Soulcalibur V review for PS3, Xbox 360

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes

Soulcalibur V manages to get a few key things about modern fighter?s right, straight out of the gate. Its online mode is the most remarkable thing about it, in that it actually works. I held off on writing this review until I could sample the game with the rest of the community playing and over the course of 50 plus online matches, I?ve come away genuinely impressed by the netcode.

You can search by a number of criteria, including similar player level, region, and connection strength. Connection strength covers 5 levels, and if you get a match going with players showing 3, 4, or 5 bars, you?re pretty much guaranteed a smooth match. Even matching with a 2 bar connection isn?t unplayable, and it?s a far cry better than most online fighters, at least during their initial launch week.

Another thing Soulcalibur V excels at is its character creation system. The series has had this before, but it?s worth noting that it?s still remarkably flexible. There are a lot of clothing options, but also a number of scalable effects, body sizes, colors, stickers, emblems, and more. If you really want to play around with it, you can come up with some crazy stuff.

But, as is the case with most games, you can?t take a couple steps forward without taking a step or two back as well. The single player content here feels lessened compared to previous games in the series. You?ve got your standard story mode, vs. mode, Legendary Souls, and Quick Battle mode.

Story mode is awful. Downright, bottom of the barrel, junk. Soulcalibur has generally had a pretty decent emphasis on story, opting to intertwine the fates of the different characters throughout the series, evolving character plots from one game to the next, and so on. The writing has certainly never been strong, generally feeling like your average shonen style anime. But it?s usually fun to experience. Soulcalibur V?s story, on the other hand, is not. It doesn?t even manage to capitalize on the full roster, leaving numerous characters out of the experience.

Legendary Souls, Arcade, and Quick Battle are all ok, but again, not nearly as interesting as previous Soulcal modes like Mission, Weapon Master, and Chronicles of the Sword. They certainly gave players a reason to pick up the game even if their friends weren?t interested in playing. I guess in lieu of that you?ve got a great, working online mode to connect with anyone for some vs. action, but I still feel like the game could use a compelling single player mode, and it doesn?t have one.

There are some changes to the fighting this time out, but overall they feel like smart additions. Soulcalibur V introduces the equivalent of a super meter, which builds over time and allows you to execute Critical Edge moves, powerful moves that can take ? or more of an opponent?s health bar. This super bar also comes into play when enhancing a few select special moves for each character, turning them into unblockables but requiring a longer wind-up time.

Guard Impact has been changed to allow the player the ability to block any standard move regardless of height, but now requires you to press back and all three attack buttons to pull it off. The timing is tricky, I have yet to really nail this down, but it?s definitely important to learn if you plan on exceling at the game.

Just Guard, a new defensive move that basically replaces the way Just Guard used to work, won?t repel a move but will shorten your recovery time when blocking. Another addition is the quick side step that allows you to dash around a character in order to side step vertical slashes or projectiles, and close the distance for annoying spam characters.

The roster is pretty decent, but not the best the series has seen. You?ve got a number of returning characters of course; Cervantes, Voldo, Ivy, Tira and more all make the cut. There are some notable absences though, and Sophitia has been replaced in favor of two newer characters, Patroklos and Pyrrha, her son and daughter respectively.

There are some wasted unlocks too, which I won?t reveal who, but there are three mimic characters in the game. Mimic characters are basically low-rent Shang Tsung?s, characters that will adopt the move list of another character for each round of fighting. Using three of these characters to pad out the roster is a mistake, and a complete waste considering the other characters that didn?t make the roster.

So while the game certainly manages to get one very important aspect right, the online side of things, it still doesn?t feel like the best Soulcalibur game I?ve seen out of Namco. It feels a bit like the game might have been rushed out to retail, or that all the development was spent ensuring a smooth online experience, but a lot of the stuff that?s been laid to the wayside is the stuff that generally makes Soulcalibur feel like, well, Soulcalibur.

It?s still a really solid fighting game and still pretty easy for newcomers to pick up and play, but it?s not everything that I want out of the game. As much as I loathe paying for content that should have been on disc in the first place, I do find myself hoping that DLC will alleviate some of the issues I have.

As it stands, I still think it?s worth a look. Come in with your expectations tempered, and try to pull a few friends in with you, and you?ll most likely have a good time with the game. It?s not quite god-tier, but it will work.

Grade: B-