We now live in a post Mortal Kombat world; a world where an immersive single player experience isn’t sacrificed in the name of genre stereotypes. Last year’s Mortal Kombat offered up a wonderfully deep, story-driven single player mode, as well as the quintessential multiplayer components that fighting fans have come to expect from their genre of choice. But I’m not here to talk about Mortal Kombat. I’m here to talk about SoulCalibur V. So why the hell haven’t I got there yet, you might be wondering?
Well, I bring up Mortal Kombat only because SoulCalibur V has to live in that world where Mortal Kombat has raised the stakes considerably. Whether you’re a fan of single player gaming or hopping online to beat the hell out of your friends, Mortal Kombat extended its hands to all walks of gamer life. SoulCalibur V, not so much.
SoulCalibur V’s biggest obstacle is itself. Outside some graphical fine tuning, this latest iteration feels like all previous iterations before it. Sure, there’s new fighters and arenas, but Project Soul, the game's developers, seem to be a little too nostalgic with their beloved franchise, afraid to make any real progress forward to keep up with the competition that, frankly, has far surpassed them.
Assassin's Creed's Ezio Auditore can't save SCV from feeling a bit dated.
It begins with the game’s story mode. While I’m grateful that Project Soul attempted to explain why men with huge codpieces are fighting ladies with huge breasts, the end result doesn’t really do anyone any favors. SoulCalibur V’s story follows a character named Patroklos, who is on a mission to track down his sister who was kidnapped 17 years ago. The story, broken into chapters, goes through some twists and turns, but it never reaches the point of being compelling. My roommate actually had the misfortune of watching me play the story mode and he bluntly labeled it “unbearable” — he also compared it to a SyFy original movie, only it wasn’t so bad it was good, it was just bad. For the record, he isn’t wrong.
Project Soul kind of took the cheap route with the game’s campaign, deciding to include cutscenes to string together each fight but not really dumping the funds into their production to make them feel worthwhile. They’re basically animated storyboards, featuring some crudely draw artwork and some painfully boring and dry dialogue. If you’re anything like me, mentally, you’ll have moved on from the game’s story by chapter 4.
Now, this next section of my review might be a bit of contention between old and potentially new fans to the SoulCalibur series. The Soul series has always been a 3D fighter, but I’m coming to the realization now that maybe it’s time to move into the 2D arena. Games like Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and, obviously, Mortal Kombat, have proven that a well built 2D fighter can be a gloriously spectacular nod to the yesteryear of the fighting genre while still feeling contemporary. In contrast, SoulCalibur V just feels archaic. The game sticks to its guns and remains a 3D arena fighter — allowing you to sidestep attacks — yet Project Soul did nothing to make the three-dimensional element stand out. Furthermore, the game’s gorgeous-looking arenas seem perfect for multi-tier slobberknockers, yet that freedom is never realized. The fights finish exactly where they started, and that feels like a missed opportunity.
No, that is not Harley Quinn.
If there’s one thing SoulCalibur V has going for it, it’s the game’s impressive character creator. You can pretty much create any type of character that you want — using the fighting style templates of the game’s main cast — to use in the title’s arcade mode and online. While it’s sad that I couldn’t take my pirate/clown/renaissance man named “DingleBerry” into the game’s campaign to try to claim the Soul Edge for himself, I did enjoy using him in the online arena, if only to initially freak my opponent out with Dingle’s super high-pitched voice. Truly, it’s freakish.
Look, hardcore fans of the SoulCalibur series might be perfectly content with SoulCalibur V. Honestly, if you’ve played SoulCalibur IV, then you know what you’re getting here. But if you, like me, expect more from fighting games now that titles like Mortal Kombat have proven we can have our cake and eat it too, then SoulCalibur V’s crushing dependence on its heritage might be a turn off. SoulCalibur V is a fundamentally sound fighting title, but it doesn’t do anything to meet the high bar set by fighting titles released over the last few years. Ironically, the game’s tagline pretty much sums up the experience: “A tale of swords and souls, eternally retold” — hard emphasis on the eternally retold part.
CraveOnline received one advanced copy of SoulCalibur V for the Xbox 360 from Namco Bandai. We were held to the embargo date of January 31, 2012, 9am PST. Before starting our review, we completed the game’s story mode and took it online for a few hours of play. The great and honorable DingleBerry didn’t perform so admirably.