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Jeremy Jastrzab
12 Aug, 2008

SoulCalibur IV Review

360 Review | Flaming the fighting fan's burning soul.
Now that the HD generation is in full swing, some may be surprised at the dearth of fighting games. Well, we did get Virtua Fighter 5 last year and the next Mortal Kombat and Tekken 6 are on the way, but at least we've now got Soul Calibur IV, the latest in the much vaunted fighting series featuring intense weapon-based comabt. The series is looking to bounce back after the muted reception of Soul Calibur III, particuarly in comparison to its predecessors. The Soul Edge/Calibur series happens to have an interesting story surrounding two legendary blades: Soul Edge (re: the evil one) and Soul Calibur (re: the good one) as well as numerous characters and their back stories. The story is a tad skimpy in Soul Calibur IV, but it revolves around the king of an ancient civilization named Algol, that has come across and acquired the power of both the legendary blades, and each character in the game has their reason for wanting to stop him.

The Soul Calibur series has never concentrated too heavily on the memorising of strings of combos or overtly fancy controller inputs. Instead, it bases the fighting on knowing when to attack or when to block, from which you progressively graduate to knowing the best attack in each situation. For newcomers it’s very good because you’ll be pulling off big moves in almost no time but at the same time, you’re rewarded even more for really learning how a character plays. With over 30 characters (keeping in mind that some are clones), each with their own types of distinct weaponry, there’s sure to be something for everyone.

On the way to a shocking.

On the way to a shocking.
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However, Soul Calibur IV doesn’t really fiddle too much with a system that’s worked so well for four games now, but you will notice differences depending on which version you’ve played with. Soul Calibur IV follows much closer off Soul Calibur III, so fans and veterans of Soul Calibur II may be a little disappointed at this. Still, it does give some incentive to try and learn the new intricacies, while still utilising some of the old ones. While we don’t suggest that the game is bad, it does feel slower than previous titles, making it feel more like Tekken. What’s really disappointing is the fact that button mashers will still get away with certain characters and the overall balance is not as tight as you’d expect from a top-line fighting game.

In terms of additions, Soul Calibur IV only adds two characters to the fray, Hilde and Algol, while most of the past cast reappear. However, in a move started in Soul Calibur II, there are also the much vaunted guest appearances of Darth Vader (on the PS3), Yoda (on the Xbox 360) and “The Apprentice” all of Star Wars fame (the latter from the upcoming Star Wars: Force Unleashed. Realistically, Darth Vader is the fairest addition as he 'fits' into the universe the easiest, while Yoda’s size makes him rather cumbersome to use and play against. The Apprentice on the other hand has some crazy moves that once learned, make him ridiculously powerful and very annoying in the Arcade.

As mentioned, the gameplay additions are fairly subtle and will only really be noticed by veterans. They mainly revolve around blocking, so that you don't get a few good hits in and block out the rest of the round. The game now has armour damage to those that decide that they’d rather block than attack. And for those that still don’t learn that you need to attack, there is a one-hit-kill move known as the “Soul Crush” that will become available but we very rarely got that opportunity. One useful addition is that of style levels. As you use a character often, they will essentially level up. Doing so will unlock skills (e.g. activate temporarily unblockable attacks) and new items for customising.

Not the sort of 'freaky' action most are looking for in Soul Calibur...

Not the sort of 'freaky' action most are looking for in Soul Calibur...
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To utilise these additions, the Character Creation mode introduced in Soul Calibur III makes a return. Here, you can create your own character or customise one that is currently present using unlocked skills and equipment. It’s much deeper this time around and has great potential for creating your own characters or recreating characters from other media. Keep in mind though, that your character needs a style as a base. For the first time, the game has online multiplayer, as well as the usual offline options. While you can only take part in ranked or unranked matches as you main options, you can play in default or special modes (where you equip new weaponry). While online play is smooth so long as you have a decent connection, you’re forced to settle with one-on-ones, with no team battle options.

One area that Soul Calibur IV disappoints is the single player options. Obviously it's great that the online mode is up and running well, but that’s no excuse to leave the ‘training ground’ so bare. The Arcade mode is nothing new, but fighting game fans will know how long this will last them. The story mode is devastatingly short, with only a handful of battles and being primarily text driven. Granted, each character has a different ending (Vader’s is particularly sweet), but it’s hardly compelling. The Tower of Lost Souls does throw up some interesting challenges and unlockables as you ‘ascend’ and then ‘descend’ but it isn’t as compelling as we would have liked. AI in the game is certainly solid, but it does seem to have an unfair advantage on higher levels. Overall, unless you’re new or willing to reinvest your time into learning the game for the online battles that may ensue, the single player game isn’t particularly endearing in the long run.

Two areas that Soul Calibur IV doesn’t skimp on however, are the visuals and sounds. While the fact that Soul Calibur has always been a series at the forefront of graphical grunt, Soul Calibur IV spares no detail as it makes another compelling argument for that HD upgrade. The character models are nothing short of outstanding (with Darth Vader and Yoda being exceptionally pleasant on the eyes) and they fight it out in the most wonderfully varied, detailed and vividly coloured stages. Environmental damage is quite welcome. So while the game provides a graphical feast, some recycled animations and physics may creep in the spoil the eye candy.

Yoda seems a bit short for Soul Calibur IV.

Yoda seems a bit short for Soul Calibur IV.
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Arguably, Soul Calibur IV is among the best sounding fighters ever made. The tracks are beautifully orchestrated, with the Star Wars tracks perfectly bolstering a strong selection. There's something just right with the Imperial March or the Duel of Fates playing in the background. Not to mention, the sound effects of weapon on weapon, particularly the lightsabers, really establish a great environment. That, and you’ve got your choice of Japanese and English voices, depending on what you prefer. Version preferences are always a fickle issue and as far as controller issues go, the Xbox 360 boasts slighlty better responses. While Yoda is the weaker addition, this mightn't be an issue in the future, as a blank spot on the character select screen suggests.

If you want a proper technical fighter to play on your shiny HD screen, then you really have not too many options. This is what makes Soul Calibur IV a welcome release, even if it doesn’t really push the envelope. It’s fine not to rebuild a successful formula, and while tweaks and changes are sometimes debatable, there is still room for improvement. Aesthetically, there’s very little to fault the game, as it looks and sounds as good as you could possibly want it to and the online mode is certainly welcome. However, unless you’re really going to utilise the multiplayer, the single player has a disappointing dearth of compelling content, though you’re still forced to hack through it to unlock the good stuff. So overall, as far as fighting games go, your main choice with Soul Calibur IV revolves around which version you prefer, be it based on controller or character (though a blank spot on the character select suggest that latter won’t be a worry), just don’t expect the same kind of kick that came with the earlier titles.
The Score
Soul Calibur IV provides the same great quality of fighting gameplay and presentation as you'd expect. Just don't be surprised if it doesn't leave the same impression as the previous titles. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related SoulCalibur IV Content

SoulCalibur IV bargain round-up
30 Jul, 2008 The soul begs for a bargain.
Brand new SoulCalibur IV screens
12 Jul, 2008 Shots featuring the character Algol.
Latest Soul Calibur IV DLC ditches console exclusive characters
18 Oct, 2008 Yoda and Vader freely available on both consoles.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  31/07/2008 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  UBI Soft
Genre:
  Fighting
Year Made:
  2008

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