The publicity push for SoulCalibur V, the latest game in a long line of weapon-orientated beat 'em ups, has been a bit ridiculous. Aside from spraypainting in Shoreditch and rock-carving in Sweden (seriously), they've got together with Gym Box to offer free swordfighting fitness training for anyone who turns up with a copy of the game. What's not to like about that?
Pyrrha wasn't Greek but instead approachably Northern, you'll be pleased to hear
We were offered a chance to take part, so we snapped it up – hell, it beat doing actual work, and that's the criteria we apply to most of our press jaunts. We're greeted by several stunt actors in the costumes of the characters from the game - samurai Mitsurugi, wandering Teutonic knight and patricide fan Siegfried, and unwilling but still surprisingly competent swordswoman Pyrrha – and learn to fight them. Here follow our impressions of the real-world-swordfighting versus the game, which we played later that day:
Seigfried here, giving up on the pointy bits of his sword and using the flat bits instead
SoulCalibur V: Well, no-one plays fighting games for the story, do they? SCV's story isn't great – it deals with new characters Pyrhha and Patrokolos, neither of them at all likeable due to being a big wet ninny and an entitled jerk respectively. You'll take control of one of them – or a small selection of other characters – switched out almost at random, so you'll not really have enough time to adjust to one move set before switching to another.1
Cut-scenes are nicely animated but all-too often fall back to pencil drawings of the action, like a courtroom artist has been drafted in to document proceedings at the last minute as the video team go on strike. All the other characters get extremely short shrift, with nary a cut-scene nor a paragraph of explanatory text to show us why they're running around the globe cutting up folk with their swords.
Apologies for the headband. Also the haircut. Also the face
Real life: Paragons of virtue and fitness that we are, rather than spend the night before our early-morning workout resting in serene meditation and practising our sword katas, we went out on a moderate lash and ended up drinking six pints of bitter and smoking a bunch of fags in The Angel Soho which is a lovely pub that you should totally go to some day soon. But it left us feeling a little unsteady on our feet the next day, as we stumbled out of the tube and glared squint-eyed at the grey London sky. This must be how Vikings felt every morning. No wonder they were so grumpy.
This was our struggle. Were we going to be sick? Probably not, no, but were we? Could we fight our opponents as well as our inner demons, here represented by a thin sheen of uncomfortable beer-sweat and a slightly upset tummy? It's a tale that transcends history, a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold. Classic stuff.
Maxi's new glowstick weapon proved ineffective
SoulCalibur V: Moving away from the technical, stilted combat of SoulCalibur IV, the series sees a return to form with moves flowing together as silkily as a Galaxy Caramel melting into a pot of warm gloss-effect paint. Reliance on stances is reduced, and they've been replaced with set-up moves and quick commands – so the action is faster, and tidier, than it has been for years.
Also new is a fancy power bar that builds up as you fight and take damage – you can use it to perform 'Critical Edge' attacks on your opponents, which are like tiny-cut scenes that do loads of damage. Unless your opponent blocks them, or you miss, both of which happen quite often if we're honest.
Our eyes met across the crowded room. We tried to cut her head off. She seemed unhappy about that
Real Life: We're not just allowed to bash each other's faces off using the nifty foam replica weapons that the organisers have put on, and instead are learning a series of “phrases” that let us play through a set of choreographed moves with each other. While it's not as much fun initially, we get a bit excited when we're allowed to perform Seigfried's signature move which involves punching Mitsurugi in the chest and then stunning him with the pommel of our massive over-sized sword.
Sure is tiring, though. We're going through bottled water like it's nobody's business. Plus the ghosts of each one of our cigarettes last night is haunting our lungs, stickily.
And here, having tied of the sword entirely, Seigfried used his big metal feet
SoulCalibur V: Again doing their best to move away from static gameplay, Project Soul have made defence a bit more dynamic. Guard Impacts – shoving your sword in the way of an attack and stunning your opponent – now run off the same bar as the Critical Edge attacks, meaning you'll have to get all fighty before you can get all defendy. Which is nice.
Just Guards, which are like Just Juice but with guards instead of juice, have made an appearance. If you block at just the right time then your reaction time is increased dramatically, giving you the edge to counter-attack. We mean, we assume it does that. We've never pulled one off. Quite often, we forget to block at all and focus on our good old-fashioned throw-heavy strategy.
Real Life: As it's all rehearsed to look good (ish) on camera, we're not allowed to just block attacks willy-nilly. But we're getting into it. Even though the guy pretending to be Misturugi is a) definitely not Japanese and b) has balls of string spraypainted to look like prayer beads on his costume, he's got a certain charm, and before long we're joining in and making all the right “Hyuh!” “Hai!” and “Hoooruyah!” noises in all the right places. It's remarkably good fun. Even if you can't swordfight, make the noises next time you're chopping up stuff for a stir fry.
We are taught, quite usefully, how to get kicked in the balls and walk away unscathed. The trick is getting your assailant to kick part of your inner leg, and get the camera to take a picture behind you, then crumple appropriately and roll around on the floor, overacting. To be honest we're quite glad of the lie down; this is the most exercise we've done in months, and the extra Christmas weight is hanging heavy around our waist.
Want to play an anachronism? SoulCalibur V has you covered
SoulCalibur V: A ridiculously broad range of characters awaits, and even though many of them are children of previous characters (so therefore almost entirely identical in terms of play) it is at least a nod to story progression. Ezio from the Assassin's Creed series makes an appearance, and rather cheats by not only bringing a crossbow to a swordfight but a gun as well.
The character creation mode is better than ever, offering a huge range of costumes, items, and weird shit to stick on your character. Everything is endlessly customisable down to almost unnecessary detail, which we like, and you're also able to create a character that uses the moves of Devil Jin, the flappy purple guy with laser eyes from the end of Tekken 2. Yeah. That guy.
Oh man we are BRIGHT RED in this shot you could toast marshmallows on our fucking face
Real Life: Shit, frankly. This 'journalist' character doesn't know the first thing about fighting (and barely even qualifies as a journalist, if we're honest), keeps falling over, and can't hold his sword straight. He possesses some flair (running through Pyrhha, leaving the sword stuck in her and walking away like it ain't no thing while she collapses) but it's all flash and no substance.
Can't seem to unlock any other characters. Seem to be playing on Hard Mode despite never being given the option to select difficulty level. Move list consists of about four variations on 'wave sword around like you know what you're doing, but not really' and a lot of his stances involve leaning against walls, sitting down on a crash mat, or swigging from a bottle of water and breathing heavily.
The final verdict
'Yeah, this guy's scary and everything, but could we not give him a mouth where his tummy should be?'
SoulCalibur V: An excellent fighting game, and a great introduction to the series if you've never bothered with it before, but not as engaging story-wise as SoulCalibur III. Although we played that at Uni, and we were so high most of the time that the backs of shampoo bottles became pretty engaging, so make of that what you will.
EAT IT MITSURUGI
Real Life: Visceral thrills and an experience so real it was almost like being there dampened somewhat by minor chest pains and blisters forming on the right foot from shuffling about in a pose we thought was Mitsurugi's default stance but actually made us look a bit of a tit.
Soul Calibur V is out February 3 (that's today, date fans!) on PS3 and Xbox 360
1 Oh, and they change the styles of Pyrhha and Patrokolos halfway through, as well, just in case you were getting complacent and starting to understand what was going on.