Oh, Guilty Gear, how I love thee. Arc System Works might not make games as well-known to the public as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat or Dead or Alive Xtreme Internet Argument or whatever, but in terms of crafting highly technical, incredibly solid 2D fighters, they’re up there with the best. On a good day, I’d actually say that they are the best. Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena – masterpieces, as far as I’m concerned, and not just for the actual fighting stuff. These are games with proper worlds, proper stories, and proper characters, which is a hell of a thing in the fighting game genre. Although they can’t really take responsibility for the story stuff in the Persona one, and Guilty Gear was starting to get a bit bloated and weird the last time I looked at it.
Now, I’m admittedly speaking as someone who admires fighting games rather than plays them a huge amount (because I’m basically shit at them), but I have a pretty deep level of admiration. When you’re bad at fighting games, they’re repetitive mashfests with seemingly no skill involved; when you’re good at fighting games (or know what to look for) it’s like real-time chess played at a terrifying pace. Every single movement, every position, every attack, every frame needs to be carefully calculated, or you’ll expose yourself to vicious counter-attacks – assuming your opponent knows what they’re doing.
Guilty Gear is the one themed largely around rock. The background music is like an orchestra of electric guitars, all of which are playing additional electric guitars. Fights open with a cry of LET’S ROCK. Several characters are based on famous rockstars. If that’s not your sort of thing, don’t worry: there’s also a ten-foot tall doctor with a bag over his head, a guy who fights from a bed, and a protagonist called Sol Badguy. It’s very, very over-the-top, but don’t let that fool you: the series is fighting game precision.
And I wasn’t kidding about the music, by the way:
And now, we on PCs have been graced with… holy shit. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-? An actual recent Guilty Gear game? The most recent, in fact, as -REVELATOR- still doesn’t have a console version? Yes! And according to the title screen, it’s pronounced “eggs-ard”, but I’ll do my best not to refer to it as Guilty Gear Eggs Hard throughout this article.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s kick things off with the options menu. Are there tweakables? Er… not really.
Okay, so here’s the bad news. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- maxes out at 1920×1080 resolution, and it looks like the resolution choices are all in that aspect ratio. There’s no separate “Windowed/Borderless Windowed/Fullscreen” option: you just pick your resolution if you want to run it in a window, or pick Fullscreen if you want to run it in fullscreen. If you’re running something other than 16:9, it looks like you’re either going to have to play in a window or you’re going to have to put up with borders. Can’t say for sure, as my native resolution is 1920×1080, but those of you with super-massive monitors will probably be a bit unhappy.
You’re also probably going to be a bit unhappy if you’re a fan of tweakables. You’ve got V-Sync on/off, three types of anti-aliasing, the ability to turn post-processing effects on or off, and the incredibly mysterious “Image Quality Settings”, which can be set to Quality Priority or Processing Priority. Apparently, “Putting priority on ‘processing’ will downgrade portions of the graphics in order to improve speed.” Very specific, that. Oh, and the settings also make regular mention of your TV and the game disc, but you’d have to be really pedantic to complain about that.
The good news: you probably won’t actually have to do that. Guilty Gear Xrd has surprisingly low requirements (an i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a GTX 560 or Radeon HD 7770, apparently) and it runs like a silk-lined dream. On my hardware (which is rather over-the-top for this, as I’ve got an i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and a GTX 670) it ran at a constant 55-60FPS, with the dips generally only being just before bouts started. From a quick look around online, this appears to be the general experience – even on hardware that’s lower-spec than mine – so, at a guess, most people should expect around the same. I’ve got one or two screenshots which were apparently captured in the mid-40s, but none of them were during actual gameplay, and some of that might’ve been down to the screenshot capture “freezing” the game momentarily and dropping the framerate. Either way, no noticeable impact on the game.
A quick note – some of the character intros seemed to be running a little slower than that, but the framerate counter told me things were still rocketing along at 60 FPS, so I’m guessing that’s just the way they look. They might be pre-rendered at 30, or something.
It also looks absolutely goddamn fabulous. Guilty Gear Xrd is a side-on 2D fighting game, but it’s one that runs in Unreal Engine 3 and uses 3D cel-shaded models to give the illusion of having 2D sprites. This leads to some wonderful visual effects, like certain attacks causing the camera to swoop around as they play out. If you’ve forgotten it’s actually a 3D game – which is pretty understandable, given both the art style and Arc System Works’ general tendency to work with sprites – it’s a touch that gives a regular and entirely pleasant surprise. The upscaling of the menus and UI stuff is a bit rough (the lobbies for online play, in particular, look godawful) but everything that actually matters looks superb.
Short version: it looks fantastic, it runs at 60FPS, and it doesn’t require a monstrously overpowered machine to do so. Thumbs up for that.
That’s tweakables and performance covered, so let’s carefully shuffle our feet onto the relatively thorny ground of the controls. Now, this is a fighting game, so you’d probably have to be some sort of masochist to play this without a gamepad… which is exactly what I did.
In fairness, it doesn’t actually control like complete shit on the keyboard. The keys are mostly configurable – you can bind everything (including several combinations of inputs that would trigger, say, a Roman Cancel) including movement, but only to certain keys. As far as I can tell, only letters and numbers are supported. If you want to use Shift to punch someone in the face, or your preferred keyboard setup for fighting games (you mad person, you) involves a comma and a semicolon, then you’re out of luck. If you want to use the arrow keys, tough.
There are a few other annoyances, too. Regardless of your specific bindings, certain things will not be rebound – Confirm, for instance, is permanently set to “U” rather than whatever you’ve rebound that attack key to. If you’re using WASD for movement and, say, GYJK for the face buttons, then you’ll still have to press U to confirm options. I have no idea why, but it’s a pain in the arse. There’s one other annoyance, but we’ll move onto that shortly, because it’s actually not restricted solely to the keyboard.
Nonetheless, I managed to get through the tutorial stuff and a couple of quick Versus AI matches using the keyboard, and I performed reasonably well. It might be that it just handles okay on keyboard for some bizarre reason, or it might be that the months I spent playing the PC version of Street Fighter 2 has given me some sort of amazing keyboard-based skill with fighting games.
As an aside, never play the PC version of Street Fighter 2.
Onto gamepads. I have no idea what’s supported – I’d hope that fightsticks will work, and so on, but I can’t say either way – but I played it using the Steam Controller. Not only that, but I played it on my TV, via streaming to my laptop. This wasn’t actually by choice; it’s just that the Steam Controller has stopped working on my desktop PC for some bizarre reason I didn’t have time to troubleshoot. And for what it’s worth, the Steam Controller is not something I’d currently recommend for a fighting game, although I’m actually starting to think I could set up the touchpads in a few clever ways that might make it an exceptional controller for fighting games. Don’t trust me on that yet, though. That can wait for another article, probably titled “Wow, I Was Wrong, The Steam Controller Really Is Terrible for Fighting Games.”
Now, that other annoyance. You have the options of displaying in-game keys as either the keymappings (and they’re actually the keymappings you’ve chosen), so the command for Sol’s Gunflame will be shown as quarter-circle forward and then J or whatever, or you can have them displayed as the actual fighting “buttons” – Kick, Slash, whatever. This is great.
What’s not great is that, if you have them set to the keymappings, it alternates every few seconds between the keyboard mappings and the gamepad mappings. Do you have a gamepad plugged in? No? Doesn’t matter: every two seconds, it’ll show you the gamepad mappings. Are you using a gamepad and don’t plan on touching the keyboard at all? Doesn’t matter: every two seconds, it’ll show you the key bindings.
This isn’t much of a problem in actual matches, obviously, because you won’t be looking at the mappings. It is a problem when learning to play, or doing character-specific Challenges, or looking up your character’s moves. Challenges are honestly the biggest issue: if you’re tasked with performing a lengthy combo, it’s very hard to memorise that combo when the button displays keep changing every couple of sodding seconds.
The final bit of the port we need to address is the netcode, which is something I can’t say much about. I couldn’t connect to Ranked matches, but there were only a couple displayed and they might’ve already begun by the time I tried to connect, so I can’t really say if that’s an actual problem or not. I did connect to a standard Player Match room, though, which is kinda neat and I want to talk about it in more detail.
Player Matches work in “rooms”, which have a number of little pretend arcade cabinets, as well as a waiting area. Rooms have their own settings, ranging from stuff like the number and length of rounds through to whether it’s Winner Stays On or what. You can either go to an “empty” machine and wait for someone else to join in, or select one that’s in use and spectate an ongoing match. You can even choose whether you’re just watching or if you’re spectating while you wait for your turn.
This seemed a bit buggy, to be honest. “Fyzzu has left the room” flashed up on the screen about a dozen times, and I couldn’t spectate matches (possibly due to awful ping; I don’t know). However, when I went to a cabinet with someone waiting, I got straight into a match… and that match worked fine.
I mean, I lost horribly, but that wasn’t down to lag or anything. It felt absolutely fine. More extended play would be needed to know for sure how well that works (and what the DELAY: 4F in the top-right meant; I’m assuming it meant there was a four-frame delay, but…) but my initial experience was really, really good. Once I actually got into a game, anyway.
So yeah. Issues with Ranked matches, issues with the lobbies, but the actual quality of the netcode when I was playing? Pretty bloody flawless, honestly – although again, that’s based on a pretty limited amount of experience.
As for Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- itself… well, I haven’t played it nearly enough to judge. It’s got extensive tutorials (essential, for something as complex and in-depth as this), Arcade modes with full anime cutscenes, a Story mode that appears to essentially be a movie, Guilty Gear‘s trademark MoM mode that adds a sort of strange RPG progression to things, the typical online play and Versus modes, etc. It does have a relatively svelte cast of characters for a modern fighting game (17, I believe) but they’re all so staggeringly unique that this might not be as much of a negative as it may first seem.
The biggest bugbear for me is the way it shows both gamepad and keyboard mappings, but that’s something that should be easy to patch. For others, the limited resolution and graphical settings might be a major problem, and I don’t know if a fix for that will appear or not. On the plus side – it’s Steam, so as ever, you have the refund option as long as you’ve played for less than two hours.
Actually, I take it back. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- lacks Baiken. RUBBISH GAME.