Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Soulcalibur V Review

Soulcalibur V Review

The fighting is still great, but is the fifth installment of this series a worthy upgrade?

January 31, 2012

source : IGN

It may feel like no time at all since the last Soulcalibur, but it's actually been about three years. So now would be the perfect time for a new game in the series, right? Well, despite boasting a range of new characters, a full story campaign and a (sort of) new Critical Edge super move system, Soulcalibur V feels a lot like more of the same.

For those new to the series, Soulcalibur V is a weapons-based 3D fighting game that uses a rock-paper-scissors-style fighting system revolving around high and low vertical and horizontal attacks, as well as high and low blocks and the ability to easily sidestep opponents. Higher level play – as in any great fighting game – is almost a balletic dance of tactical positioning and attacks. For the rest of us, the moves are fluid and fast, and it's not hard to pick up the basics and have a good time.

In fact, to help make the game a little more friendly, Soulcalibur V sports a new and improved Critical Edge system. It gives newbies the ability to jump in and perform some very stylish and impressive looking attacks. Having appeared in the original Soul Edge (albeit in quite a different form), Critical Edge works much like the Ultra Combo system seen in Street Fighter IV. The goal is to build up your Critical Gauge during battles – preferably by dealing damage, but also by taking it – and use it to unleash some flashy super moves.



Hilde was having a difficult time defending against her opponent's electric urine streams.

The Critical Gauge is also used to perform Guard Impacts; perfectly-timed blocks that open your opponent up to attack. While it can be a neat way to show off, they're not going to be essential for most levels of play, and the fact that they cost energy from the Critical Gauge for little real reward means that most players probably won't bother with them. It's certainly not as clever or user-friendly a mechanic as Street Fighter IV's Focus Attacks, and also means players can no longer parry attacks unless they're Guard Impacts. That said, Soulcalibur V still boasts a great fighting system overall.

Of course, players expect more from modern fighting games than just an excellent fighting engine; they also want a strong selection of modes to keep them busy. Sadly, Soulcalibur V isn't hugely compelling in this department, and the game's much-touted Story Mode is particularly laughable. After last year's Mortal Kombat release set the benchmark for fighting game story modes, fans of the Soulcalibur series were ready for a meaty, cut-scene-driven campaign set on an epic, historical backdrop. Instead, we get a campaign that is eighty per cent driven by storyboards with spoken dialogue over the top, and a nonsensical, fan fiction-quality plot.

The story is based almost entirely around the thick-headed and awkwardly-named new character Patroklos. There are a few battles where you'll get to play as his sister, as well as another new character named Z.W.E.I. and an Alpha version of Patroklos, who has an entirely different move set, but for the most part this is the Patroklos show.


Patroklos' mother likes it 'Athenian style' LOLOLOL.

Our hero is on a quest to rid his estranged sister Pyrrha of her 'malfestation' – a curse that befalls those that come into contact with the evil Soul Edge sword. Oh, and he's also out to wield Soul Calibur (yes, two words) in the name of love. Seriously. The dialogue is so repetitive, and the voice acting so overly dramatic, that you'd think Tommy Wiseau had been brought in as a drama consultant. The story fails to grip at even the most basic level, and if I ever hear the word 'malfested' again it will be too soon. If there was a Soulcalibur V drinking game and a shot was taken for every use of the word you'd be dead within an hour.

The story mode consists of twenty episodes, and it took me roughly an hour to reach episode eighteen. And then things got cheap, thanks to boss characters for two of the last three battles and a huge difficulty spike. The end of the game added a couple of frustrating hours of play time.

The main reason I found it infuriating is because - and bear with me - your success in these tough battles is dependent on how good you are at using Patroklos. Obvious, right, but for me, Soulcalibur is a fighting game where finding the character with the right rhythm for the individual is crucial. Unfortunately I found Patroklos (in both versions) to be extremely uninteresting to use.

Not only that, but the story mode, which was handled by Asura's Wrath developer CyberConnect2, makes no attempt to even teach the player how to use him. It just lets you figure it out against a parade of straightforward opponents before walloping you over the head at the end for not suddenly having absolute mastery over the character. And the story mode - it's worth pointing out - is the meat of Soulcalibur V's single-player experience. Why Project Soul outsourced it we have no idea.

 

So. What else is there for the solo player? Well, the arcade mode has now been reduced to six time trial-based battles, so don't expect to have stories to play through for each of the characters. A Quick Battle mode has you partaking in over two hundred battles in order to unlock titles for your online profile, and an extra-hard Legendary Souls mode is unlocked after completing the story mode.

The character creation mode from previous Soulcalibur games is back, and is still a great deal of fun. Here you get to use the items you've unlocked while leveling up your profile. While most of the items are normal, some are just hilariously ludicrous. Much of our time was spent creating a horse-headed, ladies underwear-sporting monstrosity with hooves, so there is definitely some enjoyment to be had creating your own fighters.

These created characters are strictly visual though, as their available move sets are all taken from the other fighters on the roster – with one exception. Devil Jin's fighting style from the Tekken series can be applied to your creation, which is a very cool addition. You can use the characters you've created in every mode other than the story campaign.


Devil-Jin's moves certainly come in handy.

As we've come to expect from this series, the graphics are gorgeous. Character designs are detailed and animations are fluid and graceful. Battle stages are still breathtaking, and some change and deform between rounds, with the Sinking Merchant Ship being a standout. Fighting games really don't get much prettier than this. You will see a lot of clipping on weapons and clothing, but I personally don't find that a big deal. Menus are also straightforward and the ability to bring up a complete list of your stats via the game's Soul Link is very helpful.

The real heart of the game, however, is multiplayer. Getting into heated battles with your friends gives Soulcalibur V much needed longevity. Multiplayer has always been one of the series' strong points and tense battles where players are trying desperately to expose each other's weaknesses are as fantastic to watch as they are to play. Options are basic, but functional, and online play has been mostly smooth in our limited play-tests to date.

New character Natsu is Taki's successor.

A viewing window that lets you watch other players battle while you wait for your turn in a ranked or player match is very cool, and the ability to register your online friends as rivals is also a nice touch. It lets you compare their battle records against your own. There's also a Global Colosseo mode that gives you a lobby of up fifty slots and allows you to casually challenge any player in there. Think of it as the Soulcalibur V equivalent of a swingers party.

All that said, much of your enjoyment of Soulcalibur V will rest on how much you like the ten new characters, many of which act as replacements or descendants of series favourites. Natsu looks and dresses a lot like her master Taki, but has a demon inside her, which is reflected in her move set. Patroklos and Pyrrha are Sophitia's kids, Xiba is a lot like Kilik and so on. They honestly don't distinguish themselves a great deal, but guest character Ezio Auditore is perfectly suited to the world of Soulcalibur. He has a nice mix of ranged and close-up attacks that take advantage of his arsenal from the Assassin's Creed games.

Ezio is a perfect fit for the Soulcalibur universe.

With so many new characters in the roster, you'd expect a more user-friendly way for the game to teach players how to use them. Wading through a training mode is such a stale way of learning, and most newcomers will likely look at some of the game's move strings and find them about as clear as string theory. Other recent fighting games like Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat have prospered by having challenge modes that not only start at a basic level and gradually teach players how to use specific combos and tactics, but also present these challenges as something you are compelled to accomplish. As a result, these challenge modes almost felt like an extra campaign. Soulcalibur V would've benefited greatly by including a similar mode.
Closing Comments
Soulcalibur V is at its absolute best with friends, when it's testing your skill, reaction times and trash talking ability. The combat is still great and the graphics are still beautiful. Outside of that, it's a slight disappointment, as this is the weakest single player experience in the series yet. The game just never attempts to give us something we haven't seen before. It's more comfortable recycling the same old gameplay with a few additions pilfered from other trend-setting fighting games. Shame, because in many ways this is a quality title, with plenty of depth in its combat, and refinements that will keep diehard fans busy.
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