Soul Calibur III E3 2005 Preshow Hands-On

We get an exclusive hands-on with Namco's anticipated 3D fighter for the PlayStation 2.

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We've been anxious to get our hands on Soul Calibur III since the game was announced just a few weeks ago. The third entry in Namco's acclaimed weapon-based fighting series boasts new characters, new modes, and refined combat. So, naturally, we've been anxious to see just what's going on with the game. Rather than wait until E3 next week, we managed to get our hands on the first playable demo of the game to see how it's shaping up. The limited demo offered just a modest sampling of what the final game will feature, but it did reveal to us that the game is headed in a promising direction.

Meet Zasalamel, an Egyptian warrior who is faster than he looks.
Meet Zasalamel, an Egyptian warrior who is faster than he looks.

The demo featured a selection of modes that were basically laid out the way they've always been in the series. You'll see three basic main modes--single, versus, and shop--that offer different variations for you to explore. While most everything was locked out, we were able to have a peek at what will eventually be available. Single-player featured the most options at the moment, as it had several different submodes listed. "Tale of souls" is the single-player story mode that, while pretty standard for just about any fighting game, has undergone a tweak to offer a slightly different experience. You'll start out by selecting a character as you always have, and then you'll head out to engage in some beatings. The demo offered Soul Calibur poster boy Misturugi and one of the new faces to the roster, the spiky hoop-wielding Tira, as your fighter options. You'll then go to a story screen that offers context on what's going on before hopping into a traditional one-on-one fight. Following your fight, you'll be sent to an overworld map, similar in form and function to what we've seen in the weapon master mode in the previous games, where you'll get to choose where to go next. You'll get a bit of text that continues the story laid out in the setup for your fight, which offers you two options on where to go next. This new branching path system will affect where you go and who you fight with your chosen character. From the sound of it, you'll need to play through at least twice with each character to see and fight everyone. To offer a taste of how this will play out, the demo pitted us against different fighters. After playing through it twice, we were able to meet and fight Kilik, newcomer Zasalamel, and a variant of Berserker who was included to show off the kinds of characters you can make in Soul Calibur III's character creation mode.

Besides the tale of souls mode, your single-player options will include "chronicle of the sword," world competition, soul arena, museum, and character creation. Character creation is the mode we're most excited for, because it lets you create an original fighter you can then take to the chronicle of the sword mode to see how he or she fares. While Namco representatives still weren't giving up much information on exactly how the mode will play out, it sounds as though you might be taking more of a "coaching" role in that you let your virtual self do its thing in battle. The other mode reps were coy about is the museum mode, as it sounds like it's going to come packed with content, such as artwork and other renders that should please fans of the series.

You'll be able to customize your fighters with new weapons and accessories.
You'll be able to customize your fighters with new weapons and accessories.

Outside of the single-player options, the demo also listed a versus mode, which we expect will have a solid array of submodes to choose from (just as single-player does), and a shop. The shop will function as it always has in the series, offering you a plethora of goods to buy with currency earned in battle. You'll find everything from content you'll actively use in your game, such as new weapons and accessories for your fighter, to artwork and cinematics you can check out in the museum mode.

Let Battle Commence

So, with this overview out of the way, we'll hop to the fighting, since one of the burning questions on our collective mind has been how the game is going to handle. At this point, Soul Calibur III appears as though it's going to continue the modest forward steps the series' core gameplay made in Soul Calibur II. The core four-button fighting mechanic, which is made up of horizontal and vertical strikes, as well as a kick and a guard, remains the same. Returning characters will have their existing move sets freshened with new attacks and combos, however. This means veteran players should be able to hop in and pick up where they left off, though the additions to the returning fighters may require some minor adjustments to some learned fighting strategies. At the same time, the three new characters represent new challenges for fans to master.

Like Voldo, Tira employs a very deliberate and unusual fighting style.
Like Voldo, Tira employs a very deliberate and unusual fighting style.

During our time with the demo, we had the opportunity to play as both Mitsurugi and Tira. While Mitsurugi had the familiar, and extremely powerful, feel he's always had, Tira was an interesting change of pace. Although her barbed chakram clearly sets the poor girl up for ridicule, it also proves to be an effective weapon. At first blush, you might assume she falls into the standard stereotype associated with female characters in a fighting game--fast but not really powerful--but that doesn't appear to be the case. Tira's attacks lend themselves to a more deliberate style of fighting (possibly along the lines of how you'd play Voldo) that require you to be methodical. Although she can attack at a good clip, she's not in the same speed class as Taki. Once you get her timing right, you should be able to pull off some wicked and painful-looking combos that should silence any hoop-heckling you might receive for picking her.

Though we weren't able to play him, Zasalamel proved to be a formidable opponent. Whereas as Tira was slower than she looked, Zasalamel was faster. Don't be fooled by the enormous scythe, because the Egyptian warrior hits hard and has a painfully effective mix of close and ranged attacks that appear to come out quicker than you'd expect. Meanwhile, Kilik was as frustratingly quick as ever.

The solid gameplay is complemented by sharp visuals that, while still being worked on, already look outstanding. The game's graphics engine has been refined since Soul Calibur II, achieving some very positive results. Though the upgrades don't yield too dramatic an upgrade on the character models at the moment (the models do look a bit sharper), the environments certainly do. We had the opportunity to battle in several different arenas, all of which featured higher levels of detail and animation. One of the stages was set in a windy area--complete with moving gears--that reminded us of the windmill arena in Soul Calibur II, though it looked markedly improved. Another stage, set on a moving raft, was impressive due to the sheer speed at which it moved during battle. The special effects, such as weapons trails and particle effects, are still being added, though a new screen-blur effect during blocks represents a nice addition.

The arenas you'll be fighting in are much more detailed than those in previous Soul Calibur games.
The arenas you'll be fighting in are much more detailed than those in previous Soul Calibur games.

The sights of battle are accompanied by an appropriate assortment of audio. The tunes you'll hear suit the action and are in line with the quality we've heard in the previous entries in the series. Weapon clashes are, as always, sharp and satisfying. Meanwhile, the fighters fire off a convincing array of grunts and battle cries that sound good and clear as well.

Based on this early demo, Soul Calibur III is shaping up to be another solid entry in the fighting series. Although you could ding it for not doing too much to move the series forward in terms of gameplay or online play, there are certainly some interesting ideas to be appreciated in the single-player experience. We've been left jonesing to see more of the various game modes, especially character creation. In a year when it seems as though the fighting genre won't get much representation on the PlayStation 2, Soul Calibur III should offer fighting fans something to get excited about. Soul Calibur III is currently slated to ship this fall exclusively for the PS2. Look for more on the game next week from E3 and in the coming months.

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