Soulcalibur IV Review
publisher: Bandai Namco
developer: Pacific Media
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jul 29, 08
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Namco Bandai worked on this one for a while and we've been hearing the creative team go on and on about how Soulcalibur IV will be a major step in the evolution of the beat-em-up series. More than that, we were hoping that Soulcalibur IV would bring a variety of key innovations, spicing up the genre a little. The game is now in stores and is available in PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 variants, with each version featuring a few unique additions (actually, it's just the inclusion of Yoda and Vader).
Fans of the series will no doubt instantly recognize a number of familiar characters, along with a selection of new ones. The Xbox 360 edition, which is the one we played, offers slick visuals, excellent sound and an overall pleasing atmosphere. It looks good enough to fit among the vast choice of modern-day games, while preserving the spirit of the Soulcalibur series. Also, it's easy to get to and even makes newbies feel at home.
One of our main disappointments with Soulcalibur IV, which came into view early on, is that the game is perhaps too easy, regardless of your past experiences with brawlers. Completing the game can be done swiftly just by button-mashing your way through the Story Mode - increasing the difficulty level doesn't change things much. As a result, unlocking characters is a lot less rewarding.
On the other hand, the variety of unique moves for each fighter keeps you occupied and pulling off these moves is where the real challenge lies. So, ironically, the single-player content isn't very gratifying as you play the Story mode. For that players are better off with the so-called Tower of Lost Souls mode, which allows you to take control of one (to three) characters and take down groups of adversaries without renewing your health. Taking part in these battles involves a set of specific tasks, which, if completed, brings you an assortment of rewards like different types weapons, armor and so on.
Customizing characters is another fun aspect of the game. The appearance of each fighter can be altered, while the game also allows players to create their own characters and then use those in online and offline matches. Everything can be set to your liking, from equipment and weapons, to clothes armor and hairstyle. Online play, by the way, features ranked and unranked matches, which gives gamers a chance to battle it out with their customized characters or the regular ones. Things can get pretty intense. On rare occasions, we experienced lag issues, but nothing too troubling.
As for the bonus fighters, it seems kind of pointless to include two of the most important Star Wars characters in the game and not have them face each other. Okay, maybe it would be inconsistent with the Star Wars universe. Wait. What am I saying? Yoda and Vader (and the Secret Apprentice from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed) are fighting dudes with huge swords and that in itself messes with the whole SW story. Fair enough, I'm nitpicking here. At any rate, it's said that both Vader and Yoda could be featured in both editions some time in the near future. I'll admit this much, controlling characters like Yoda in a brawler such as SC IV is really quite enjoyable and I guess that's what this game is all about - having fun and making the most out of your character's combat skills and unique powers.
There are a few cool innovations that weren't present in previous SC games. For instance, certain opponents may resort to blocking moves too often, which could cause pieces of their armor to fall off, in turn making them more vulnerable to critical finishing moves. This works effectively via the newly fitted soul-gauge system. Once the gauge becomes red and you see your health bar flashing, chances are you'll soon be defenseless against your opponent, who might then execute an instant-kill move - enter the many awesome-looking slow-mo finishing moves.
However, on a quick personal note, I have to say I really expected more from the Story mode - the storyline is rather substandard, almost non-existent, in fact. In a nutshell, the game's single-player portion feels a bit underdone, offering a slightly vague depiction of the characters, save for sporadic cut-scenes followed by brief texts, explaining precious little. In addition, Soulcalibur IV doesn't actually make any significant contributions that would push the genre forward.
Despite its drawbacks, this is a good fighting game, with a fine choice of characters, numerous skills, weapons and arenas to fight in, on top of a variety of modes, each of which can be great fun both offline and online. Soulcalibur IV is also very accessible to beginners and thanks to its well-structured online mode, there's plenty of room for a thriving community.
Enough content to guarantee some pretty wild matches, both online and offline, a few nice innovations make this game an improvement over earlier editions in the series, excellent visuals and sound;
Single-player is underdeveloped, lacks a richer narrative, rare moments of lag in online matches, no Yoda vs. Vader... yet.
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