Back when arcades were still populated (do they even exist anymore?), fighting games used to have perpetual crowds gathered around, top players getting more than their money’s worth as they took on all challengers. That concept is the basis of the quest mode in “Virtua Fighter 5,” in which players navigate a city map with different arcade venues to challenge computer players of various skill levels. It’s a strange way to do a one-player mode, as it takes away any semblance of story while mimicking a multi-player experience. An online arcade and tournament setup would be preferred, but even an occasional blip of lag (all but unavoidable without massive dedicated servers) would have losers in every match crying foul, as precise split-second timing is crucial in these games. So it’s understandable (though still disappointing) that there’s no online mode, but there still should have been a real story mode.
The controls are most suited for an arcade stick, but most players will get by with the standard controller, which uses the shoulder buttons for otherwise awkward combinations of the action buttons. There are a large number of available moves per player, but the difference is largely cosmetic, with many of the moves having similar reach and damage. While button-mashing can get players pretty far, mastering the right moves for the right time does make a difference. Different characters have a nice variety of fighting styles, and earning points in quest mode lets players buy new outfits and accessories to customize their favorite characters.
The best thing “Virtua Fighter 5” has going for it is the graphics, which are unbelievably gorgeous. Textures, lighting and movements during fights are better than even recent pre-rendered stuff in last-generation games, yet moves are instant, without any sluggishness. One stage has snow on the ground that characters’ feet make paths in during the fight, which carry on between rounds. Graphics don’t make a game, although the fighting genre doesn’t have much else to set games apart.
Those who have the room (and friends) to host their own tourneys will get a lot more play out of “Virtua Fighter 5” than those without. Everyone else will have to compete against a city of virtual arcade goers, which isn’t quite the same. But it sure does look nice in high-definition.