Review by dkolb87

"Incredible graphics cover up minor blemishes."

Soul Caliber 3 was one of the best and deepest fighters I've ever played so it was with anticipation that I started Soul Caliber 4. Did it disappoint? Read on to find out!

Graphics: 10/10:
These are simply incredible graphics. Characters are extremely detailed and move fluidly in impressive environments. The series always had good graphics, but these graphics truly show off the Xbox360s power. Sometimes I was in the middle of a match and I just had to stop and admire the graphics and didn't even notice I was getting knocked out. Created characters (although often rightfully lampooned online) also are pretty detailed. The game had alot of things to animate and they did an excellent job. Now obviously they didn't take into account every possible permutation of armor and weapons that a custom character could use, and as such things such as hair or weapons poking through a cloak or the physics of said cloak could use some work but that really is being picky about something that is a great effort.

Sound: 9/10:
The sound of Soul Calibur 4 is pretty good and none of it really stands out as bad with one exception. Music sort of having that epic "battle of destiny" type of feel. I like the addition of star wars tracks such as "duel of the fates." Sound effects are fairly well done, although at the same time it often is grunts and clashes. Some of the sounds are unrealistic (such as a giant axe slamming down on a lightsaber making a light *TING* sound) but at the same time considering the wide variety of weapons and armor in the game, the sound effects often are pretty good. Voice acting is not something that the game excels at with many characters sounding either way to mellow dramatic, cheesy, or evil to the point of sounding ludicrous. Some range from being actually pretty good to sounding like they hired random men and women off the street. But among them the character Scheherazade distinguishes herself from the rest of the characters with her terrible voice acting. It sounds like a mixture of a shriek and a cat dying.

Gameplay 7/10:
Fortunately, the same addicting gameplay of the previous games is still back and in strong force. Battles are very intense right from the start, and they rarely let up. And this time around fights are even more offensively oriented by penalizing players who block too much, by having them shed layers of armor. Eventually constant blocking can lead to a critical finish which is an automatic knock out. Overall this is a welcome change, although it hurts defense oriented players. Overall although the gameplay has been retained for the most part it hasn't improved very much.

One grudge about the game is that it does not keep some of the elements from the third game, like for example different fighting style, choose-your-own adventure style story mode, and even a chronicle mode. The reason I don't count these against the game is because Soul Caliber 3 set the bar too high. After all this is a fighting game. Fighting games are known for being pretty shallow and so when Soul Caliber 3 came out with all of these new features that no other fighting game had, I considered it just a bonus. And Soul Calibur 4 is deeper than most other fighting games, it just doesn't have the same amount of bonus features that 3 had. Alot has been kept including museum mode, the ability to view endings, a challenging tower, traditional arcade and different weapons, as well as the create a character.

One issue that is pressing is the A.I. level of the CPU. The CPU is atrociously inept and a player who learns how to time it right can usually keep pressing the throw button to continuously beat enemies. The only fight I thought was challenging was a boss on hard mode. But then I realized that the reason was not because he had a good A.I. but simply that he was given twice the amount of health that my character had and also had skills that did not allow him to be ringed out. It seems that the game knows it has no A.I., because in Tower of Souls it usually pits your character against several other characters with such restrictions as the computer can't be ringed out, or can't be thrown. The fact that they need to add extra health and "skills" for the computer, and add restrictions for your characters is quite telling in just how poorly the games A.I. is especially when compared to other fighting games.

Finally those skills I mentioned in the paragraph before are not implemented well because they are often tied into custom equipment. The game could have made it so that you leveled up to get more skill points or even that you could have a few major skills or a few minor skills, but instead the game links these skills with equipment. So if someone was trying to make a pretty and graceful female character with a fencing sword, but the player needs to strategically add a power skill, she has to wear items such as "executioner's gauntlets" to get the points needed for the skill. And so instead of the elegant dress the player wants, the character has to wear the "Warthog Cuirass" to get the wanted skill. So the player has to choose whether he wants the character to look good or whether he want the character to have good skills with many online players opting for the latter. This is simply poor gameplay design, but overall the creators of the game did well, and it is actually fun to create characters.

Characters: 9/10:
The colorful characters are part of what makes the game, with many of them using exotic weapons and diverse fighting styles that have come to define the series. Different characters appeal to a wide variety of tastes and all of them are interesting in their own way. One of my favorite characters is Hilde, who is a lady in armor who carries a spear in one hand and a sword in the other. The spear allows her to attack from long range where the sword is good close up, but the downside is covering the middle area and some of the moves leave her open. I mention her because although some fighters use styles based in reality, many characters have made up weapons or fighting styles. But this is what makes the characters so unique and well designed, because the moves are so creative and so amazing looking. The creators of this game were able to take a strange weapon or strange combinations of weapons and create a half believable fighting style with them and that is pretty incredible and really struck me as to how much detail and thought was put into the game. The bonus characters I really consider bonus, as they are all poorly designed (I though Namco learned with Necrid not to let other people design characters) and boring copycats of previous characters.

One of the few problems in the game in regards to characters is that they still are unbalanced. There is one character named Kilik that is used online almost exclusively and with good reason as he has a long range, does alot of damage and is pretty fast as well. Mashing the same button with him works well, and also bothering to learn his combos also works well. Now I realize that any character is capable of beating any other character and it does depend alot on the skill of the player, but my point is still that Talim and Lizardman aren't exactly close to Cervantes and Kilik and there is no reason they shouldn't be.

Online Mode: 10/10
Online mode is surprisingly great! I personally rarely play online but I made the exception because of the poor A.I. in the game and I was rewarded with extremely entertaining matchups.
I loved that there was little to no lag despite the fact the game had just came out. There is a great mishmash of players with styles ranging from Button Mashers, to people who only choose Kilik and Yoda (unfortunately to this date about 50%), to people who are actually skilled and completely beat the tar out of my character, to completely random players who use characters like Tira or Voldo. I had a matchup where we just taunted each other until time ran out. It is this complete randomness that impressed me alot, because the player never knows what to expect when he faces the next opponent and that's the way I feel it should be.

In Closing Soul Calibur 4 is exactly what I wanted, which was a fun fighting game. It is a very fun and visually impressive game, that still dominates in it's genre. To me it wasn't what Soul Caliber 4 was not or what it didn't have in it, it's what it did and what it has done so well for so many years.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/04/08

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

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