It's been a bumpy ride with its share of disappointment, but the quest to bring fighting games kicking and screaming into homes with smooth online play seems to be nearing its end. And it's just in time because the ability to find competition anytime, anywhere is just the sort of thing this style of game needs to be successful. Sega's Virtua Fighter 5 is the next fighting game to take the plunge into online play, and it does so quite well.
The online mode lets you take on another competitor in ranked or unranked matches. How well it works is solely dependant on the quality of your Internet connection and the quality of your opponent's connection. Because the game will match you up with other players, some games will run nearly perfectly, while others will be almost completely unplayable...unless the problem's on your end, of course. On a regular, consumer-grade DSL connection, we had a good experience, with many more smooth matches than rough-looking latent ones. The game keeps track of your wins and losses in ranked mode, as well as clumsily ties it into the game's existing profile system in the process. While the online play works, the menus leading up to it certainly could have been handled better. It starts by asking you if you want a ranked or unranked match, then moves on to character select, where you can opt to use one of your customized characters from another mode, but only their appearance carries over online. Your personal comment and ring name don't show outside of quest mode.
At that point, you can choose to create a match, which puts you on the left side, or join one, which places you on the right. If you create an unranked match, you can invite a player from your friends list. But regardless of how you find an opponent, you're dropped back to the create/join menu after every match. The inability to change characters and stay in an unranked match with a friend is annoying. Also, the game would have benefitted from tournament options or at least the ability to have more than two people in one game who could swap in and out as players win or lose fights.
Virtua Fighter 5 on the Xbox 360 is based on the Version C revision of the arcade game. The arcade versions of VF games typically undergo some slight changes and rebalancing over their lifetime. For reference, the PlayStation 3 version is built off of Version B. The differences feel negligible to the average player and an in-depth discussion of the changes is outside the scope of this review. Beyond the version change, the rest of Virtua Fighter 5 is on par with what the PlayStation 3 release offered from a features standpoint. You can play the game in arcade mode, which faithfully duplicates the computerized opponents you'd face if you were to drop 100 yen in an arcade machine, visit the dojo for the game's passable practice mode, or go to VF.TV mode to set up computer-controlled fights between any two characters or view replays. This mode could have been awesome if some of the online hooks were applied because watching expert-level VF players face off is a real sight to see. Instead, it's a little flat.