Soul Calibur 5 sees the return of the weapon-wielding fighting series, back after a four-year break. It’s got big boots to fill: during that time new Street Fighter and Marvel vs Capcom games have been hogging the headlines. Ahead of its 3 February release we were treated to an extended play, a first peek at the story mode, and a hands-on with special guest character – Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Autidore. Has Soul Calibur 5 been worth the wait? Read on for our first impressions…
At a time when yearly sequels seem to be becoming the norm, a four-year wait for a new Soul Calibur is likely to have stretched the patience of fans to the limit. Yet after just one session with Namco Bandai’s Soul Calibur 5, you can’t help but feel as if the series has never been away. Everything just clicks into place.
In essence, not a lot has changed. The gameplay remains true to its signature free-flowing style, the kind that allows for fast-paced button-bashing-friendly combat, yet still capable of catering to the die-hard fight stick crowd keen to hone their technique, learn each basic move, guard and signature speciality.
Soul Calibur 5 maintains the balance between approachable controls and combat that remains easy to pick up and play, yet difficult to master to its fullest. Fully traversable 3D arenas lets players sidestep their way past attacks, and even walk around their opponent full circle – adding further attack and evasive opportunities for players in a way only Soul Calibur and fellow Namco Bandai alternative Tekken allow.
From our two-hour session, we can already see that such tactics will be required, what with the powerful new Critical Edge attacks, capable of inflicting up to two thirds of damage to opponents. To activate these, a Critical Edge bar needs filling up, and is done so in incremental stages. The more it is filled, the stronger the Critical Edge attack. At full whack, it is both monstrously powerful and unblockable. Sidestepping just before the strike hits is the only way to dodge them. With just half a second’s notice, evading it requires ninja-like reflexes. These attacks are a handy leveler for when squaring up to more skilled foes.
Character-wise, old favourites Maxi, Mitsurugi, Siegfried, Cervantes, Ivy and more are still there – yes, even creepy bondage fan Voldo. A minor clear-out has seen some old cast members out, and new cast members entering the battle. Kilik has been replaced by Xiba – another staff-wielder who plays in a similar way, using many of the same moves.
And then there’s the special guest character – Ezio Autidore from Assassin’s Creed – a major coup, and much more relevant than former cameo fighters Darth Vader (PS3-exclusive) and Yoda (Xbox 360-exclusive). Soul Calibur 5 has its share of short and long-range focussed characters. Ezio is the former, but once close enough to an opponent, Ezio can be devastating. Unlike Vader and Yoda, Ezio looks a perfect fit for Soul Calibur 5.
Lastly, the story mode. We were only privy to one chapter in which Patroklos, son of Soul Calibur’s Sophitia, goes about a town ridding it of evil, battering enemy knights in pursuit of the powerful ‘Soul Edge’ sword. The story is told through cinematic, cutscenes, hand-drawn interludes and voiceover narration to fuel the storyline.
Previous Soul Calibur games let players collect and equip new weapons and take part in challenges. Little about these aspects was revealed to us, so we can only hope that come release there will be more to the story mode. A character customisation mode lets you either tweak an existing character, or create your own from scratch.
The customisation options here are impressive enough to make your own Frankenfighter look and sound almost any way you like. We gave ours a purple afro. We’re creative like that.
As we’ve seen with the Marvel vs Capcom and Street Fighter games, the best fighting games manage to evolve without tweaking too much. Right now, that’s how we’re feeling with Soul Calibur 5. The basic gameplay treads familiar ground, but it’s the little changes, new move mechanics, an overhauled story mode and its much-improved fighting arenas that should see Soul Calibur 5 end up a worthy refresh of the series, and one we very much look forward to playing more of.
Out February 3rd 2012 | £TBC | Soul Calibur 5