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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
GENRE: Fighting
PLAYERS:   1-2
August 13, 2003
Virtua Fighter 5

Virtua Fighter 2

Virtua Fighter 5

Virtua Quest

Virtua Quest

More in this Series
 Written by Adam Woolcott  on August 29, 2003

Review: Or, how to take what was already good, and make it great.

To many fighting fans, last year's Virtua Fighter 4 was easily the best PlayStation 2 fighter, and perhaps the deepest, most challenging 3D fighting game ever made. It hit it off with critics and PS2 owners alike, as the game was very well received and earned Greatest Hit status late last year. However, it seems that Sega-AM2 wasn't done with VF4, and some 18 months later, here we are again with Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution. More than just a mere suffix, VF4 Evo is a mass fine-tuning, adding a much deeper Quest to go along with the arcade gameplay, and much-improved visual performance. The result is an excellent fighting game that is refined and different enough from VF4 that it's well worth upgrading. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Sega has released Evolution for a measly $20 bucks ? and has replaced VF4 as the GH version of the game. The price tag alone is worth recommending Evolution, as you can find few, if any fighting games with the depth of this one for such a low price.

Along with the returning Arcade and Training modes, VF4 Evo has 2 new features. First off, there's the Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary ? while the original VF game isn't technically inside the disc, what it does is skin the entire game in the graphics style of the original VF arcade and Saturn game. The moves are the same from VF4, the characters are the same, but the backgrounds, stages, music, and even the VF rule system are all from the classic fighter. This is available from the outset, though slightly hidden in the option menus?once you find it though, it's old-school goodness, complete with creepy-ass 32 bit faces.

In addition to that, VF4 Evo's biggest new addition is the Quest feature. Similar to the Kumite mode, Quest mode actually enhances that gameplay element, and makes it 10x deeper. When you choose a character, you give them a ring name and they get ranked, like Kumite, only instead it's your ?arcade? nickname. This is because Quest mode consists of going from arcade to arcade, defeating the ?players? who frequent the establishment. The goal is to complete a particular objective to unlock the tournament that you must beat to advance to more difficult arcades. These objectives could mean beating 20 opponents at this arcade, beating half of the competitors, or beating the various objectives. These objectives range from making 10 evasion attacks in a fight to beating Akira twice in a row. Victory not only progresses through the arcades, it also improves your rank a la Kumite mode. Along the way, you also earn money or prizes ? the money you make allows you to buy accessories to customize your fighter with, be it silly stuff or costume changes, and also unlocks fluffy stuff like movies for different characters. There's hundreds of things to buy and/or unlock, keeping you busy for quite some time. The Quest mode is absolutely the meat of the single player game, and as long as you get into the gameplay, it will suck hours up playing, advancing through the increasingly tough arcades.

There's also two new characters brought into the party ? Brad, a muay thai kickboxer, and Goh, the weird-ass goth guy. All the other VF4 characters return, bringing the total to 15, all of which can be used in any of the playmodes.

As was with the original Virtua Fighter 4, the hand-to-hand combat of Evolution is incredibly deep and refined to really benefit players who bother to actually learn moves, though it has been refined to help newbies along, yet still crush them like little ants at the same time. Button-mashing is frowned upon, and actually won't get you far, especially against tough opponents. As such, you do have to develop some sort of technique to advance, even if you use repetitive moves. The game is balanced well, but some characters are very tough to learn for their complexity (Akira), making them not the right choice for newbies. The gameplay is still fast, but not so fast that it turns into a battle of mashing ? enough to allow for some good strategy, but also enough to unload on an opponent with his guard down very quickly. The PS2 controller works very well with VF4, and allows for much ease in learning the techniques needed to improve. Playing the training mode will also help along, as it tests the most difficult parts of the game (like, you know, blocking, which is the thing most people learn last). The gameplay isn't as graceful as, say, Soul Calibur II, but it is deep and can be rewarding if you don't lose the patience to learn.

Admittedly, it is the deep, tough learning curve that can be the downfall of the game. If you don't get the proper skills down, VF4 Evo can become fairly boring, lacking flash with combos and regular moves. If it's just a kick, punch, it's all in the mind affair, it can get highly repetitive and leads to the game hitting the trade-in bin faster than it should. Not only does learning effective moves increase the depth of the game (which can be discovered by simply screwing around and hitting button combinations sometimes), it also makes the contests much more exciting. It also can help reduce the challenge ? even on the easiest settings, you can get your ass beat easily if you just assault with basic moves ? eventually someone will be on to you and lay the smacketh down. Especially in the Quest mode, with the ultra-tough AI based on real VF4 arcade players in Japan (yes, they have lots of arcades there, you can sit down now and bow your head for the once-great American game arcade). Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution has a tendency to challenge you, no matter what the skill level. It's your patience that determines how much you want to play, however.

Of course, the multiplayer contests can be extremely lopsided ? simply, a button-mashing opponent will get flattened and embarrassed by a veteran VF4 player, in no time flat. Battles between experienced players, however, can be incredible tests of skill, with fights lasting the entire time limit and sometimes ending without a knockout for either side. While other games in its genre like Tekken tend to use button mashing to even the odds against skill players, VF4 Evolution forces these players to learn how to play before challenging experienced fighters.

Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution is much more visually polished than it's predecessor. Gone are the rough edges, jaggies, and an overall unpolished feel of the original game, replaced by a level of polish that makes the game look beautiful. The characters are a bit ?shinier? than previous, but it all seems okay. The environments are also refined with plenty of background details and special tricks. Animations are the same from the previous VF4 game, meaning its fluid to watch, if not as graceful as SCII. Still, it looks good in action and nothing looks like its fake or missing some frames of animation. If you've played VF4, Evolution will look like a whole new game ? if you haven't, it will be one of the best looking fighters on the PlayStation 2.

The sound hasn't been changed all that much from VF4 ? so expect silly voice acting that is about par for fighting games (though at least its in English), awesome-yet-cheesy music that ranges from Sega-rock (you know what Sega-rock is, cheese rock) to more oriental themed tunes. All your typical grunts and groans are here as well, and occasionally the backgrounds have some noises (for instance, Jacky's stage with the helicopter hovering, and Sarah's stage with the stone falling down and lighting & thunder striking) to further round out the audio. It's all fairly common stuff for a fighting game.

Bottom Line
If you've got the patience, Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution is a fine 3D fighter, perhaps the best non-weapons fighter on the PS2. It does require a level of skill to really get the most out of it, meaning fighting newbies might want to get Tekken 4 or Mortal Kombat before giving this a try. If you do have the skills, you can find a very deep game, with a loaded Quest mode that will challenge and probably frustrate at the same time. Given the low price as well, VF4 Evo is one of the best buys on the PS2 ? and well worth buying again even if you have the original. After all, Sega has taken a good fighting game and made it absolutely great.

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