While there have been an ample number of weapons-based fighting games, Namco’s SoulCalibur is the undoubted daddy – and with beautiful graphics, fluid fighting and some solid button-mashing, the franchise’s latest entry shows no sign of losing the title.
Unsurprisingly, the backstory’s not exactly Dostoyevsky. Long ago there were two super magical swords trapped in an eternal battle between good and evil. Now everyone’s hitting each other over the head to wield them. Erm, that’s about it.
But just as you don’t read Dostoyevsky for the fight scenes now, it’d be somewhat unfair to judge a fighting game on its narrative.
The core fighting style and combo execution is more unique than most – with a horizontal/vertical/block button set-up, and a genuinely 3D space to dance around, fights are traditionally more tactical than your bigger, button-bashing franchises.
The addition of a new and improved ‘Critical Edge’ system tweaks combat subtly, and ensures that once you’ve been battered enough (or have taken enough substantial battering), your Critical Gauge fills up and allows you to unleash all kinds of mega-combo hell.
When it comes to an array of modes, SoulCalibur is frustratingly lacking. Despite my teasing, the game’s new and improved Story Mode was touted as a key selling point – and sadly, the reality is somewhat underwhelming. You’re primarily placed in the shoes of shining knight Patroklos, and while you’ll get to jump into the stab-happy shoes of a few other characters, it’s fundamentally his story, so it’s a shame it’s such a ludicrous, loosely-constructed narrative.
As a result, the bog-standard Arcade Mode is now seriously story-free. Gone are the days of steering your favourite character through their adventure of choice – something that smacks of disappointment when you’ve got ten new characters to play around with (including, impressively it must be said, Enzio from Assassin’s Creed).
On the plus side, SoulCalibur IV’s Character Creation mode is back and as superlative as ever. The sheer combination of weapons, body-types, and appendages is fairly mind-blowing, and there are genuinely hours of fun to be had from crafting an utterly bad-ass, totally ridiculous-looking warrior to strike bewildering fear into the hearts of your enemies using the game’s real trump card – the online multiplayer.
The Global Colosseo mode allows you to sign up to a fifty-strong arena and challenge players at will, while standard friend-on-friend fights are suitably seamless (broadband speed withstanding).
Fighting fans will find loads to enjoy, as will nerds of pretty much every persuasion (I spent an entire evening pretending to be controlling Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones – all the action, none of the incest), but franchise followers may feel a little short-changed.
Hitting things round the face with big sticks will always be entertaining, and SoulCalibur excels in that department. If you’re looking for groundbreaking fighting fare however, it can’t quite compete.
SoulCalibur V is out now and available on Xbox 360 and PS3.