I'm shaken. My steadfast belief that gaming is fast degenerating into an mire of creative bankruptcy is in peril. Even Halo 3 didn't have this effect on me. Some games just get better and better the more technology you throw at them, and Virtua Fighter 5 is a prime example.
I've dabbled in the VF series since its home debut on the Saturn, but I was always a fan of the faster-paced action of Street Fighter 2 or the easy returns of Tekken, and for a glorious while the undeniable visual splendour of Soul Calibur. Virtua Fighter passed me by. Too technical, too demanding. Not flashy enough.
The latest in the series has just arrived on Xbox 360 and I'm absolutely blown away by it. It's so solid, so well made, well constructed that it demands respect. That alone isn't enough for greatness of course, but the fact is that it's also a genuine pleasure to play. The wealth of options, game modes and customization possibilities could keep me going for months. I'm reminded of Soul Caliburs quest mode, the compulsion to play and play in order to unlock every last extra mode, every last gallery picture. Virtua Fighter 5 takes this to incredible lengths. Hairstyles, jewelry, outfits, accessories... dozens of each can be won or bought. It's a collect 'em up fans dream ticket.
In the end that's all superfluous though - what you're left with is the meat and bones of the finest, most intricate one-on-one combat game ever made, and that alone is enough to warrant months and years of playing.
It's a first impression - I've only spent one short evening with the game so far - but I can only see myself becoming more enamoured of it. The best game on the 360 yet.