeah, but I personally did absolutely nothing to help, besides finding one typo. So there.

I'm not likely to play a fighter game, but kudos for finding a fan to review it. I'm not suggesting all reviews should be positive (I love me some snark!) just that it makes sense to find a reviewer who likes a game than to just mindlessly slag on it.

Thanks 1dgaf, I'm not going to take your advice and play the game, but I enjoyed reading the review.

I've been playing a bit of Stalker lately, and really, really enjoying it. This makes me open to finding reasons to play games, rather than finding reasons not to. There are a lot of reasons not to play Stalker. There is a lot of room to criticize it, and I gave up in frustration once. BUT, once I figured out a few things, it is a really, really rich experience. In a year w/ Bioshock and the Orange Box, games with flaws or games that are hard to get into are easily lost. But the joy of finding a gem in the rough or a niche game (like virtua fighter) that addresses one's personal gaming preferences is just as enjoyable as finding a game that everyone agrees is nearly perfect.

There are a lot of crap games out there that are rightfully slagged by the gaming press. It is nice to be reminded that it is worth looking deeply at something or asking a fan of the genre to help find reasons to play a game. Quoting the same old reasons not to play something is all too easy.