Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Soulcalibur V

Soulcalibur is back once again with the fifth installment in Namco’s 3D fighting series. Soulcalibur V introduces a host of new gameplay mechanics and characters, but for every two steps forward it unfortunately seems to take a step back, making it very apparent that Soulcalibur V never really reaches the heights and aspirations you expect from such an iconic fighting series.

At the heart of Soulcalibur V’s gameplay is a weapons-based 3D fighting game. The series has always been renown for a well-constructed entry-level difficulty curve; meaning players across various skill levels can pick up the game and have a good time. Unfortunately this mentality is a double-edged sword in this installment of the series. Soulcalibur V introduces a host of new mechanics with the Critical Edge system sitting comfortably in the heart of the action. Critical Edge acts very much like a modern Super Combo meter reminiscent of Street Fighter IV’s system – it allows players to use critical edge attacks, brave edge attacks and use guard impact as a form of parrying. All of these abilities require the use of segments from your Critical Edge meter and because it replenishes slowly, the use of these abilities becomes a skilful process that can swiftly change the tide of battle. Critical edge attacks have the potential to finish battles, while brave edge attacks offer combo links not previously available if the move is executed in standard form. Guard impact allows players to block almost any move and counter while the new just guard system replaces the traditional guard from previous Soulcalibur games.

With plenty of new mechanics to take in, one would have hoped for a comprehensive tutorial to allow players an opportunity to learn and hone these various abilities. Soulcalibur V somehow manages to completely avoid acknowledging that these new mechanics are difficult to master and only provides a very basic tutorial system. As a result, players are effectively thrown into the deep end, forcing you to learn the ropes as you go along. This omission hurts both newcomers hoping to understand Soulcalibur V and veterans of the series wanting to get to grips with the new additions as quickly as possible.
Despite that flaw, once you give Soulcalibur V enough time and get to grips with the various skills available, you will find an immersive and satisfying 3D fighting experience. Unfortunately well-rounded single player features do not support the great battle system implemented here.

Soulcalibur V’s story is disappointing at best. You follow the tale of Patroklos and his sister Pyrrha as they embark on a journey to seek out the soul swords. Once again the game fails to really teach you how to use both characters effectively, leaving you to figure everything out on your own. The story is uninspiring, just like both protagonists, and after seeing last year what kind of story a fighting game can have (Mortal Kombat 9), it’s simply impossible to have any affection for this half-hearted attempt at a campaign mode. The most disappointing thing is the campaign is the majority of Soulcalibur V’s content.

Those of you hoping for something like the challenge tower from Soulcalibur IV will be very disappointed because past the campaign there’s merely an arcade run, quick battle and an unlockable mode after you meet certain criteria. That’s pretty much it, thrilling right? Thank goodness for the multiplayer, which truly saves this sinking ship. The traditional ranked and player matches are available, as is a viewing window that allows you to watch while you wait for your turn to do battle. The online system ran smoothly on both machines from my time with Soulcalibur V and the much-needed variety in human gameplay really picks Soulcalibur V back up onto its feet.

Soulcalibur V also brings back the traditional character creation mode, which is surprisingly entertaining. You can of course be serious or completely ridiculous, but however you choose to customize the characters, it’s plenty of fun and the addition of Devil Jin’s fighting style from Tekken as an option to use, you’ll be sure to create some very powerful characters.

If character creation isn’t for you, then you’ll be happy to know that Soulcalibur V introduces ten new characters to the roster. Again, these additions are by no stretch magnificent and the majority of the characters are alterations of previous characters in the series. That being said, guest character Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed is a well-rounded and entertaining addition to the cast and makes for a fantastic Soulcalibur character.

From a technical perspective the Soulcalibur series has always impressed. The visuals in Soulcalibur V are astonishing. Fantastic character models and beautiful backgrounds that change depending on the tone and action in battle help create a thrilling environment around you. The audio for the most part is also very good, but the voice acting as always sounds a little cheesy.

‘Omissions’ is the main word I’d use here to describe Soulcalibur V. This instalment greatly needed extra game modes like the challenge tower and a comprehensive tutorial system to explain the new mechanics implemented into the gameplay. The actual game itself is a lot of fun, especially when playing against other human players, but when you look at what’s on offer, a bare-boned campaign and almost no substantial modes afterwards makes this a really dry instalment in the Soulcalibur series.

8.0 | Gameplay |
Complex new additions to Soulcalibur’s fighting mechanics make this an interesting and engaging instalment in the series. Unfortunately this makes it a lot harder for newcomers to enter the battlefield. A lack of a comprehensive tutorial system really hurts the game.

7.5 | Presentation |
Soulcalibur V is a beautiful game, which is to be expected. The package itself is vastly disappointing, with minimal content and huge steps back in certain areas for the series.

6.5 | Replay Value |
Soulcalibur V is a layered 3D fighter with plenty on offer, if you put in the time to learn the ins and outs of the all the new mechanics. Unless you play with friends, you will find almost no replay value here.

7.5 | Final Thoughts |
I am disappointed because on a whole, the Soulcalibur series has always impressed me. Judging on gameplay alone, Soulcalibur V is actually very impressive as it offers a very advanced and enjoyable fighting experience. But a huge lack of depth, omissions galore, uninspiring new characters and negligence that not everyone can simply jump into complicated fighting games and understand them, really hurts Soulcalibur V. If you’re a fan of competitive online multiplayer in fighting games and enjoy learning the complexities behind these games, this is absolutely the game for you. Those looking for a casual fighting experience should wait for Street Fighter x Tekken.

Igor Kharin.

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