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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Virtua Fighter 5
(Sega for Playstation 3)

Sega's Virtua Fighter 5 crashes onto the Playstation 3 with an intense fighting engine, deep play mechanics, multiple modes of play and incredible graphics. The gameplay remains as complicated, elegant and involving as previous games, with the addition of two new characters and a tweaked set of moves. VF 5 looks amazing with nearly photo-realistic environments and beautifully rendered fighters that make a feast for the eyes. It offers the solid arcade gameplay players have come to expect along with additional modes of play that offer increased customization and challenge. This is definitely the best-looking and playing Virtua Fighter yet, making for another superb installment in the long running martial arts franchise.

It's hard to imagine, but Sega's Virtua Fighter series has been going strong for more than a decade now since it first appeared in arcades. Each consecutive installment seems to refine and improve upon the last, and this fifth edition on the Playstation 3 is no exception to this rule. The game offers some of the tightest, most challenging fighting on the market. It definitely lives up to the series' reputation and builds on it with some exciting and challenging gameplay. The game offers several modes of play including a standard arcade mode where you can battle a series of AI opponents. There's also the expected Vs. mode where you can battle another player at the same time. The game's bonus features include trailers and a mode where can also view cinematics and replays called VF TV. For beginners, there's also a Dojo training mode where you can learn the basics and practice your moves. Here, you can set up a dummy opponent to trade blows with and practice your blocking, special attacks and combo moves without worrying about the clock or your health bar. The most interesting part of the game is Virtua Fighter 5's Quest mode, where you can battle against other players and work your way up through the rankings in various arcades. As you beat opponents, your record gets better and you can increase your level. You can start off at any number of arcades on the screen and play through ranking matches with your character. As you defeat them, you can also enter prize contests where you can win items that can be used to create a customized appearance for your fighter. After earning these extras, players can save their character data to the memory card and use it in the other modes. This is an elaborate system and while it seems overly complicated, the benefit allows you to take a fighter and evolve them through your experience. The drawback with this system is that it consumes a great deal of data and increases the load times on start up significantly. Waiting for the data to load can be a pain in the neck, but it's this level of complexity and depth that helps make Virtua Fighter 5 so compelling in the first place. These modes don't offer the bells and whistles of other games, but VF5 still offers plenty of depth and challenge. One big letdown is the lack of multiplayer support, which is a slight disappointment these days.

Once you get into the ring, you'll find that the game's basic mechanics and approach haven't changed, you still have the three basic buttons: punch, kick and block to use, with an almost infinite number of combinations and tactics to use in each battle. As you get deeper into the game, you find there are numerous strategies that you can use depending on your stance, your opponent and where you are on the screen. Each character has a very specific set of moves and attacks they can use and performing the more advanced techniques requires practice, timing and skill to execute. Knowing when to attack, which moves leave you vulnerable and for how long is one the key strategies you'll need to master. Unlike many of the other cheaper fighting games on the market, this is an incredibly deep game. The longer you play, the more techniques and skills you'll master, which makes VF5 an even more satisfying experience. This installment doesn't really offer much in the way of dramatic innovation, more like incremental changes, such as new blocking and attacking techniques. The biggest change are the two new characters, a wrestler named El Blaze and a young Chinese girl named Eileen. Both of these new addition compliment the existing cast perfectly and bring a more varied fighting style to an already diverse lineup of fighters. The game's balance and depth remains almost flawless with most characters' faults and strengths well balanced through multiple matches Those who've enjoyed the previous installments will find a lot to like under the hood, but those new to the series might feel themselves overwhelmed. It's a bit intimidating to get into the game at first, but once you master its rhythms and discover the timing, you'll be able to anticipate and counter most of the moves that come your way. There are many factors that can affect the outcome of the battle, and you'll need to really get good at the game before you can factor in the frame counts, which are really a fancy way of figuring out how long it takes your character to perform an attack and when your opponent will strike back. Knowing how to counter certain moves, which are the most effective and cause the most damage is a tricky task, but most players should be able to get by with the basic moves without becoming too frustrated.

While the basic gameplay mechanics and feel of Virtua Fighter are very much in evidence, the most immediate change players will notice comes in the superb presentation and visuals. The game definitely represents a significant step forward in terms of detail and presentation and is definitely the most polished in the series yet. It's character models are significantly improved with better animation that leads to a more natural appearance. Each character's facial expressions, movement and attacks feel more grounded in reality and the level of detail in the models is astonishing. The physical structure of each character is really impressive and the game's effects now include sweat that looks realistic on the fighters, especially when they reflect in the sunlight or shadows. Everything has been rendered in a remarkable level of detail. Even the player's outfits and clothing has also been significantly enhanced, and you can see this dramatically in the cut-scenes, where you can see the fabric and stitching on the character's outfits. It's quite an astonishing effect, and makes for an especially convincing appearance overall. Virtua Fighter 5's graphics engine definitely shows off the PS3's processing power. It's elaborate stages and environments are some of the most convincing and detailed in the series to date and range from lush waterfall stages to abandoned temples. Each of the game's stages showcases an incredible level of detail with beautiful light sourcing and weather effects. The quality here is astonishing - you can see individual flower petals kicked up as you battle through one stage, while another sets you in the middle of a pond with realistic water physics. This level of detail has the combined effect of making Virtua Fighter 5 far and away, the best looking game in the series to date, with a level of realism that exceeds anything else on the market to date.

Given Virtua Fighter 5's less is more approach to it's button configuration, it should come as no surprise that the standard controller does an excellent job controlling the action. Players can use either the d-pad or the analog stick to control movements, while the shift buttons can be assigned to perfom combos automatically. The system hasn't changed dramatically from previous games, so veteran players should be able to jump right in with ease. Virtua Fighter 5 also supports Hori's excellent arcade stick and this controller is a superb addition that makes the game feel much more authentic, though the device is a bit pricey since it's not backward compatible with PS2 fighters. Overall, Sega and AM2 have delivered another solid installment in the long running franchise. The depth and sophistication of its moves marks this as one of the best fighting games on the market and players can spend many hours mastering its moves. VF 5's quest mode is also surprisingly challenging and helps to fine tune your strategies and techniques in an engaging approach. From an aesthetic standpoint, the game's slick production values and brilliantly rendered environments and characters makes for a visual feast that shouldn't be missed. Despite missing online play, Virtua Fighter 5 is still a superb installment in this outstanding series that should please hardcore fighting game fans.

- Michael Palisano


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