For: PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Project Soul
Publisher: Namco Bandai
When? Early 2012

What’s it all about? Back in the day Soul Calibur was Namco’s answer to those who asked ‘Just what would Tekken be like if all the fighters determined that the sure fire way to maim their opponent was to smash them over the head with huge swords?’ Latterly Soul Calibur is a much more refined experience and it’s with this fifth version that developer’s Project Soul hope to bring their fans the definitive version of the massive swords wielded by a mix of well-muscled men and skimpily clad girls fighter.

Set 10 years after the supposed series culmination in Soul Calibur IV, this fifth entry brings in new fighters in an attempt to freshen up proceedings and usher in new storylines. On show at the recent Namco Bandai press event were Patroklos and Pyrrha, siblings (and offspring of series veteran Sophitia Alexandra) who both wield sword and shield, and ZWEI, a fighter able to summon a spiritual force to aid him – hence the name (German for ‘two’ don’t you know).

Keen to put the power back in the hands of the expert craftsman – rather than the much maligned button-masher – Project Soul are all about putting the emphasis on skilled play this time around. That means improvements to the parry system by which split second timing can deflect an incoming attack and so leave your opponent open for a combo of your own devices.

Meanwhile a critical gauge running along the bottom of the screen will charge over time thus allowing for super moves – a beat-em-up staple these days of course. In practice there wasn’t anything uniquely original on offer but moves flowed with a grace that felt reassuringly solid while super moves were appropriately mental.

The 3D fighter’s bugbear – the clumsy confusion of bodies and movement when fighters are up close and attempting throws, sidesteps, etc. – was still present however, as was the thing that always grinds my gears: the fact you can slash someone in the face a dozen times and they only lose a fraction of their health. How I long for a return of Bushido Blade! (Or at least some kind of compromise between real damage and ridiculous minimal damage…)

In the preview build on show the other notable aspect was the speed at which the rounds passed by, with little fan fare between one round ending in KO and the next beginning. While we’d fully expect there to be all the usual round counts and character quips once the game launches it actually made a pretty refreshing change for the action to unfold so briskly – keep that option in there please.

Worth the wait? Hopefully. Given that the game was (according to Project Soul themselves) only developed due to petitions for a further franchise entry by fans, there’s every reason to assume that the team will be doing their utmost to make this the most varied, fluid and explosive entry yet. If you’ve failed to take to previous Soul Calibur outings then chances are this one won’t persuade you otherwise but, if you are a fan, then expect fireworks come its 2012 release.