BY SEGA & SEGA-AM2, 2003
25 WORDS OR LESS:
An arcade upgrade comes home with new characters, stages, modes and…costumes! Oh the glorious array of costumes!
The ripping friends
For years fighting games have had piles of upgrades, revisions, sequels, retreads, volleyball games and whatever else companies can come up with to cash-in on the franchise. A series like Sega’s Virtua Fighter isn’t exempt from such things, quite the contrary; there’s been arcade revisions since VF2. The point is that VF’s developers aim for refinement rather than flash (notice how we creatively forget VF3). So thankfully, AM2 knows what they’re doing and Evolution, VF4’s very own upgrade, is far from a marginal Capcom-style update.
If you couldn’t guess from the box art, Evo adds two new characters to the VF4 universe, Goh Hinogami and Brad Burns. Goh is a freaky Judo master and is pretty sluggish compared to the rest of the cast, encouraging players to focus on defense. The string-chinned Brad, on the other hand, is a Muay Thai kickboxer (a style VF was sorely lacking in our opinion) and much more nimble. They’re both solid additions to the roster and well worth learning, but it’s too bad they look so Tekken-y. And as long as we’re taking swings at Brad, what is up with his second costume? I thought he was from Italy, not Miami! All right, sorry, moving on…
The invaluable Training mode has been greatly expanded, now with a pretty new stage to learn in and reams of ways to hone your ability. There is now a series of training missions to match your skill level, and believe us when we say that they can get pretty relentless. Couple this with the other lessons from the original and you have the best VF4 tutor available aside from the Asian kid that lives uptown. All that and there’s even a glossary.
Surely the meatiest part of the game is Quest mode, Evo’s revision of the last game’s Kumite. You still face off against smart AI opponents and build your rank, but now you’re doing so across a melange of fictional arcades, each one with a tournament that you have to gain entrance to. Along the way you’ll be earning money to buy items and color sets for your character. Many of your opponents are based on real-life VF4 experts, but you’ll always start out fighting weak-willed characters that are as easy to beat down as the Arcade mode AI. You’ll be up against some real monsters as you progress, with tournaments getting real ugly if you haven’t been practicing. Prepare for a public beatdown not unlike the ones a few of us have experienced in our lives.
As far as visceral elements go, Evo also has a leg up. For starters, the game’s on DVD this time. Probably just to make room for all the crazy crap they stuffed in there, but more importantly it means quicker load times. The graphics are also noticably softer than the crispety crunchety visuals of the original, including more detailed lighting and models ("look, I can count all of Jacky’s eyebrow hairs!"). TV pricks take note, this game really shines in component and onward. As for sound, well, it’s an AM2 game, so what do you expect? Let’s just say it still matches the feel of everything.
Special mention must be made of the Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary extra, a 128-bit comeback of 1993’s arcade smash Virtua Fighter that’s playable from the start. Now the game comes in a super-smooth 60 FPS and features blocktastic versions of characters and moves from VF4 (although you can choose to only fight the ones that were actually in VF1 if you like). It’s all here, from the stages to the music and it’s really a hoot. Unfortunately it’s treated as a seperate game with its own settings and you can’t save them. There’s always something.
The only real annoying black mark against the game comes in the form of its saving system. Whereas in the original VF4 you could save your customized characters to seperate files, in Evo everything is combined into the game’s system file. This means no backwards compatibility and no taking your prized Lau over to a friend’s. There’s two slots per character to save your own fighters to and that’s all you get. In fact, the only things that go into new files are replays. Naturally this doesn’t lend well at all to multiplayer and is really just a damn shame.
On the whole, Evo is unquestionably win/win. Gameplay improvements aside, it’s an instant Greatest Hit, which is arguably the best decision Sega’s made in years. Otherwise it’s still a really good game. Some improvements and some sacrifices have been made in the upgrade, but it has more reasons than ever to be considered one of the best 3D fighters yet. If you’ve never played VF4, get Evo. If you already have VF4, get Evo. Seriously, without it you ain’t much, son! —Ray Barnholt