Review by Allyourbase

"Lacking in minor things, but a solid offering"

Soul Calibur III left a foul taste in the mouths of many of the faithful. It was glitchy, unbalanced and because it went straight to consoles, seemed like a hastily cobbled product at times.

Even patching up the gameplay and rolling out an arcade edition didn't seem to help matters.

So when Namco Bandai announced that Soulcalibur IV (Yes, it is one word now. I checked.) was again going to be a straight-to-console release, I (and many other long-time fans of the series) were justifiably apprehensive.

“I hope they actually bothered to play-test it a little more thoroughly this time,” I remember thinking. “And maybe they'll make the single-player mode actually worth playing instead of that tedious grind it was in Soul Calibur III. And maybe they'll do something about the borderline psychic AI. It's bad enough that it was in Tekken 5 and Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, but in Soul Calibur III too? Shameful!”

So when the game comes out, I decide to hedge my bets and rent it first. Surprise! It actually lived up to expectations. The next day, I ran out to Gamestop to pick up my own copy and I haven't looked back since.
SCIV is the first of the series to go online and considering it's the first time, it's not too shabby. Lag is — surprise, surprise — somewhat of an issue and I wouldn't recommend taking on someone with less than a four-bar connection. It's not a deal-breaker but it does make some actions that require precise timing such as blocking low or performing a Guard Impact somewhat trickier.

All in all, it's about what taking fighting games to cyberspace would be like, complete with scrubs who A) mash buttons, B) are one-move wonders and C) get all butt-hurt when they lose, as if someone just ran over their puppy. Show any kind of skill and expect a few scrubs to call you a “cheater.” My suggestion? Head over to 8wayrun.com or Caliburforum.com and find quality competition — on and offline — as well as people who will help you grow as a player.

Besides the online experience, there are also several single-player modes to keep you busy.
Story Mode is terribly short — pick a character, fight through five stages and then see the CGI ending before the credits roll. Narration is handled mostly through slooooooowly scrolling text.

Arcade Mode is a sort of score attack mode, in which certain actions — landing a counter attack, performing a combo, performing a Critical Finish — earns points. The object is to finish the eight stages with the highest score possible. Scores can be uploaded onto leaderboards on Xbox Live for bragging rights.

The new Tower of Souls Mode feels like the bastard offspring of previous Weapon Master Modes and a dungeon-crawling RPG. You must ascend (or descend) a tower, each floor providing various challenges and in-game conditions. Completing each floor unlocks weapons and equipment for sale.

The overall game system is taken from SCIII with a few new bells and whistles, the most obvious being the Soul Gauge and Critical Finishes. Blocking attacks drains the Soul Gauge. If an opponent's Soul Gauge is completely drained his or her life bar starts to flash. Blocking a strong hit while in this state leaves the opponent in a stunned state called Soul Crush, which leads to the next feature — the Critical Finish.

A Critical Finish wins the round for whoever performs it, regardless of how much health he or she has left. Think of it as the Soulcalibur IV version of a fatality, which it pretty much is. While flashy and entertaining, the feature feels out of character and gimmicky at best.

It was implemented to punish players who do nothing but sit and block, which is redudant. There are many other ways already in place to defeat even the most stubborn of defensive-minded opponents, such as different hit levels, throws, unblockables and guard breaks.

Ultimately, somebody would have to sit and block A LOT of attacks to be vulnerable to a Critical Finish and its impact in the VS. game is minimal (thankfully) at best.

All the familiar favorites — Cassandra, Cervantes, Yoshimitsu, Nightmare and more — returned along with some new faces.

Amy, Raphael's ward, returns as a regular character. Joining her is Hilde, a woman in full armor (A fully clothed female fighter? In a video game? My stars and bars!) who fights with a dagger and spear. There are also five characters designed by animators, but these are merely palette swaps of existing SCIV characters.

All of the characters have been revamped. Some, such as Voldo, have been overhauled to the point they feel like entirely new characters. Getting reacquainted with old favorites can take some time, especially if somebody skipped SCIII altogether like I did.

The addition of “Star Wars” characters has been the source of much controversy, but their presence does little to mar the game. Yoda seems an entertaining gimmick at best, while the Apprentice from “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” is actually a somewhat viable character. Darth Vader, available in the PS3 version, is presumably downloadable content through XBox Live. In the grand scheme of things, nothing is really lost with the “Star Wars” characters, although they do make an interesting diversion.

Creating a custom character has been streamlined a lot more. Instead of myriad styles like in SCIII (most which, unless based on actual characters, sucked), it's simply a matter of picking the style of an existing character. Want a female version of Maxi, complete with sweet nunchaku skills? Done. A male version of Cassandra including the bootylicious? Done.

Adding — or subtracting — clothing and accessories isn't simply cosmetic. Clothing/accessories also affect health, attack power and add stat points in five categories: Power, Impact, Gauge, Boost and Special. It's possible to assign skills in these five categories, so it's possible to create a customized Mitsurugi who can still damage opponents even when they block regular attacks or a customized Raphael who regains life when he makes a successful Guard Impact.

Putting it all together, imagine a crazy Voldo-type character, complete with bizarre armor that can't be defeated by ring outs. Got it? Book it. Done.

Playing and completing various single-player modes earns gold to purchase new items or even awards new items. So does earning various achievements. None of the achievements are incredibly difficult to obtain and the majority of them can be acquired by rigging matches with a few friends online.

After building a custom character, it's possible to take them online to battle against other players' creations. The results can be entertaining. For the purists, there are also head-to-head modes for unmodified characters as well.

From a sound standpoint, SCIV falls short of expectations. The clashing of swords and the hit sound effects sound dull and uninspired. For the most part, the background music of the stages are rehashes of previous tracks. Considering the pedigree that the background music comes from, it's not such a bad thing, although coming up with something fresh couldn't have hurt.

If you're dying to get your hands on a quality fighting game for the XBox 360, look no further than Soulcalibur IV. Whether it's owning scrubs online or getting a group of friends together to play, Namco hits one out of the park with this game.

To sum it all up, SCIV is miles better than SCIII, but falls a tad short of SCII. It's definitely a must-play for fans of the “Soul” series and a game worth adding to the library for casual fighting game fans.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/05/08

Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)


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