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Soul Calibur V (PS3) Review

Soul Calibur was at one time a more essential fighter than almost any other.  When the title hit on the Dreamcast the fighting genre exploded thanks to it’s unique style, fast paced fighting and incredible juggling mechanics.

As time wore on though Team Soul seemed to lose their way with the last iteration of the franchise failing to bring anything new or exciting to the genre.  In the wake of superior updates to titles like Street Fighter, what can Team Soul pull of with Soul Calibur 5?Once again emphasis is on the sublime visuals, fast paced combat and the wild combos that allow you to juggle a character like a rag doll.  With a roster of over 28 characters the game offers more than enough variety of fighters to tempt anyone.

The visuals in the game look incredible.  Running silky smooth you can’t help but be impressed by what Team Soul have managed here.  The backgrounds, all in full 3D not just a cut-away, looks stunning at times.  Sure they’re a little contrived in places, but you can’t fail to be impressed by them.  Light dapples though trees, water shimmers and shines – it all looks great.

Not that you’ll have much chance to take in those backgrounds as you’ll be locked on to the wonderfully realised character designs.  Well defined characters have been another staple of the Soul Calibur world.  Here favourites return as well as new characters like Pyrrha, Leixia, Patroklos and even Ezio from Assassin’s Creed makes an appearance.  Each character has been lovingly animated and well designed and each move set is executed with flowing and solid animation.  Pyrotechnics about also as blade swishes, crumbling scenery and explosive specials are all realised during a fight.

Sound design has been given an equally lavish touch.  The in game scores are all suitably soaring and awe inspiring.  Each serving to accent it’s chosen arena of play.  Title and menu music is also similarly well produced.  These titles all have a similar style.  That of a soaring orchestral score that brings a certain gravitas to the proceedings.  Soul Calibur 5 is no exception and is better for it.Voice work is reasonable throughout.  Plenty of stilted and passion-free delivery but the actors don’t exactly have a script that will set the world alight.  Some poorly translated sentences crop up at some points but overall the voice work and scripting is passable at the very least.

Soul Calibur 5 picks up seventeen years after the end of Soul Calibur 4.  Patroklos is searching mainland Europe for any sign of his sister Pyrrha and the ring blade wielding woman that took her.  His journey takes him all over central Europe in the 17th Century.  The story is pretty limted as Patroklos searches for Pyrrha he takes ownership of the Soul Calibur blade.  He must fight his way through 20 stages on his quest to destroy the Soul Edge (Soul Calibur’s evil twin blade) and reunite with his sister.

The story is told via a handful of well crafted cut scenes and a plethora of hand drawn sketches that initially work but get old quickly.  The few plot twists and turns are easily signposted but at least keep interested enough in the story to see out the two and half to three hours it will take you to power through it.  Difficulty is handled well with every encounter already a fixed difficulty.  If you fail then you can choose to retry the level at an easier difficulty from the continue screen.  This at least forces you try and take on each round at normal levels before opting for an easier time.

Out side of the story (which will unlock several characters and artifacts for the character creator) you have a smattering of other single player and offline alternatives.  Under offline play you can choose a more traditional 6 round arcade option, a VS battle or indulge in a little extra training.  The new element here is the Legendary Souls event.  Here you partake in an increasingly difficult series of matches until you are defeated.  Your fighting rank is then recorded and compare to your friends and others.

The core fighting engine is what makes the difference with any fighting title and the developers have reused the winning formula from previous titles and mixed in a few nice bonuses for veterans and new players alike.  Like previous titles in the series the mechanic are as shallow or in-depth as you want to make them.  Beating the story mode is pretty simple and serves as more a training ground for learning the fight system.  Devastating combos and usage of the new Critical Edge combo system will leave experienced players to devastate the lesser skilled in online matches.  Luckily you can choose the skill level you want to come in at with online matches so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.Taking the game online opens up the true joy of Soul Calibur 5, as it does with all fighters.  A very robust and featured fighter creator allows you to re-use existing character models or create new ones of your own.  You can then take these fighters online or choose any that you’ve unlocked from the in-game roster.

Online modes on offer range from the usual ranked and unranked matches to a Global Colosseo menu option that sees you taking to regionally based lobbies to take on all comers in that area.  All modes operate very well and the initial online issues that a lot of fighters suffer from seem to have been ironed out early on by Namco.  This is a good thing as no matter how good the fighter might be, a duff online mode is going to hurt it badly – case in point?  The latest Mortal Kombat which has suffered due to teething problems with online and still has issues this far after launch.

Other elements that will come in to play over time will be the Rivals system where you single out several online rivals and the game keeps track of them for you – allowing a great personal element to usually anonymous online fights.  The inclusion of online tournaments via the Global Colosseo too will have further reaching appeal.  The ability to download and upload replays is also a great addition.The game does have some issues to speak of.  The series has always suffered from a “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” issue where by if your knocked to the ground getting back up without taking hideous amounts of damage is always a chore.   The single player and offline modes are pretty limited and, unless you have someone near who can play, you’ll spend most of your time online.   The Legendary Souls mode offers a good challenge but can become unfair and repetitive pretty quickly.

Final Thoughts

Team Soul really needed to rethink the direction of Soul Calibur after the fourth title was released.  Thankfully they have and what we have in Soul Calibur 5 is probably the best in the series since the initial title launched on the Dreamcast.

Fighting is fast, furious and gorgeous.  The story mode is at least passable as a tutorial to the hugely in-depth fighting engine at work here.  Online modes work very well and matches are, for the most part, well balanced.  The odd glitch and lag crept in at times but nothing you’d not expect from an online title of this type – or indeed any other.

Full marks then for a solid step in the right direction for the series and a gorgeous online fighter.  Shame about the wafer thin offline options though as it manages to hurt the title as an overall package.

So, Soul Calibur 5 redefines the series and pulls it back in to the well deserved spotlight.  If you’re looking for a solid fighting game to tide you over until Tekken 6 then this is an essential purchase.

About Zeth

Zeth is our EU Senior Editor and has been writing about video games since he joined BG back in 2008. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.

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