The series that ignited the 3D fighting genre has returned to dish out more punishment. From the renowned team at SEGA-AM2, led by Virtua Fighter and Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki, comes Virtua Fighter 4 for the PlayStation® 2 computer entertainment system. This new version of the definitive hand-to-hand martial arts sim features fully-optimized graphics designed to harness the power of the PlayStation 2. But it’s not just about looks, and VF4 delivers an extremely deep fighting system, highly-tuned AI, and two new characters hungry for their place at the top. If you are new to the Virtua Fighter series, the in-depth training system will teach you the art of combat, move-by-move. Rewards await those who master every move, and you can expect to unlock a few secret techniques along the way. The series that started it all is back, and ready to stand triumphant again on the PlayStation 2.
Virtua Fighter 4 has enjoyed its share of hype over the past few months. The screenshots and movies all pointed to a game that was returning to its roots, stripping away the frillery of multi-leveled fighting and sumptuous water effects, and getting back to the hardcore fighting engine of the previous versions that garnered both praise and criticism. There was a time when the only three games in town were Tekken, Street Fighter, and Virtua Fighter, in the heyday of double-seat arcade units and one-dollar-per-play tolls – now you’re talking about $300 consoles and high-end graphics that would have killed a PC back then.
Brawl is in Your Court
The graphics look much closer to Tekken Tag Tournament than they do to the last revision of Virtua Fighter for the Dreamcast. Virtua Fighter 3tb was more about design and style, competing with the smooth look and polished feel of Dead or Alive 2. The polygons were beautiful to watch, and the backgrounds almost overtook the gameplay with their brilliance and semi-multi-tiered levels, but the game lacked definition in the fighting engine. Virtua Fighter 4 goes the opposite route, using a grittier, less polished look (although still showing flashes of high-end dazzle), with deeper colours and less focus on the backgrounds, but far more animation in the fighters. When Aoi performs a rising attack, you see her long pant legs flow from beneath her like wings; when Shun-Di does his Drunken Monkey moves, you’re eyes spin while trying to follow his effortless dance. The last character you fight, Dural, looks sexy and sleek in her metallic body, with full reflective lighting in her frame that’s amazing to see.
The sounds bring back memories of past VF games, with the chimes used for character selection, and the usual eternal guitar solo that haunted past games. The music is faulty – it’s just dated and seems even more so with the updated look and feel of the game. There are exclamations from all of the characters, and although they don’t exactly inspire fright in your opponents, they are good audio clues as to when an opponent is gearing up for an attack – when Jeffrey or Wolf start grunting, you’re in for a throw. There’s also a smooth modulated female voice announcing all the special features, along with an overzealous male ring announcer. But the majority of the sound effects revolve around the solid flesh-smacking and bone-crunching moves, and they fit the game well. When you get hit, you feel, you hear it, and you experience it.
The Other Side of Defense
The controls are some of the easiest to master initially, but for those who want more depth, there are plenty of reversals, throws, and long combos to fill out the roster. VF has always been a more defensive fighting game than others, and this one is no exception. Mixing up the high, mid, and low kicks and punches are crucial in VF4, because the game is designed with blocking, moving, and evading in mind. It’s not simply an all-out brawl where the one who punches the fastest wins, but rather an elegant and more balanced fighting game, where knowing the combos is not enough – knowing when to use them and how to counter them counts for something as well.
Virtua Fighter 4 has been anticipated since its announcement over a year ago, and Sega and AM2 have certainly kept up their end of the bargain, bringing a game to market that is a visual splendour, and will keep fighting fans busy for a while. Just when you think you’ve mastered the game, you find another combo, or an irregularity in another character to exploit, and you’re back in the fray once again. A good fighting game should possess a large amount of stamina – Virtua Fighter 4 is nothing if not robust.