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PREVIEW

SOUL CALIBUR V

Even if the guest character hadn't leaked a few days early, that the audience for the latest Soul Calibur V event included members of Ubisoft's UK team would have been clue enough.

Yet even without the surprise that Assassins Creed's Ezio Auditore de Firenze was joining the weapon-wielding cast of Namco's fighter, the late afternoon's show, hidden in the bowels of one of London's fancier hotel establishments, offered some entertainment: a comedy-driven video presentation by Project Soul announcing a wealth of new info, and some hands-on time with the bolstered roster for the fighting franchise's fifth entry.

We've already covered the newly announced list of returning combatants. Although it looks like a new soul has been taken over by Soul Edge, SCV's Nightmare played fairly similarly to previous incarnations, the huge sweeping range of his sword a energy-sapping barrier for rivals without strategy, and his charged attacks hammering outrageous chunks from opponents' health bars. Leisha is practically a re-skin of swordsman Xianghua, her attack set a delight due to her quick footwork and body weaves, the latter offering potential for standing dodges without sacrificing aggressive attack strategies.

Raphel's return was secured due to plenty of fan feedback, Project Soul explaining how popular the rapier-using swordsman is with players. As before his strikes are lighting quick, and his costume for SCV reminds us heavily of Alucard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Soul Calibur V

We got hands-on with a mixture of fighters - new, returning and just announced. But the most interesting character we found during our playtest was Viola - the already-announced fighter had a unique weapon setup. One clawed hand may recall Street Fighter's Vega, but it was the crystal ball that floats just above her other hand that offering up some intriguing tactical options. The ball can be controlled as a separate entity, in so much as Viola can fire it past her opponent and let it hover behind, only to recall it back at any time with a button combination, hammering into your foe's back. With timing this could be used as a option for air-juggling. While the other options - such as having it spin around Viola's body - are no more than a different visualisation of any other character's defensive move, the ball's excessive glow can distract your rival, who'll have to consider both you and the ball during matches.

Yet obviously Ezio will attract the most attention. This is the younger take on the character, wearing the pure white robes of the Assassin's, and we're left to wonder his older Revelations counterpart would have handled had he been used instead. For this Ezio is a swift-mover, and our time with him proves he's got a versatility that'll make it interesting to see what pro-players will do with him. He comes equipped with all his Assassin gear, a crossbow that can be hefted and swung from top left to bottom right as well as used as a long-ranged weapon. The hidden gun could possibly be cheap - letting Ezio fire off a single bullet that can deck an unwary opponent. He's also stocking hidden blades and a Roman sword that can be deployed as his Critical Edge.

Soul Calibur V

His inclusion, given Soul Calibur's historical time-smudging frame, is a good fit, and he doesn't seem immediately cheap like Yoda in SCIV, and despite the franchise leap doesn't seem as bizarre as Link's cameo in SCII. And he wasn't the only assassin, nor the oddest character, of the day.

That award went to Geo "Le Bello" Dampierre, imported over from series' offshoot Broken Destiny. A comical appearance suggested rich aristocrat spliced with circus performer - elongated moustache, top hat, colourful pants and gentleman boxing stance. He's likely marked as a comedic inclusion, and his appearance in a reveal video announced he'd only be available as a pre-order exclusive only.

It was a perfect segue for the studio to announce its pre-order bundle: a bound box including the usual soundtrack and art book, alongside DLC exclusive - a Dark and White Knight costume variants for use in the Creation Mode.

Soul Calibur V

That has seen its content increased by some 30%, with customisation choices bordering on the fetish-level. Working from a warrior template, you'll be able to to alter character size, mass, skin tone, face, as well as map a multitude of random items and clothing onto their body, and layer tattoo stickers onto any body part.

Without proper time to heavily test the fighting mechanics we're unable at this time to comment on the game's balancing. But the multitude of announcements, additions and inclusions means that we're looking forward to Soul Calibur V's February 3rd release next year, and that the fighting genre's continuing revival trundles healthily onwards.

Soul Calibur V
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