Published on June 25th, 2012 | by Mike Thomas0
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown Review (PS3/Xbox 360)
Ryu, Ken, Scorpion, Sub-Zero,…drop those names in front of the average gamer and odds are they’ll know who and what you’re talking about. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are part of most gamers vocabulary (even if the thought of analysing frame data and damage scaling within combos can threaten to put them in a coma), but mention Akira, Sarah, and Lau? Mention anyone from the Virtua Fighter roster and chances are you’ll get a blank look for your trouble.
And that’s a big problem.
Those who know Virtua Fighter don’t need to spend a second reading a review of VF5 Final Showdown because they’re mainly hardcore. These are people who own arcade sticks with Sanwa parts, every day they spend hours in training mode perfecting combos and strategies etc. If a donkey were to ask these people why they love VF it would probably lose all four legs within 10 to 15 minutes of them waxing lyrical. – To put it bluntly, they know what the game is all about and they don’t need a web site to tell them it’s brilliant.
So that just leaves the general population for whom those aforementioned names mean sod all. Those gamers who will probably take one glance at this latest iteration of VF5 and wonder what the hell the fuss is about. When the original version of the game appeared on the PS3 in 2007 it had the power to realign jaws (especially if you were a European and it happened to be one of the first games you bought for Sony’s shiny new console) but now while the character animation is fluid and lighting effects still hold up well, there’s little to wow the graphics conscious; character models have a strange waxy sheen while backgrounds lack detail when compared to say, Street Fighter IV.
To the casual eye, everything just appears sterile, the game and its fighters lack personality. Gameplay-wise, first impressions won’t be much better, after all, how deep can a fighting game be if it only uses three buttons, one of which is dedicated to blocking? It can’t offer anywhere near as many moves as Tekken, that has one button for each of a fighters arms and legs, Street Fighter uses six attack buttons etc. etc.
Frankly though, if that’s your opinion of Virtua Fighter, you’re missing the point. For all its visual blandness and the almost complete absence of character, Final Showdown represents the pinnacle of 3D fighting.
Why? One word: purity.
Virtua Fighter keeps things (deceptively) simple. If you want to throw a punch you only need to tap a button, the same goes for kicks. What’s important is how you use those attacks, how you time them as opposed to how quickly you can press the button. It’s a more intuitive system than those used by most fighting games, a beginner can pick up a controller and find themselves stringing together combos without really thinking about it. At first you’ll think that your options are limited to a handful of punches, kicks and throws but a quick look at a character’s command list reveals dozens upon dozens of moves, (more than enough to rival anyone in Namco’s fighters for example) all performed simply by tapping directions and three buttons, yet at the same time it offers no reward to those who randomly mash inputs like Animal. – The beauty of the system is that encourages players to think of tactics above anything else, concentrate on watching their opponent’s moves and how best to counter them instead of how quickly they can input a ten hit string or input one directional sequence to cancel another etc.
Which, ironically, is why the game may well scare off some players once they venture online. While the basics are easy to learn and commands aren’t exactly complicated, Virtua Fighter has always been seen the preserve of the hardcore simply because it places emphasis on ‘the head game.’ Beating CPU opponents with a limited range of moves can’t prepare you for your first bout against flesh and blood and you’ll likely take a lot of beatings before you even come close to winning a match because most of the people you’ll be fighting won’t be beginners, they’re the players alluded to at the start of the review. They won’t all be top tier but at the very least they’ll have experience with the series, which means you’ll have to develop a thick skin and be prepared to spend time in training mode if you want to get anywhere.
Still, while this is partly due to the depth of the game and type of players who generally play it, the game’s online options don’t exactly help matters. Whereas most games allow players to search for opponents who are both roughly at the same skill level and in the same region, Final Showdown just gives you option to search for players by region which basically means that you can waste a lot of time searching through a lobby for someone who looks anywhere near your level or might have a decent connection. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does mean that you might find yourself thrown in at the deep end sooner than you’d like and experience laggy fights with opponents hundreds of miles away.
What is a deal breaker is the game’s approach to fighter customisation and costumes. Earlier PS3 and 360 ports of VF5 featured a single player ‘quest’ mode which pitted players against A.I. opponents in virtual arcades and which rewarded them with new items of clothing that could be used to customise a character. This round though Sega have decided to offer these items in DLC packs instead, at £3.69 or 400MS points…with 19 characters that’s roughly £70 (give or take), seven times the cost of the game itself. To be fair a ‘complete edition’ is currently available exclusively on PlayStation Network for £19.99 which throws in all the DLC, alongside two bundle packs at £9.99* (also available on Xbox Live for 1200 MSP each), but as a package, the standard £9.99/1200MSP still feels like something of a rip-off.
Looking at Final Showdown purely in terms of gameplay it’s as close to perfect as the one-on-one fighting gets. It’s easy to learn yet difficult to master, potentially offering years of play for those willing to give it time, but as a package, it’s lacking. The presentation is woeful (menus look as though they were knocked up during someone’s lunch break on Photoshop), online search options are limited and there’s too much DLC. No one should expect a PSN or Live Arcade title to match up to a retail release, but seeing as the two previous disc-based releases of VF5 included Final Showdown’s DLC (or at least most of it) as part of the package, the decision to release the definite version of the game without it feels like a money grabbing exercise.
Putting the DLC issue to one side though, this is still the best 3D fighter in the business and, if you’re a PS3 owner who bemoaned the original port’s lack of online play, it’s is an almost essential purchase. On the other hand, if you’re 360 owner who’s already enjoyed VF5 online, you’ll have to ask yourself if three extra fighters and balancing tweaks are worth 1200 MSP. But whoever you are, if you’re a fighting game fan it’s not so much a question of whether you should buy this game, it’s more a question of how much of the game you’re willing to buy.
Rating 8.5 out of 10
*May not be available in some regions as this review goes online
This game was Tested on PS3