And now for VF5’s crowning glory – the visuals. If Dead or Alive 4 had the black-belt in fighting-game graphics, VF5 rips it off, tears it into pieces, and shoves the bits back down its throat. Close-up, the characters are astonishingly detailed, and if the skin is a little rubbery looking, you have to admire the textures and imperfections. During combat, you can’t help but admire the superb cloth and material effects – including, fetish fans, the best implementation of leather ever seen in a video-game – not to mention the intricate patterns and ornamentation. What really raises the benchmark, however, are the arenas themselves. It’s hard to know which I like best: the rain soaked, urban scene with its reflective puddles? The desert ruin, where you fight in a pool of water that ripples and splashes around your fighter’s feet? The mist-shrouded temples on the Great Wall of China? The shrine with its servants sweeping in the background? If you’re watching, rather than playing, you could spend hours just trying to catch all the little details that Sega has thrown in to make this the most spectacular fighting game since Soul Calibur first appeared on Dreamcast.
Even a glance will tell you that we’re leagues ahead of some of DoA4’s poorly integrated environments with their missing shadows or roaming critters (though that game’s jungle temple and Japanese gardens might stand more comparison). For now, we’ll say it’s a glowing testament to the PS2’s power, but we’ll be very interested to see what the Xbox 360 version looks like when we see it in a few months’ time.
Basically, it’s hard to think of an area where VF5 slips up. The music is dodgy, I’ll admit, but the sound effects are as excellent as they were in Virtua Fighter 4, so the only major gripes are the lack of online play and the feeling that it wouldn’t have hurt Sega to be slightly more adventurous. By being conservative, it has created one of the strongest, tightest, most perfectly wrought fighting games ever, but this isn’t a game that redefines a genre in the way that Resident Evil 4 did the horror game or Half Life 2 did the FPS. I can’t see the fans complaining, but there’s still plenty of scope for Sega to surprise us next time around.
A sublime fighting game, albeit one that doesn’t move too far from Virtua Fighter’s roots. Still, the beautiful visuals and superbly balanced game mechanics make this the new beat ‘em up to beat.