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Virtua Fighter 4 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Virtua Fighter 4 (PlayStation 2) review


"There was a time when fighting games were as common as raindrops. Every day there were a few new ones released, mostly identikit, and mostly decidedly average affairs. This was due to the incredible success of Street Fighter 2, by Capcom. Clones were releaesed with frightening regularity, and the genre very nearly died due to over-exposure. The limits of what was possible were reached very quickly, or so people thought. However, nobody was prepared for what SEGA was cooking up in the background...."



There was a time when fighting games were as common as raindrops. Every day there were a few new ones released, mostly identikit, and mostly decidedly average affairs. This was due to the incredible success of Street Fighter 2, by Capcom. Clones were releaesed with frightening regularity, and the genre very nearly died due to over-exposure. The limits of what was possible were reached very quickly, or so people thought. However, nobody was prepared for what SEGA was cooking up in the background.

When Virtua Fighter was released, people were simply stunned. This was the first time that a fighting game had stepped into the 3rd dimension, and it worked beautifully. Basic characters were given basic attacks, because the hook of the game was the polygonal nature, and the effect of actually moving in different planes. Also, the game was pushing an immense amount of polygons around, and the technology of the time couldn't really cope with additional pyrotechnics. Compared to many of the 2D fighters, Virtua Fighter was a decidely low-key affair. However, the game was a massive hit, and a sequel was inevitable.

By this time though, technology was catching up. So when SEGA unveiled Virtua Fighter 2, people were totally blown-away. The games was quite simply jaw dropping, a true graphical quantum leap. Of course, the original game had plenty of fans, so SEGA decided to stick with the same control system. One button each for Punch, Kick, and Guard. This may sound really basic, but SEGA managed to hide a literally astonishing amount of depth inside this control system. Each character had hundreds of moves and combos, but the game was held closer to realism than pyrotechnic overdose. No fireballs, or teleports, or other similarly impossible moves. Just punches, kicks, and particularly devastating throws. No-one had ever seen such choice in physical attacks before. In Japan especially, the game was a phenomenom.

Another sequel followed, one which tried to change things. This was not a success, the hardcore especially objecting to the new 'evade' button. So, these ideas were dropped, and SEGA started work on another sequel to Virtua Fighter 2. Yes, it really should be pointed out that this is NOT a sequel to Virtua Fighter 3, but a sequel to 2. Unfortunately, SEGA hit financial troubles and left the hardware market, and this is why one of their most massive franchises is exclusively available on a Sony machine.

I'll say it right away. If you are one of those Sony owners who had been raised on a diet of Tekken, then this game may well not be for you. You may think that Tekken has depth, but you really haven't seen anything quite like this. In Virtua Fighter, there are virtually no unblockable attacks. The onus is more on defense. Sure, there are ways to completely overpower your opponent, but by and large the person who gets hit the least wins. Think of the game as more of a martial arts simulator, where counters and reversals are preferable to blocks, and you might get the idea.

Virtua Fighter 4 looks even better than ever. Yet it still hides behind a very simplistic control system, and an almost insultingly limited choice of fighters. And yet, from such humble things, a game of real quality shines through. It is anything but easy to master, and this has to be pointed out. For many, this game will simply be just too difficult. But, that is where the training mode comes in. Virtua Fighter 4 has what has to be the single most intensive training regime ever commited to disc. You have the standard free training, where you can simply learn what button presses activate what attacks. Then there is trial mode, where the computer actually shows you the best times to use attacks, and sometimes the best attacks to use. And then you have the ground-breaking AI training, where you get to teach a computer controlled character how to play the game. This is invaluable for teaching you your own limitations, because you could just teach the AI one type of attack and then learn how to counter it, and add more attacks as time goes on. Quite amazingly, the best way to learn turns out to be teaching!

Once you have learned how to play, you can then retry the standard arcade mode. And this time you will be able to beat more than the first 2 opponents. Or maybe try the Vs mode against friends. In both of these, you can now pick from 2 new characters. Shaolin Monk Lei-Fei, and American Muay-Thai boxer Vanessa Lewis. Both bring new tactics to the party. Vanessa is particularly good for cheap victories against the CPU, while Lei-Fei starts off feeling like a button-masher friendly character, but soon reveals himself to be so much more.

And then the crowning glory of the game is the new 'Kumite' mode. Here, you get to fight a seemingly endless stream of opponents, with ranking points rewarded to the winner. As you attain higher ranks, you fight harder opponents. But, you also unlock items to customise your fighters appearance. And you can save your fighter to memory card so you can fight against your friends. You can also save your AI to memory card, and hopefully watch it lay the smackdown on all and sundry.

Throughout its life, the Virtua Fighter series has ploughed a lone furrow. This has never been a series based on sensationalism, more one of discipline. Skill at the game counts more in this title than almost any other. In fact, this level of difficulty may be too off-putting for many. Newcomers to the series really do have to go through training mode to even stand a chance at first, it is simply not possible to bluff your way past anyone beyond the first couple of CPU opponents. There are times when you will shout at the screen because you simply can not hit the other character, it seems to be psychically blocking or evading all your attacks. Yet, stick with the game, and an understanding soon breaks through. And you learn to block and evade yourself, and suddenly fights take on a new level of tension. No longer is it about just blindly attacking so much that the opponent will eventually get hit. No, these fights become mind-games, and 2 skilled players will have genuine see-saw battles that last the entire time limit.

If you are a fan of fight games in general, then it is recommended that you try this one out immediately. If you are not a huge fan of fight games, then you should probably not even bother. This is definitely one for the purists out there. This is a game that you will either love or hate. It is unquestionably the ultimate example of one particular type of game, unfortunately the type of game is not the most popular these days.

Rating: 7/10

cheekylee's avatar
Community review by cheekylee (November 19, 2002)

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