The impossible has happened. The game that has been marked by some as the best fighting game ever has gotten even better.

Virtua Fighter 4, heralded as one of the deepest, most complex fighting games ever, has returned.

However, with competition looming around the corner in the form of Soul Calibur 2, does this game have enough oomph to stand out in the crowd? Is this game, what some would consider a simple expansion and nothing more, good enough to warrant a purchase if you already own VF4?

Let’s find out.

Stunning. Amazing. Fantastic. There simply aren’t enough positive adjectives to properly describe how good this game looks, and how it looks in motion. Even though it is running without Progressive Scan, and on the aging Playstation 2 hardware, the developers have done an excellent job pushing the system to its limits, and showing everyone what truly can be done given enough time.

Each of the 16 (15 selectable) characters are large, detailed, and drastically different from each other. Individual pieces of hair will wave in the breeze, and their clothing will bend and fold as they move around. They are covered in highly detailed textures, giving the fighters a very life-like look.

The animation is just as stunning, as each character moves realistically, the fighters clearly showing the effort needed to engage in combat. Every move they do looks like one a real martial arts master could pull off with enough practice, and nobody has any exaggerated or fake looking maneuvers.

The stages where you battle are just as amazing, each of them overly large and complex. You’ll find dozens of onlookers watching your battle in one stage, trees wafting in the breeze in another, and environmental effects like snow and rain in others. While you are always limited to a stage of sorts, the level itself extends dozens of times in all directions for no reason whatsoever other than eye-candy. And it really adds to the overall presentation as a result.

Best of all this is all done at a solid 60fps experience, with no slowdown to be seen at all during combat. There is a bit of stuttering during the introductions to the stages, but considering that not only is the game displaying a moving preview of the stage, playing the background music, and loading in both fighters, all at the same time, this little thing can easily be excused.

The menus are clean and simple looking, but they have their own kind of style and flair. On top of that, there are dozens of wallpapers for you to unlock, allowing you to customize your menu experience. Sure, it’s nothing but extra little fluff, but in the end we like that kind of stuff.

How does this game sound? To be blunt, quite good. Each of the stages sports an interesting soundtrack, fast paced in general to go along with the combat. Ultimately it is basically forgettable, but it’s good enough that it’s far from annoying or out of place.

It’s the sound effects that push this score to where it is. Every smack, thud, and grunt is crystal clear, allowing you to wince in pain as the fighters themselves do. Most stages even have environmental noises of some sort, effects like the crunch of snow underneath your feet, to things like falling rain and the clash of waves in the background.

What limited voices you actually hear though of the characters talking to one another is well done, giving some credence to the battle ahead. They sound like somebody from their actual country of origin is speaking, instead of the mishmash you might get from other titles. Although, I do have to ask this – What exactly does Jacky say for one of his win poses? Either it is, “I’ve got hands of lightning!” or it is, “I’ve done handcuff lightning!” neither of which make much sense.

However, short of the two new characters, nothing really has been added in this category since Virtua Fighter 4. Is that a problem? No.

One thing a fighting title must have is perfect control. This can easily make or break even the best of titles. Thankfully this is one of those games where you’ll never complain about the controls.

Sporting a simple three button configuration (punch, kick, block), any player will be able to easily get into the basics of the game. While some might complain about the lack of possible moves, there are a ton of combinations possible, either as chain combos or as simultaneous button presses.

The oddly designed PS2 digital controller works perfectly for this game, giving a tight, responsive control. As there are very little quarter or half-circle moves, you’ll find that you’ll never have to fight the controller in order to do the move you want to.

In the end, this is one of those games where you simply can’t fault the controls when you get clobbered.

As stated before, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution sports 15 selectable characters, each offering a completely different style of fighting. In other words – once you’ve learned one of them, you haven’t even come close to learning them all. Even the characters that are rather similar in combat styles (Lao/Pai and Jacky/Sarah) are very different from one another.

Think that learning all these characters would be a difficult chore? Well it isn’t. Sporting an extremely detailed and in-depth training mode, you can easily learn every single character’s moves in a matter of minutes. Using them in a practical matter however is where the learning curve is.

Don’t know how to best use the more advanced tactics? Don’t understand the concept of Guaranteed Throws or Dodge-Countering? Once again the training mode is there to help. Starting with the most basic of concepts, it quickly escalates into learning about Air Juggling and Throw Counters. Every single tactic you might ever want to use is in the training mode. Once again, learning when exactly to use them is the learning curve.

Like most fighters, you have your standard Arcade and Verses modes, allowing anyone to quickly sit down and start pounding upon one another. For those who want something a bit more complicated however, this game offers it in spades. It’s simply called the Quest mode.

What is the Quest mode? In short, it’s an adventure that takes you (the one holding the controller, not your character), around the arcades of Japan, fighting everybody you encounter. You’ll come across many different players (portrayed by AIs) in the process, each one with a rather different fighting style and preferred character.

Think this wouldn’t be all that exciting? There’s far more to it. Along the way you’ll have optional ways of fighting for bonus cash and items. These make you change your strategy completely, making you concentrate upon things like throwing your opponent, hitting them against the wall, and even dodging their moves far more often than you would otherwise. Some of these end up being rather difficult, especially against the more intelligent and aggressive opponents.

But what do you do with the bonuses you acquire? Well, in the course of traveling across Japan, you’ll enter tournaments after meeting certain requirements. Winning these gives you cash that you can use to purchase things like different clothing, hairstyles, necklaces, and other assorted things for your character. While some might think of this as a virtual dress-up, you can acquire things like new ending poses, demonstration movies of the characters showing off, and different character models.

On top of that, there is a coliseum of sorts that holds some tournaments that completely break the standard rules of VF4. Modes where you take increased damage from hitting the floor or walls, to a survival mode, to one where each fighter starts with a ton of HP and no timer, to even one where you’re capable of canceling just about any move into another one. In short – you’ll have lots to do as you work your way to the top.

The AI can easily make or break the single player modes listed above, and thankfully you simply won’t encounter a better and fairer opponent. Unlike just about every other fighting game in existence, the AI simply doesn’t cheat. At all. No additional damage, no boosted speed, no nothing. If it sees an opening, it will take advantage of it. If it knows that it’s winning, it’ll simply back off and practically taunt you into fighting like a human player would.

On top of that, some of the best players in the world have been incorporated into this game. Using the AI learning mode of VF4 (which is strangely absent in this version), the champions have put time into the game, teaching the AI how they play. To say that they are dangerous opponents is an understatement.

Other bonuses include a mode where you take the VF4:E characters and moves and give them the graphics and physics of the original Virtua Fighter. To say that it completely changes the game around is an understatement. It’s quite a bit of fun as well.

Finally, one last thing to say. The biggest change between this and VF4 is the improved loading time between matches. Somehow AM2 has made the game background load the characters into memory as you watch the introduction to the stages. If one or both of the characters are the same, it’s even faster. That tidbit was my biggest complaint of the older title, and that’s been fixed.

Much to the surprise of just about everybody, Sega, knowing that people might complain if they buy what simply amounts to an extended expansion pack of a game for $50, decided to release this game under Sony’s Greatest Hits line right from day 1. In other words, this game is available brand new for only $20.

This alone, in addition to all the features and colossal longevity of this title, basically forces me to give this category my first 100 score. Never before has a fighting game had this many things to do, this many hours of gameplay, for such an absurdly low price. Sega could of easily sold this game for $50, and I know that I still would of purchased it. For $20 it’s simply a steal.

In short – 15 selectable characters, 1500 accessory items (according to the box anyway), a Quest mode that’ll take many an hour to finish for each fighter, and a detailed and realistic combat engine, all make this game worth every penny.