SOULCALIBUR V (PS3)
The Soul series of games from Namco started back in the mid-90s as an arcade fighting game, later released for the PlayStation. By the time we saw a sequel the SOULEDGE had changed to the now familiar SOULCALIBUR which was considered by many to be a classic, and one of the key Dreamcast titles.
Now 17 years on we have the sixth main game in the Soul franchise, SOULCALIBUR V, which is available for PS3 and Xbox 360. SOULCALIBUR V retains the weapon based aspects of the preceding games while significantly tweaking other aspects, such as removing Critical Finishes, for a fresh approach.
Looking first at the main single player mode in SOULCALIBUR V we have a game which differs from many fighting games. There is often a basic story running alongside the fighting action, in Marvel Vs Capcom 3 for example we choose three fighters and battle through a number of stages to finally meet Galactus and save the earth from being destroyed by him. SOULCALIBUR V however features a much more detailed plot, told to us by a selection of CGI cut scenes and anime drawn on ancient paper(shown above). These segments introduce us to the setting of Europe in the 1600's and our main character, Patroklos Alexandra, who is on a quest to find his sister Pyrrha and rescue her from the malfested. The malfested are our main enemy in the game, though we also need to deal with Nightmare as a sub plot, and are essentially a group of possessed characters intent on world destruction. Key to the plot, and gameplay style of this franchise, is that there are two magical swords Soul Edge and Soul Calibur which offer great power to those who wield them, one for good and one for evil.
As the plot unfolds we are taken into a series of battles in a best of five round format where we win by knocking out our opponent or kicking them out of the battle area. These battles are against small groups where we take on one foe at a time and occasionally we fight single characters over the length of the battle. Combat in SOULCALIBUR V also feels a lot different to the likes of MvsC or Dead or Alive. In this game we have three main attack buttons, one horizontal, one vertical and kick. Block takes the fourth action slot and then our shoulder buttons are used as combinations which allow us to action more advanced moves. Press the shoulder button assigned to Vertical+Horizontal+Kick for example and we execute a Brave Edge, more powerful attack which drains our Critical Gauge (attack energy bar). Perform two down to forward sweeps on the movement pad/stick followed by the shoulder button and we can perform Critical Edge, draining our Critical Gauge and dealing the most damage to our opponent.
Along the way we also take control of a few sub characters to advance the plot and this lets the player experience the different fighting styles that the game offers, varied due to each character having their own different weapon.
These characters come into play when we move to the other game modes within SOULCALIBUR V. The other modes can be played against the CPU or on the PlayStation Network, including ranked games. Arcade takes us through six consecutive stages with our clear time ranked, in quick battle we fight against various characters and earn titles by winning, VS Battle see's us play against another player on the console and training lets us practice for battle.
As with the vast majority of recent games various achievements can be obtained in each mode and characters, levels as well as customisations are all available. Customisations is another area where this game separates itself from many others in the genre as we can create our own character from scratch opening up a very customisable fighting experience. Also included as a further unlock is Legendary Souls, a final game mode which see's us fight against the CPU with higher difficulty.
Graphics and Audio
Visually SOULCALIBUR V is a lovely game which has a very unique style, inspired by the 1600 setting of the plot. The environment which our characters battle in are packed with detail and have loads going on behind the battle. There is also some destruction available with the characters loosing their armour/clothing as the battle progresses and the ground shattering on impact in other areas. These environments are also very varied with some being based on the European setting and others more based on fantasy. Character animations are also very good and the movements fluid with no slowdown noticeable on the PS3 version.
The audio in SOULCALIBUR V is really split into two categories. For the score we have a selection of tracks which offer decent background music and each has its own over the top name such as "Sleepless: The Untamed Beast". The fighting sounds during battles really add some meat to the onscreen action and are proably the most impressive audio aspect while the voice acting is good, if a little over the top. There is however a pre and post-fight voiceover which tries to offer inspiring or helpful phrases which is far less successfully implemented.
To get a quick taste of SOULCALIBUR V it is likely that many players will immediately jump into the arcade/vs battle modes of the game and that is exactly what we did upon firing up the game. In these modes players get a little taster for the gameplay style, including access to characters from this franchise as well as others (Ezio -Assassins Creed, Yoshimitsu -Tekken) without the need to get a beating online or delve into the more detailed story. While this is beneficial to a certain extent, letting us play with a number of different characters and styles, it is also not the most interesting gameplay mode. To really enjoy SOULCALIBUR V we need to experience the combat style in a much more involving way. This isn't a game where button mashing will get us through, especially on anything above easy, and thought, planning and strategy are all required to take on the more demanding foes. Get things wrong and a round can be over in seconds after the enemy gets a flurry of hits in combination, depleting our energy bar. Know how to block, dodge or counter a move though gives us more success and learning how to use Brave Edge and especially Critical Edge gives us an advantage in the battle.
We noted earlier in the review that SOULCALIBUR V sets itself apart from many other fighting games as it offers a more detailed story in single player mode than most. This was a cause for concern initially as it is often very hard for developers to cross cultural boundaries and make a story engrossing and enjoyable for gamers across the world. On the whole Project Soul have succeeded though. There are occasions where the script isn't great and the plot could do with being fleshed out a little more but as the episodes (levels) progress it is hard not to be drawn into Patroklos struggle to find and rescue his sister. This is helped along the way by the high production values on the CGI cut scenes as well as the more static anime based storyboards. That said, the clash in styles of the two can be a little jarring where we would have liked to see all CGI or all static instead of a mix... though this is a minor issue compared to the very annoying in pre and post battle commentator. The rest of the cast do a decent job but that "character" has too limited a phrasebook and ultimately adds nothing to the game.
So single player mode complete we have unlocked a significant amount of content and can really get into the other game modes. Whether that is online or offline a wide variation of content is available to the player after the unlocks and this increases the value of the game significantly, especially as the story mode can be played through in around 3 hours. The character creation mode also adds longevity to the game.
Elsewhere the product's production values are very high, the arenas are some of the best we have seen in this type of game, the characters (and fighting styles) hugely varied. The sound effects are also great with some really thumping impact sounds which add weight to the on-screen action.
It is probably an indication of the quality in story mode that we wanted it to continue past the conclusion of the plot; it does feel short. However that mode really should be seen as an introduction into the more expansive multi-player/online aspects of the game where we test our fighting quality and tactics against players around the globe. Care should also be taken not to judge this game on a quick vs. battle as it is not as accessible as competing titles, it takes time to master and enjoy SOULCALIBUR V to its full extent.
A thinking players fighting game and that mixed with the weapon based combat and huge variation make it stand out as being one of the best in this genre for some time.