Soul Calibur IV Review
|Publisher:||Namco Bandai / Ubisoft|
|Release Date:||August 1st, 2008 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Andy Hemphill (Bandit)|
Personally, I've always felt that the Soul Calibur series has constantly set the benchmark for fighting games. From the first appearance of weapon-based fighting with 'Soul Edge', the series has gone from strength to strength, offering increasingly better graphics; streamlined gameplay and a multiplayer that made you want to slice your friends up time and time again.
And so, after the slightly underwhelming Soul Calibur 3, the venerable old series finally makes its debut on a next-generation console, and boy, does it do it in style.
Soul Calibur IV (or 'four' for those of us who hate roman numerals) is not a gigantic step into the unknown for the series, in fact the core gameplay hasn't really changed from the last instalment of the shiny blade-slashing battler, but that's not a bad thing. Namco pretty much hit the right button with Soul Calibur 2, so to change the formula by too much would only spoil the mix. What Namco does offer for this game is better graphics, new modes, more characters and a special appearance by some very famous Jedi.
Let's start with the new arrivals: In the Xbox version of the game, the player is gifted with Yoda, the diminutive but deadly Jedi master famous for his backwards speech. The PS3 version comes equipped with Darth Vader himself, in all of his deep voiced and wheezy glory. Both games also feature an appearance by the oddly named 'Starkiller'- Darth Vader's secret apprentice, from the upcoming 'The Force Unleashed' release.
All three characters come with all the powers of the Jedi, but they all feel a little cheap when compared with the other characters the game offers. Yoda is impossible to throw due to his small size, Vader's range is huge, and he has a nasty habit of choking his opponents, and the Apprentice's overbearing force powers turn any fight into a farce as you get bounced around like a tennis ball in a hurricane.
As for the controversy of making Yoda and Vader exclusive to the Xbox and PS3 respectively, it's probably just a temporary thing, as the character select screen features an empty slot right next to Yoda and the Apprentice- downloadable content will no doubt be forthcoming.
As well as the Jedi, several other new characters also join the roster, and all the best of the last bunch make an appearance, from suave Raphael, to the sultry and deadly Ivy.
Gameplay-wise, Soul Calibur IV draws heavily from its predecessors. As well as the disappointing and short story mode, the game features the usual 'arcade' mode and its assorted levels, but this time the ever-popular team battle mode is oddly absent, leaving quite a big hole in the multiplayer line-up.
Another addition however is the 'Tower of Lost Souls' mode, which has you fighting your way up and down a tower, facing different enemies on every floor. While this could get a little repetitive, the fact that your health doesn't regenerate much between floors turns the mode into a pitched battle for survival that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The battles are pretty much the standard fare, with the objective being to reduce your enemy's life bar till they are KO'd, each character has their own distinct fighting style and weaponry, and the moves, while flashy, aren't that hard to learn. Gamers new to Soul Calibur will not find it too hard to get the combo's down, and experienced fans won't have any problem adapting to the new control system.
One new addition however is the re-appearance of the 'Soul Gauge' system from earlier versions of the game. Block for too long, or get hit too many times without fighting back and the orb that represents your 'Soul' at the end of your life bar starts to flash red. If your opponent is canny enough to spot this in the melee of combat, then they might take the chance to use a 'critical-finisher' move- a flashy and deadly attack that will finish you off for good. So the lesson to be learned? Always attack.
Graphically the game is another leap in the right direction. The visuals are sharp and clear and the textures on both the fighters and the backgrounds are excellent. Each of the stages has its own style, from the familiar caverns that are Voldo's home to the windswept plains that Nightmare stalks, and they are stunning to look at, if you manage to take your eyes off the furious battling.
The battles themselves are a masterpiece of design, all flashing blades and electricity sparking from warrior to warrior, in fact it is surprisingly easy to get so absorbed in the visuals that you loose the battle- always a fault in multiplayer.
As for the multiplayer, it's a welcome addition to game that was sorely overdue for online contests of skill and speed. The matchmaking service is fairly lag free, but can occasionally kick you out of a battle for no reason. There are various modes available online and they all offer a fair amount of gameplay, making the replay value much higher.
Another addition that extends the play time is the 'Character Creation' mode, which allows you to tinker with a character of your own design to a ridiculous extent. For example, it comes with a huge number of clothing and body shape options, and you can apply the fighting scheme of any of the other warriors to a design of your own, sometimes with hilarious results. For example, imagine a butch, slightly overweight man fighting with a style designed for the scantily dressed Ivy and her extenda-sword- quite a combination.
Overall, Soul Calibur IV is a brilliant example of what a developer can do with a next gen platform. While it's not a huge improvement over the last instalment of the series, the solid fighting roots of the genre still pull through and the graphical improvements are second to none. If, however, you are looking for a game with tonnes of depth, or anything more than a simple, slash-till-you-drop fighter, I'd hire it before you buy.
- Beautiful graphics
- Good multiplayer
Not so good stuff
- A little repetitive
- No team battle mode