It’s a hard thing, judging a game like SoulCalibur V.
On the one hand, it's a fighting series with some real history – a popular brand with many well-deserved fans and a deep combat system all coming together to create real enjoyment when playing online or with friends.
On the other, it features a shallow singleplayer experience, a streamlined character roster and a "story" that makes Lucas' whiny Anakin Skywalker seem like the pinnacle of character portraiture.
Lucky, then, that if you take the game for what it is – a chance to beat three shades out of friends and online strangers with its unique brand of offense-focused 3D weapon based combat – there is a lot to like about the newest SoulCalibur.
The most obvious new feature added to the tried and true SoulCalibur combat system is the critical gauge. A meter akin to those found in Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, among many others, once charged it lets players perform new types of offensive and defensive manoeuvres.
The offensive side of the critical bar is the more interesting, with the addition of critical edge and brave edge attacks. The gaudy and cinematic critical edge attacks cost a full bar of meter and deal a high amount of damage if an opponent is caught unawares; each character has one and the input command for each is identical. Used well, this attack can turn the tide of a battle, or award a flashy finisher to a tough fight.
Brave edge attacks are ramped up versions of normal attacks and cost a quarter of the gauge. With good use of these brave edge abilities, otherwise simple combos can have their damage and hit count increased, as well as adding a bit of style.
Defensively, this meter is used for guard impacting, commonly known as parrying, which used to be a ‘free’ defensive ability in earlier iterations. It costs a quarter of a bar and still requires precise timing. While players can still parry, in a general sense, with the “just guard” function – tapping guard just while being struck – it takes more precise timing and can lead to a large number of attacks getting through.
Guard breaking requiring a resource shared with devastating attacks discourages a defence-heavy play style. Not only are players choosing to use up chunks of critical bar, but if blocking too many attacks, characters will automatically drop their guard for a few seconds. Players will know they are at risk of this when their health bar starts flashing. In this sense the critical bar is a fine introduction that facilitates more intense and aggressive fights.
With these new features added atop an already deep combat system it is a shame that there is no tutorial function – excluding a few screens of text before some of the earlier story mode fights. Old hands at fighting games will have no problem incorporating this new feature into their routine, but with no help for the newcomer this oversight does a great disservice to anyone unfamiliar with the game.
The story mode follows Patroklos and Pyrrha, the children of SoulCalibur veteran Sophita. As with most of SoulCalibur V’s singleplayer options, there is not much here to like.
Patroklos is desperate to find his sister Pyrrha who has been taken from him, and with much whining and terrible writing the two become entwined in the story of the legendary soul swords. The story is so flawed and rushed, and the mode so pointless it's barely worth talking about. Gone are the interesting battle conditions from SoulCalibur II’s campaign. The story mode is now just a series of fights culminating in a rather pedestrian ‘boss battle’.
Taking place several years after the previous SoulCalibur, the game introduces new characters featuring slightly modified move sets from past favourites. A few original characters are thrown in with Z.W.E.I – a close range fighter capable of summoning a kind of spirit animal/familiar to help him in battle, and Viola who controls a crystal ball that can be directed around the battlefield. Crossing over from Assassin’s Creed, Ezio Auditore is the guest character and is a perfect fit for the game.
Online play is a smooth affair. Standard offerings are available in the form of ranked and player matches. Players can also check others' online profiles and download any replays they have made available. With support for spectator mode in battles, it's also possible to chat with other viewers while watching a battle. With some unique looking champions popping up due to the character creator available, battle matchups can be surprising to say the least.
Character creation offers all the features expected from previous SoulCalibur games, but is more robust in how players can make their own unique creations. Patterns can now be added to outfits, exposed flesh can be tattooed and special items added; a brief search online reveals what is possible – including the ridiculous. A unique unarmed fighting style is also available solely for created characters.
SoulCalibur V is meant to be played with people; anybody expecting a rich experience from the singleplayer, like that found in earlier entries in the series, will be disappointed. Play with friends or online and it's easy to quickly discover a deep and rich fighting system that can be a lot of fun.