The OG 3D is back in the house
It’s pretty astonishing that Virtua Fighter 5’s base can still hold its own next to the likes of Tekken 7 and Street Fighter 5 considering it first launched in 2006, though not everything matches up to our modern expectations.
With the newly remastered Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown releasing on the PlayStation 4 earlier this week, we sat down to put its gameplay, available modes and netcode to the test to see just how powerful this updated package is.
I will start this off by saying I’m not exactly a VF super-fan by any stretch. Most of my experience with the franchise came from playing around with Final Showdown and the older titles within the Yakuza titles’ arcades.
While I’m not going to be an expert when it comes to the finer mechanics, I can still provide analysis for the full experience, especially as someone attempting to really get into the franchise for the first time.
Ultimate Showdown makes a fairly strong first impression on its main menu with a feature that I hope more fighting games adopt in the future.
If you stay on the home screen for a few seconds, the game will load up a random online match replay, which is a neat way to capture its new eSports approach while also harkening back to the days of walking by an arcade cabinet and seeing random dudes playing or the demo matches.
As for the modes you can actually select from that menu, Ultimate Showdown offers players ranked matches and room matches front and center to continue the theme along with Training, Arcade and Versus though the tournament mode feature isn’t available to play right now.
For those trying to learn the game for the first time, the Tutorial is an absolute must because it covers the most important mechanics Virtua Fighter has to offer from inputs and strikes to side-stepping and throw breaks. It would be nicer if it offered deeper descriptions of them, like for recoveries and certain attacks, but what’s there does the job to get things started.
Similarly, Command Training will also be a useful tool to learn a bunch of combos, and boy is there a lot to try and remember. Obviously, not all of the strings are going to be useful in normal circumstances, so it’s best not to get intimidated by each character’s long movelist.
Instead of just simply going in order of said movelist, however, Command Training would be more helpful if it highlighted the commonly used and go-to attacks of the bunch or offered the option to make players complete them multiple times before moving on to the next.
The final piece of the training puzzle is Training mode itself, which comes packing some really neat features along with a few odd exclusions that hold it back from being truly great.
Ultimate Showdown’s in-depth input display is perhaps Training’s best feature considering it uses a constant frame counter that will tell you clearly if you pressed punch on the sixth frame or the eighth, so it’s extra useful to get down the timing needed to perform some specific inputs, which is going to come up the farther down the movelist you go.
Frame data and attack stats are another important aspect of Ultimate Showdown’s learning process, so you can determine which pokes leave you at advantage on block and what combos are going to make you eat a fat retaliation if guarded against.
The problem with these nice inclusions, however, is that they both can’t be used at the same time. You’ll just need to switch between frame timing and frame data depending on which is most needed at the time.
It is also nice Sega included display markers to show what strings can be avoided by side-stepping in certain directions when performed, but it’d be much better if it also did the same for teching throws.
Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown does not use rollback netcode, which is a bummer considering that’s the direction the scene’s been moving towards for years now, but it’s understandable with the game clearly being put together with something of a tight budget. Sega is also not exactly known for their online multiplayer outside of like Phantasy Star Online 2.
Even with the older delay-based netplay, all of my couple dozen of matches remained completely playable outside of a handful of hiccups, and that was enough to impress me a good bit.
The worst bit of lag I personally ran into online was a single round of a set that slowed down to a crawl for about 10 seconds, but the rest of the three-game set played without issue.
There is noticeable delay against some opponents, but it was never distracting enough to take me out of the action. This difference in latency, however, will hurt the game in certain facets of hitting tight input windows some moves require as well as reactions.
Since the fastest attacks in the game still have 12 frames of start-up, however, the hit to reactions isn’t as detrimental as it is in faster games like Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Ultimate Showdown appears to use some sort of Google relay server for online matchmaking, which is meant to try and help reduce latency by lowering the distance inputs need to travel peer-to-peer, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
Like every other delay-based fighting game, the online experience will vary from player to player depending on their connection and distance to their opponent. There’s an added foil on top of that too now with some regions having very few servers to connect to, and in many of those circumstances, it’d be less distance just to link the players directly.
Online lobbies are largely a good addition to the VF5 package where players can join up to fight and spectate matches, which has the fun little bonus of stickers that can be used on screen similar to stream emotes like cheers, boos and laughter. They can get a little distracting or annoying though if certain players are spamming them constantly, but luckily they can be turned off in those cases.
The biggest problem with the lobbies at the moment is the lack of a password search feature, so if you’re trying to join your friend to run some sets, you’ll be forced to scroll through the list of rooms available manually. That should soon be fixed, however, as Sega did recently confirm they are planning to add that feature to Ultimate Showdown in a new update.
One other nice inclusion with making lobbies are the specific tags that can be placed on rooms if you’re looking to practice against specific characters or skill levels.
With the overwhelming focus placed on the online modes in the game, Ultimate Showdown provides a serviceable offering, but I do worry that won’t be the case for players living in certain areas or once the population begins to decrease after the launch-hype period.
This is where I would be discussing the various clothing and costume choices outside of the base two for characters in VF5, but I can’t because the feature is essentially locked behind paid DLC.
The Legendary Pack bundle of DLC unlocks over 2,000 character customization pieces, so you’ll need to dish out that $10 to change what they look like.
Pretty much the only thing keeping that from being absolutely awful is the promotion that made the base game free on PlayStation Plus for the next two months, so that certainly absorbs a good bit of that blow.
It’s still annoying that there’s nothing you can do with that entire mode without the DLC though, especially when the pack is still missing a large number of items that were present in Final Showdown.
That part I can understand more considering the developers would need to remake them all in the new graphics engine.
Virtua Fighter 5’s character models and stages have been completely rebuilt from the ground up in Yakuza’s graphics engine, which is a welcome update to the 15-year-old base though thoughts on the new designs will vary depending on your personal taste and connection to the older releases.
Ultimate Showdown isn’t the prettiest fighting game around, but it more than gets the job done on the PlayStation 4 Pro I played it on. The same can pretty much be said for the game’s presentation as well.
What did surprise me, however, was just how quickly the fighting game loads into matches and modes with load times typically under five seconds except for online matches. Even the netplay loads faster than I expected too.
Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is an overall strong package for the return of the first 3D fighting game franchise though the lack of content and some modern features holds it back a bit from being a slam dunk for fans and Sega.
The online is serviceable and consistently playable. That will vary from person to person, however, especially if they live a long distance from the nearest relay server.
Lacking customization options in the base release is also an annoying misstep that many were looking forward to using, so it’s a good thing the game is free right now.
+ It’s Virtua Fighter 5 with a shiny new coat of paint
+ Modes have a handful of nice features that other fighting games should take notice of
+ Online offerings are decent though mileage may vary
– Customization options locked behind paid DLC is a big bummer
– Teaching tools are decent but need a bit more depth for its complex systems
– It’s still delay-based netcode