Review by TareqAzad
"The warriors embark on a treacherous quest for the ultimate swor.....ahem. Got carried away there."
SoulCalibur IV is Namco Bandai's latest installment in the main series. SoulCalibur has seen a wide variety of releases and spinoffs, from the somewhat well received portable release in the form of SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny to the atrocious action adventure game SoulCalibur Legends. Most people were introduced to the series with SoulCalibur II on the Xbox, PS2, and GC, but few know that the series actually originated in the arcades in the form of the cult classic, Soul Edge. Soul Edge later appeared on Playstation with the new name Soul Blade, and garnered enough sales along with the original to warrant a sequel, SoulCalibur. SoulCalibur was a hit in the arcades, as was its console port exclusive to the Dreamcast. This sparked the release of what many consider the greatest game in the series, SoulCalibur II to be released, and the rest is history. Now that we've finished our short glimpse into the origins of SoulCalibur, let's take an in depth look at Namco Bandai's latest offering.
Graphics (9.5) : If its one thing SoulCalibur has been known for, it's the fact that it pushes the graphics to new standards, and SoulCalibur IV is no exception. Fighting games have the luxury of only having to render two characters, albeit very nicely textured, at any point in time. This leaves the developers with ample system resources to make the background and special effects of the game as jaw dropping as they can. It goes without saying that the characters in the game look down right beautiful; you're only going to be staring directly at them the entire time you're playing! Hair moves freely and life-like as characters run around and swing at each other and the sparks really do fly as the swords clash. Some of the custom created characters you make may not look as nice as the official characters, but we also don't have the same toolset the developers did when they designed the official characters, so it's a somewhat unfair criticism. But even details like the highly detailed Tie Fighters taking off and becoming a part of the large space battle outside the Death Star level show just how far Namco Bandai have gone to make this game look amazing. All of this seems to make perfect sense with the direction they are taking with the games; if you going to increase the bosom sizes of all the female characters in this game, you might as well bump up the pixels and texture to make them look as good as you can!
Gameplay (9.6) : Ah, the meat and potatoes of a fighting game, the gameplay. The main theme of SoulCalibur is that it's a weapon focused fighter, and as such, each character as a unique weapon and will play differently than any other. If you've never played a SoulCalibur fighting game, you might be a bit off put when you first try one out. The shear number of moves each character might have can often scare new players, but there are only a select few moves that effective enough to be used often, and the fun comes in trying them out to see which ones there are. The long combos and difficult inputs often lead to players resorting to button mashing, which will work in this game, but only to a certain extent. After that, an intricate knowledge of the game mechanics and character moveset is required to be successful against any semi-skilled human opponent. The core gameplay of the series hasn't changed, but Namco Bandai has thrown a few new features to stir things up. Armor is now breakable throughout a fight, which means if you don't protect against those pesky low attacks, prepare to have your leg guards break and open up a whole world of pain. This doesn't mean you should curl up in the fetal position and block the entire match either, as overuse of the block button will build up the opponent's soul gauge, and when it fills up, get ready for a very cinematic instant defeat in the form of a critical finish. Characters are responsive and unique, Tira's ring blade leads to an almost dance inspired gameplay while Cervantes's twin blade, hidden gun tactics are much more brutish and violent. Overall, the gameplay is solid and should leave veterans satisfied while also appealing to new players.
SoulCalibur IV has the tried and true Arcade Mode, Time Trial, and Training mode, but is also includes one of my favorite new features, the Tower of Lost Souls. This mode comes in the form of specific challenges for each floor of a tower, with the eventual goal of ascending to the 60th floor. There is also the option of descending floors, which have their own sets of challenges. What makes this mode so great is that each floor has a specific challenge that needs to be completed in a certain way, which means that you'll have to change up your tactics when you're required to do things like defeating all enemies with a ring out or clearing the stage without changing positions.
Character creation is a feature that's present in many games, but rarely done as brilliantly as it is in SoulCalibur IV. Character details can be changed right down to the designs on armor. The color options are very in depth and allow near portrait quality paint jobs on custom characters. There are hundreds of items and clothing options for your characters, and the game actually has a thriving community of look-alike character creators. I've personally seen Altair, Hulk, and Solid Snake look-alikes who were near impossible to tell from their originals, as well as outrageous match ups like Mario vs Dr. Doom. All in all, the character creation feature in this game is as comprehensive as you want to make it. Don't be surprised if you find yourself spending hours just making a character look absolutely perfect.
Sound (8.9) : There's not much to say about the sound in SoulCalibur IV. The overly eccentric and often quite eloquent announcer returns with his poetic battle introductions, and the music is very similar to previous games, and a very epic and grandeur feel to it. The inclusion of songs from the Star Wars movies was an absolutely great addition to the game and really set the stage for all of the Star Wars levels and characters. The voice acting is still very cheesy, but I suspect this is simply an ongoing gag and more of a tradition than anything because the cheesy voice acting has been here since the beginning. Overall, the sound isn't bad, in some cases very good, but nothing spectacular.
Multiplayer (9.0) : Everyone knows the livelihood of a fighting game rests solely on it's competitive multiplayer modes. Luckily, the game offers plenty for you fighting game fanatics out there. The local multiplayer is great, as one would expect, and they're simply nothing like sitting on a comfy couch with a few of your buddies and wasting the night away with SoulCalibur IV and a few boxes of pizza. For those of you without friends, Namco Bandai hasn't forgotten you. SoulCalibur IV is the first game in its series to allow players to battle over Xbox Live or Playstation Network against practically anyone in the world. The online play is fun, although somewhat prone to lag, which anyone knows absolutely ruins a game where precise button inputs are necessary. With careful discretion, it's possible to weed out the host's with bad connections and only join games with 3 or more connection bars. Once you're in a lag free game though, it's a blast. Be prepared to fight against stiff completion with play styles and strategies that you've never seen before. The multiplayer is near perfect, with the exception of occasional lag online, which is my only criticism of the game in this section. However, taking note of how much lag affects a game like SoulCalibur IV, Namco Bandai should have spent more time on their netcode for this game.
Final Words: SoulCalibur IV truly is a game for everyone. It's not quite as technical as the Tekken series (although many SoulCalibur fans argue it takes it's own kind of skill to be good at), nor is it the simple button mashing that the Super Smash Bros games often reward. It's very much a unique experience that offers approachability to newcomers, but a very deep and satisfying meta-game to the veterans. The online community is still alive and thriving, which is only a testament to the amazing game that SoulCalibur IV truly is. If you're a fan of fighters, or looking to become one, look no farther than SoulCalibur IV for an amazing fighting game experience that should not be missed.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/10
Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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